Says Ramesh Sippy, “When 'Sholay' hit theaters on August 15, 1975, it received bad press, but the status of the film humbled me”.
Sholay, a classic film about revenge and redemption, was initially going to have the lead characters, Jai Veeru and Thakur, of military origin, and a different ending, says director Ramesh Sippy, who never imagined the phenomenon it would become after its release 49 Years ago.
After making Andaz and Seeta Aur Geeta, Sippy wanted to move into the action genre and make a film similar to Hollywood westerns.
Fortunately, the famous writing duo Salim Khan-Javed Akhtar narrated him the story of Sholay.
Sippy said that when the story came to him, he stayed true to the original idea of two men on the run and their involvement in helping Thakur avenge the killing of his family by a fearsome thief who was terrorizing his village.
Color and characters came later, but the basic plot was in place. Except the two men (Jai and Veeru) were from the army and Sanjeev Kumar's role of Thakur was that of an army officer who was changed to a police officer, Sippy told PTI.
"The basic idea was about two young men (Jai and Veeru) on the run, their love for adventure and how they get involved in this emotional story of Thakur. All the characters entered their places one by one. It took on a life of its own as we discussed the script and progressed through it," he added.
The journey to creating “Sholay,” including writing the script and casting, took just over two years. Filming began on October 3, 1973, and the film was released in theaters on August 15, 1975.
The director said they knew they had a good film on their hands.
“We felt like we were making a very good film, but certainly did not know that we will be talking about it 49 years later. Everyone gave their best. But we did not expect so much (love and following). It became a phenomenon,” he said.
Sholay was also one of those rare stories where the character of villain Gabbar Singh was one of the highlights even during the casting process.
Sippy said the film's lead stars Dharmendra, Amitabh Bachchan and Kumar were in the running to play the role and were willing to shed their hero image, but he found his gabbar singh in Amjad Khan, who fell into a trap after Danny Denzongpa's resignation because of his commitment to Feroz Khan's film Dharmatma.
It was Salim-Javed who suggested Khan's name for the role.
“His face, his build, his personality, his voice, everything seemed right. We asked him to grow a beard, dressed him in costume, took pictures of him and he felt like a tough guy," he added, revealing that Khan prepared for the role by reading Abhishapth’s Chambal, a book about Chambal's thieves. .
Shooting for Sholay has been a long and arduous journey, but it was worth it for the director.
It was a tough, tough shoot`. Almost 500 days of shooting and we didn't have the comfort of visual effects and all the technology that has been developed today. We did the best we could. “It was a struggle,” he said.
The choice of other characters is an equally interesting story. Sippy said that after working with stars like Dharmendra, Kumar and Hema Malini in Seeta Aur Geeta, he was interested in working with the trio in Sholay.
Dharmendra was interested in playing the role of Thakur (played by Kumar), when Sippy informed him that he would have to give up the role of Veeru who is paired with Basanti (Malini), Dharmendra decided not to waste the opportunity as playing Veeru would allow him to spend time with his now wife ‘Hema Malini’
“I won't go into their private lives. Dharam ji was fascinated by the villain's role, but then he said that maybe (he would like to play) Thakur, because the whole story is Thakur's, but then I told him he would not get Hema Malini as his co-lead. He laughed and said it was okay and that he will play play Veeru.”
Salim-Javed had also recommended Bachchan's name, and Sippy, who had seen the then-rising actor's work in "Anand" and "Bombay to Goa", thought he had good screen presence.
“I was worried about getting another star as we had Dharam ji, Hema ji, Sanjeev Kumar ji and Jaya Bhaduri. We needed a good actor. There were suggestions of Shatrughan Sinha. I was skeptical about having so many stars and managing so many egos.
The other thing is that when we started shooting, Mr. Bachchan became a star. He added that his popularity increased with the release of the films "Zanjeer" and "Deewar.
Even the Little Characters were Loved
Even after 49 years the little characters of 'Sholay' including Jailer (Asrani), Kaalia (Viju Khote), Sambha (Mac Mohan), Soorma Bhopali (Jagdeep), Rahim Chacha (A K Hangal) and Mausi (Leela Mishra) are loved.
“All of these characters are important to the film. They were all distinct characters, and they were received very well, thanks to the actors who played the roles with such ease,” he added.
Sippy said the film took so long because he wanted every shot to be perfect.
“It took seven weeks to shoot the train sequence at the beginning of the film with Jay, Veeru and Thakur. Nowadays, an entire film is completed in seven weeks.
We wanted the best. “Shooting, setting up and filming every shot with the train, the horses, the people, the guns, the ammunition, setting up the actors and everyone else was very difficult,” he said.
According to the director, each sequence took about 20 days or more to shoot, the images on the motorcycle with the sidecar in the song, ‘Yeh dosti ham nahi todenge’ took 21 days to shoot, but he loved the process.
The 73-year-old director said that he was inspired by the films "Seven Samurai" (1954) by Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, and "The Magnificent Seven" (1960) by American director John Sturges, both of which revolve around saving a village from bandits besides Hindi films like “Khote Sikkay” (1974), “Mera Gaon Mera Desh” (1971) and “Ganga Jamuna” (1961).
When Sippy's "Sholay" hit theaters on August 15, 1975, it received poor press, with some calling it "dead embers" and others calling it "a deeply flawed attempt". But the commercial success it got is another story.
Sippy said that the film received good advance booking, but it was sad to read negative reviews, which the team believed would hurt the commercial prospects of the film.
But the audience reaction was never that way, they loved the film. We saw that there was a repeat audience where they repeated the dialogues. “They (theater people) told me that people were not getting up from their seats to buy cold drinks and popcorn,” the director added.
Sippy considers Sholay his "greatest achievement".
" I always strive for excellence, but my film Sholay is what I cherish the most. You'll never be able to plan it all out. I'm humbled by the religious status of the film," he said.