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‘I don’t think Sholay is a film that should be touched’

In an interview with The Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta on NDTV 24x7’s Walk the Talk,director Ramesh Sippy shares stories on the making of the iconic film,Sholay,which completes 40 years. Excerpts:

November 10, 2013 5:39:14 am

The hills that we are on are most familiar to three generations of Indians. These are the hills where the film Sholay,the most iconic Hindi film of our times,was launched on October 2,1973. Its dialogues are still spoken by our children,and will be spoken by our grandchildren. Ramesh Sippy,you look much too young for a film that was launched 40 years ago.

Well,I felt old then and I feel young now.

This place is called Ramanagaram,about 50 km outside Bangalore,but a lot of the country will know it as Ramgadh because you called it that in the film.

That is true… Sholay is a film whose lines,whose characters,till today,are used in every kind or form possible — as jokes,as part of a show,even day-to-day language. Of course,there is no character more colourful than Gabbar Singh.

Ramanagaram was far from anywhere in 1973. What made you come here?

All the films that had been made on dacoity and banditry before this were made in the Chambal valley — be it Ganga Jumna,Mujhe Jeene Do,even the Raj Khosla film,Mera Gaon Mera Desh.

I felt,let’s make it different. Ram Yedekar was our art director. Being influenced by western cinema,we talked about those big boulders and things like that. He said,‘I think I know just the place.’ He came here,took a lot of photographs and showed them to us later.

Even today,when you look at some of these rocks,it seems like Gabbar still

lives there.

As Javed (Akhtar) saheb says,‘Waise kya hai lines mein (What’s there in the lines that Gabbar delivered)?’ He has said it so often: ‘Kitne aadmi the? Is that a line of dialogue?’

Salim (Khan) saheb said to me,‘If you look at it,Holi kab hai,kab hai Holi…’

The most remembered lines are those which are very simple. ‘Kitna inam rakhe hai sarkaar hum par? Poore pachas hazaar.’ But these are not lines of dialogue. The lines of dialogue were those delivered by the old man,played by AK Hangal,when he loses his son and says the most difficult moment in a man’s life is when,‘Baap ke kandhe par bete ka janaza ho (A father taking his son’s body to the funeral)’. But the simplistic lines got picked up the most because they came from Gabbar Singh. And they had that UP lilt.

How did you devise that tone?

Javed saheb is from UP,so the lilt was suggested by him. And when the lines were given,he did say them in a particular way and we enhanced it.

I once asked Salim what he thought was the biggest reason — a character,a person — that made Sholay so iconic. He said it was Amjad Khan. He didn’t say Dharmendra,he didn’t say Amitabh Bachchan,he didn’t say Hema Malini,he didn’t say Hema Malini’s ghodi (mare),Dhanno,who was also a character.

So true. Although I would definitely say that every aspect of the film went into making it an all-time classic,it cannot be denied that the iconic figure in the film has to be Gabbar. His dialogues sold more than the music of the film. People were mesmerised. They would see the film,and were so full of it that they would come and hear the lines. The lines would again feel so fabulous to them that they said,‘Ek baar aur dekhni hai (I have to see it again).’

Even now parodies and remakes are being made,people name anything from their children to their dogs and cats after characters from Sholay. What brought about this durability to Sholay?

It’s almost impossible to explain what the phenomenon is. It (just) happens. The entire team of Sholay went about trying to do their best. But for it to have turned into this… we could not have imagined it at that time. Today’s generation is as much aware of Sholay,as of the other films around them.

As Shekhar Kapoor said,you can divide the history of Indian cinema before Sholay and after Sholay.

True,one can’t deny that. Would I want to be a person who did not make Sholay? Never. And after 40 years,it is mine. The team,yes. But it’s part of my life.

For Sholay,you got Dharmendra,a big superstar then,and Amitabh Bachchan,a rising superstar.

No,when we signed Amitabh Bachchan,he was down in his career. He had six or seven films that didn’t work. Zanjeer was still

being made.

Written by the same duo?

