No substitute for hard work: Ramesh Sippy on 45 years of Sholay - The Daily Guardian
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No substitute for hard work: Ramesh Sippy on 45 years of Sholay

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The timeline of Indian cinema is divided into Sholay BC and Sholay AD. A classic and a masterpiece of its own kind, the film had everything — drama, comedy, romance, action and was way ahead of its times. As the film completes 45 years on 15 August, filmmaker Ramesh Sippy takes a trip down the memory lane. Excerpts:

Q: Sholay has completed 45 years. What is the best compliment you have received so far?

 A: At times people say that Sholay is a film that is one of its kind. For an artist, I believe that there is no compliment bigger than that. Although yes, Indian cinema has progressed beautifully and wonderful films have been produced with perfect execution. But for me, just the fact that people still remember Sholay and refer to it in popular culture is extremely humbling.

Q: What according to you makes Sholay so great that it still remains a gold standard?

A: I definitely did not imagine the film to go on and become the huge success that it is today. I did believe in the story. We put in a lot of effort into it and gave it our all but I don’t think any filmmaker anticipates this, you know. There was a great amount of hard work put in, we did expect it to be successful, yes. But to be relevant even today, after 45 years, I think it is the attention to detail, the effort put in by the whole team to strive for the thought they had in mind regarding this project and their will to bring it into perfect action. As they say, there is no substitute to hard work.   We had the finest actors, technicians, the first time some of them even came down from abroad for fight sequences, the script was worked upon, post production was done intricately, we gave the film everything we could. Our location was fresh, we literally built a whole village there. So yes! We did all of that.

Q: Tell us about your sittings and discussions on the film’s script with the legendary duo Salim-Javed.

A: During that time, we had only decided to make a film, we just had in mind that it would be an action, adventure film. I had never explored this genre in particular before and that’s why I really wanted to try something different this time around. When Salim-Javed came to us, they narrated the whole story to us in about 4 lines and we thought it fit our bill perfectly. The characters were not created at that point but the main storyline was as you see it today. Two guys from the Army along with Sanjeev Kumar’s role ‘Thakur’, who was also supposed to be an Army man. We altered that and made him into a police officer and the two main characters as young boys on the run when they get involved in this emotional, dramatic storyline, then we started defining the characters and everything started to fall into place by itself. It’s like the script generated itself  from there.

Q:  Your father produced the film. It was a big budget film of its times. Did he guide you or give you any creative advice while you were making the film?

A: Well, I will forever be grateful to him for the belief he placed in Sholay. The film was budgeted for Rs1 crore but it went up to Rs 3 crore and at that point in time, that was an insane amount of money to invest in a film. He always just made sure that I did not limit my creativity. So sometimes you plan things out and sometimes you improvise. We kept improvising along the way for this film no matter how long it took to make, no matter what lengths we had to go to, making sure each scene, each moment has a great impact. He was a very artistic man himself so he encouraged this.  

Q:Every character has become immortal. Even ‘Dhanno’ became a star after the film. How such characters which are so uncanny, unusual, never seen before became so popular that they are relevant even today?

A: There was a lot of sentiment behind each character, even ‘Dhanno’. Because, imagine a horse, who cares so much about Basanti, runs up to save her from Gabbar’s army. So, all of these characters had a story line of their own, they brought their own essence to the film and had a lot to give to the whole plot of the movie. Even Jagdeep ji’s character ‘Soorma Bhopali’ gained so much significance. No character was just there along the sidelines, each character carried its own significance and contributed essentially to the entire story. That is why they are referred to even today.

Q: A film like ‘Sholay’ was declared a flop initially. What was your first thought and what was your response to the trade pundits and film critics?

A: This is actually a myth. The film had a brilliant cast and initially people might have been apprehensive about it considering it was a very big budget film with a lot of new techniques, the story was also essentially very different from what people were used to seeing. However, by the time we were done shooting, Amitabh Bachchan had two hit films released, he was already a big star, then there was Dharmendra as well and that drew in a lot of ticket sales for us well in advance of the release itself.

Q: Sholay is a film which tells you that there’s more to it. It has comedy, action, drama, comedy, romance, everything. Was it an experimental film of that time?

A: Definitely. The genre that Sholay delved into as a film was rather unexplored in India at that time. It was basically a full feature of everything full of emotions. Whether it was a central lead or a supporting character or even a villain, all of them had their own set of emotions and purpose that they brought to the storyline. An action adventure film, where there is a strong romantic storyline going on, along with a strong tale of friendship. So yes, I had never done something like that before and it was rather novel even for the industry at that point.

Q: Amjad Khan was not known before the film. He is now the most villainous and most remembered character of all times. He was standing in front of Dharmendra, Sanjeev Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan. Did you ever think that Amjad Khan wouldn’t be the most powerful man to play Gabbar Singh?

 A: We had a lot of debate around Gabbar’s role for sure until we decided upon Ajmad Khan. Danny Denzongpa was chosen to play the character earlier but that didn’t work out as he had certain commitments already made. Javed Akhtar was the one who had seen Ajmad’s work before and was very convinced that he could play the role well. And we did narrow it down on him because when he came to meet the rest of us, we could totally see him fitting in right in place as Gabbar Singh. And the rest, everyone knows how Gabbar, despite being a negative character, became such a legend. Ajmal truly brought the character of Gabbar to life.  

Q: What message would you like to give the filmmakers who are trying to make their own Sholay?

A: Well I don’t really get the point of making a remake as such unless of course you are adding an add value to the already existing concept by giving it your own flair. So, I would say yes, go ahead and make a remake if you can give it a new perspective. Sholay is a film set in a totally different era altogether and the social, cultural norms at that point were extremely different. So, if somebody can adapt that truly into today and give it a different perspective to it then yes but otherwise even I myself haven’t tried to make an attempt because everyone still fondly remembers the original Sholay.

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