Anupama Chopra on the Stories Behind the Greatness of ‘Sholay’
Ramesh Sippy’s Sholay turns 44 on 15 August, and love for this multi-starrer blockbuster film has only grown over the years. Journalist, and author of the National Award winning book Sholay: Making of a Classic, Anupama Chopra, spoke to The Quint about the behind-the-scenes stories of the film that are as legendary as the film itself. Here are excerpts.
What personally inspired you to write a book on Sholay?
You know, it wasn’t my idea. I can’t take credit for it. I had never written a book and I was too afraid to even go there. I was a journalist, a print journalist.
So it was Rohan, Sheena and Sona, who are Rameshji’s kids, who actually thought that it was a great idea to do a book on the film because it was the 25th anniversary, and they came to me and said, would you like to right a book, and because its one of my favourite films I didn’t hesitate and I said yes, let me try.
What were your first impressions of the film when you first watched it? And Sholay is a film, after re-watching it over years, you see more, and of course your researched and wrote the book so more layers probably got added to your impressions of the film. How would you say that your impressions changed or that feeling for Sholay?
You know, Sholay is my first movie memory and a film I have loved because I truly think it is a film that combines every aspect... all the sort of navrasas of the Hindi film form come together in Sholay. I mean it has the comedy and the romance, and the drama and the violence, and the action.
How did it change? I don’t know because I just think I fell in love with it as the stories up of how tough it was to make this film. To shoot for years and years in the middle of nowhere near Bangalore or to believe that this massive film that actually didn’t make sense to anyone. Because who were these dacoits, military greens... and, you know, it didn’t make sense. It was different worlds put together. It was different worlds, it was different worlds. Which is why I think that the film still has dated so well because it was not of its time.
Not a lot of people realise that Sholay was actually a very experimental film also for mainstream cinema of that time.
When the film was coming out, there was so much scepticism with the critics and the trade. The critics slammed it. I was just like, “Oh my God!” Tells you we don’t know anything. And within the trade to they called it ‘Choley’ so it was very hard. And then to release this film and have it be declared a flop.
What were the elements made the trade say that this film is not going to work at all?
I think the sheer sort of atmospherics of it. Amjad Khan was not known. He was up against these massive stars. There was a line which I don’t remember exactly, but it was teen maharathi – because it was Sanjeev Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan and Dharmendra aur ek chuha. Yeah, it was that kind of conversation.
The whole idea of these slightly grey heroes who are thieves, and then, oh my God, Mr B dies. Even today, you would be afraid to kill a superstar of that stature in your film.I mean, and you’re talking about 44 years ago. And they spent so much money. It was a movie that sucked the life out of everybody.
What are your favourite tidbits related to the film? The stories?
That Dharamji paid the light boys to mess up! He was doing romantic scenes with Hemaji or that shooting scene where he was holding her and teaching Basanti how to shoot.
One of my favourite stories is that tank scene which was not written earlier. And they were, I think if I remember correctly they wrote it in the car on the way to the Bangalore airport. And that scene has been repeated in films over and over and over again.I mean Katrina Kaif was doing it in Meri Brother Ki Dulhan. It’s like you make cinematic history just like that.