By the same duo,Salim-Javed. They came up and said this boy is working well. I had seen him in two films. Bombay to Goa,in which he did a very light role,woh bus ke andar gana-wana lambi tangon se (long legs and singing a song in the bus). So I said in spite of being that tall in that bus,he carried himself gracefully. The other role was very serious,in Hrishikeshda’s Anand. So here is an actor. Both Dharamji and she (Hema Malini) were superstars.

Among the women,Hema Malini had one of the most hyped launches with Dream Girl.

And even Jaya Bhaduri,she was very well-known. She had Guddi and another film which did very well. So she was a star.

What was it like to persuade these stars to come so far? Even Bangalore had only one hotel then.

A couple of hotels. We all stayed at the Ashoka. Yes,they (the actors) put their best foot forward. When they heard the script,they all wanted to be a part of it. But each one wanted to be somebody else in the film.

So who wanted to do what?

Everybody wanted to be Gabbar,of course,because he was so colourful.

Even Dharmendra and Amitabh?

When you see a character like Gabbar,the sing-song way of speaking and a mercurial temper — screaming at one moment,laughing at another — it’s something joyful as well as very menacing. And Dharamji said,‘Main yaar Thakur ka role play karunga (I would like to play Thakur).’ Thakur is the centre.

My apologies,I forgot Sanjeev Kumar. He was a star at that point.

Yes,but he was always more of an actor. So Dharamji said,‘Why can’t I play Thakur?’. I said,‘Of course,you can,but then you won’t get Hema Malini’ (both laugh). He said,‘No,no. I will play Veeru.’

Was there something already on between them (Dharmendra and Hema Malini)?

He did have a soft corner for her. We made Seeta Aur Geeta,so both of them — Sanjeev and Dharamji — were working with Hema Malini. He had that feeling about her. One could feel the vibes.

But when a Punjabi Jat has a feeling,it’s a little bit more than just vibes.

I am from the old world. We don’t say too much,and I think I’d like to stay that way.

And the other ones — Amitabh and Jaya?

Amitabh and Jaya got married the moment Zanjeer was released. They got married,and then we started Sholay.

So tell us some stories from the shooting of Sholay.

I had made Seeta Aur Geeta on a budget of Rs 40 lakh. So I thought for a big adventure film,I must be more generous,and Rs 1 crore it should be. The budget went up to Rs 3 crore. But my father (GP Sippy) never once said,‘What are you doing,son?’ He had confidence in me,and in what we were doing. Everybody was confident.

There were so many things. On the first day,we couldn’t shoot because it rained. Then the village was not ready. The most interesting was shooting the massacre of a family. We started the sequence,shot for about two days,and on the third day,the clouds came in. The fourth day was very cloudy. I told my cameraman,Divecha — a wonderful old man — ‘This weather gives that doomsday feeling. How about shooting it in this light?’ He looked around and said,‘I like it,but tomorrow when the sun comes out,what are you going to do?’ Then I started thinking about the whole sequence. How that build-up would take place,the wind picking up,the leaves moving,and when he (Sanjiv Kumar) comes,the unfurling of the chaddar. The wind blows it off,as he doesn’t have the strength to do it. And then the anger building inside him. And the major sequence of the film follows. He goes to take revenge and his hands are chopped off. It took me 23 days to complete that sequence because of the weather.

Again,a memorable line,‘Apne haath mujhe de de Thakur.’

That’s what I meant,what you were talking about earlier. They just come,the lines come. References to Sholay keep coming,somehow.

So,tell us more stories.

There are so many… even the way Asrani’s scene was written. It was unique by itself,it had nothing to do with the story,and yet,Asrani fitted in beautifully. While shooting,the way he looks around,goes and says his lines and then stops,then there’s a shorter guy,he moves to the next guy and he sees a stomach,I mean he reaches the chest of the guy,and he looks up,and that’s Amitabh. In that,there was a nai (barber),the spy who was used for doing chugli (backbiting),but in its simplicity,was quite unique. The outstanding character was Asrani in that,but so was the nai. Keshto Mukherji was superb in conveying that. In a really well-remembered sequence,he added that little punch.

Nobody had ever seen action like that — even in Mera Gaon Mera Desh. We had very macho stars in those films,Vinod Khanna and all.

Again,we felt let’s raise the ante. So,we got Jim Allen and Gerry Crampton and their team. They did wonders to all the action sequences… the train sequence… they are all remembered scenes. We were shooting this climax sequence where Dharamji is tied up and Hema sings a song.

‘In kutton ke saamne mat nachna Basanti’.

She is almost collapsing from exhaustion and she is with Dharamji. The shot was that,at that precise moment,Amitabh comes and frees Dharamji. So a whole new life,a spirit is awakened at that moment. He rushes to Hema. There was a box — a metallic box — lying there and Jim insisted he wanted a shot of real bullets. So Veeru kicks it open,pulls out all the bullets and fills them in and goes on. And then the marathon shooting sequence takes place. But in that moment,what happened was,because he (Dharmendra) was high,he kept coming.

High,as in he had a drink? On the sets? How did you allow that?

Yes. In a coconut (both laugh). We didn’t know. We only realised after this moment.

That’s a Punjabi Jat!

(Laughs) He was determined to do it because Jim had said,‘This is the way it’s got to be done.’ So he had to do it.

There were about 12 or 13 retakes. Either the box wouldn’t kick open,or if he finally got his hands in,the bullets fell. You know,it didn’t come right. That’s when he actually took a real bullet,put it in the gun,and fired (in the air). He was frustrated with himself. Right up there was Amitabh and the bullet grazed past him by inches. Jim Allen took off his hat and said,‘I’m not shooting. He can’t be drinking on the sets. He could have killed anybody. It could have been me,it could have been you,it could have been any worker. This is not right.’ Of course,Dharamji apologised and was perfect after that… he would do everything right.

I have never heard this nugget before.

When we did the last shot on the train,(we didn’t know) how to finish,because we just had a very heavy moment of Jai’s death and a widow closing the door on herself for the second time. And at the station,they are saying goodbye — Veeru and Thakur. Veeru refuses to stay as for him,the association of being here and Jai not being there wasn’t right. So,we’re done with the emotions and the story,and then as he enters the train,he sees Basanti. So,to come back to joy and a future,to look ahead and get off with a positive feeling,they rush into each other’s arms.

I wanted a 360 degree shot. We built a special gadget that went round as much as the width of the train. The camera would be at one end. But if they stood there,then that contraption could not be fitted. So we put a little wooden box,on which the two sat,at the centre of the contraption. You don’t see what’s below the waist,and the camera moves round and round. It took a lot of time to get that right,but it gives a feel that you are in a moving train. That was the technique of the film,again.

Would this film have made Rs 100 crore today and had a great opening?

That’s definite. But would it be remembered for 40 years is another thing.

So,tell us the Hema Malini story. Everybody has some story on Dharmendra.

And she will be completely forgiving for whatever you say even if she becomes the I&B minister tomorrow.

She married him,so there’s nothing to hide. But I am talking about her as an individual. She was lovely in Andaz. She opened up a lot more in Seeta Aur Geeta,and carried away an award. And after Seeta Aur Geeta — in which she had a double role — to do one role in Sholay around six or seven important characters wasn’t an easy choice but she made that choice. Javed rehearsed with her,and later we dubbed and got the accents right.

So,do you have a story about her from this place?

I think some of the things he (Dharmendra) did were for her. She inspired him to do all the wonderful things he did,and she also got him into a state where once in a while he (gestures drinking)…

So,(let’s talk about) Sanjeev Kumar,one of the most talented actors ever,but today not remembered that much,and he died young.

It is true. It was,unfortunately,a family thing. Everyone in his family had died young.

He was,of course,another great guy,who loved his work and was superb. I will tell you an incident about him on the sets.

Throughout the film,we were careful to give him the shawl. In those days,there were no promos,so you had to give half your story away. So,when it was revealed,it was quite shocking because we never show the cutting of the hands at all. But the censor had a problem there. I told them,‘look,we haven’t shown a single drop of blood in the most important,dramatic moment in the film,so you should appreciate that’. They were giving me a lot of trouble because of the violence. But they said,‘Exactly Rameshji,the impact of your scene,which is without a drop of blood… it completely

shatters everybody.’

Anyway,later when Amitabh dies,Sanjeev Kumar and Jaya Bhaduri also come there. He got so carried away that he said,‘You know Ramesh,it’s that moment when I want to put my arms around her. She’s so distraught,this has happened in her life for the second time.’ I said,‘It’s a very nice thought but how exactly do you intend to do it? Where are your arms?’ He says,‘Oh my God! I can’t do that.’

So Rameshji,would you think of a Sholay remake or a sequel? What’s your view on parodies,remakes,3D?

No. I think a classic like Sholay should be where it is. In 40 years,it’s still remembered. I know,you can make a lot of money doing so. But what is the point in making a film which has still not been forgotten. Somehow,it doesn’t feel right.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong in people remaking or doing sequels or all that,but somehow I don’t think that Sholay is a film that should be touched.

Ram Gopal Varma tried one and it bombed,but almost everything he’s tried lately has bombed.

I think today the way of business is such that people should be doing it. They are making money and there’s nothing wrong. Some will work and some won’t. A Zanjeer doesn’t work,Himmatwala doesn’t work.

Don worked.

Don worked,Agneepath worked. So many have worked. I don’t have any hard and fast rules about it,but I think Sholay should be left alone.

Do you have issues about copyright in Sholay?

Yes,I am in court at the moment so I can’t really (comment about it). But I feel I have given my all to these films and somewhere my rights need to be established.

So,what’s your second innings going to be like?

To be honest,I am working on something. I am just waiting for things to fall together and (after that) I’d be happy to talk about it. Nothing flamboyant or on a huge scale. I just feel a sweet,quirky,romantic little film,with a difference is going to register.

I called up several of your contemporaries to chat about you. All of them said that Ramesh Sippy’s special talent was to identify talent and to get them together and manage them. Even Sholay — Bachchan,Dharmendra,Hema Malini,Jaya Bhaduri,finding Amjad,I think that role was earlier assigned to Danny Dengzongpa,right? Anand Bakshi,

RD Burman,your cameraman Divecha. What is it all about,collecting your dream team? And how important were Salim and Javed to you?

The most important,because,I think,that’s where everything starts. The subject,the script,as they say,the plot.

You employed them at Rs 750 a month.

Exactly. In January 1970.

That was better than what I was paid as a reporter when I got my first job in 1977. Just Rs 700.

I think a lot of these people are self-made also. But I think if I was given something nice,I seem to have possessed the talent to be able to convert it into something nicer.

A very good captain and manager.

Not just management. That is larger talent. You know what I mean? As I said,the sequence that we talked about,you get that flash,and the weather changes the whole mood of the scene.

That is creative talent.

That is creative talent. You need both. Even talent management is a very important thing. But you need to say that this is what the essence of a scene is and I must get this across. But how can I get it better than it already is? Otherwise,what is going to be my contribution?

What about RD Burman singing Mehbooba. Was it his idea or yours?

It just came up at the session. We need a different voice is what we started out with because it’s a kabila kind of a thing. And his (Burman’s) was a different voice. And the way he sang,it turned out to be the biggest hit of the album.

So,before we let you go,will you speak a couple of your favourite dialogues from everybody’s favourite film?

(Laughs) It’s a very unfair demand because it (Sholay) has too many good lines. Of course,it will have to be Gabbar again,and I’ve said it so many times. ‘Arey o Sambha,kitna inam rakhe hain sarkar hum par? Poore pachas hazaar.’ The way he spoke those lines,the way they were written,the way they were enacted — (all) that made the character of Gabbar what it was.

Then,Mr Bachchan had a couple of lines in the film. When Hema comes,and he (Dharmendra) climbs up and threatens to commit suicide. He sort of looks up,sees him,puts his hat down,and says,‘ghadi ghadi nautanki karta hai,kuchh karega nahi.’ That I know this guy,he’s a total drunkard,and a dramatist — ‘nautanki,jab utregi,utar ayega’.

Anybody can do anything,but even our grandchildren will remember that Ramesh Sippy did Sholay.

Transcribed by Kshitij Bisen

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