SHOLAY: NEW DIMENSION IN TIME

Almost four decades later, Bollywood’s magnum opus returns to thrill, in 3D this time

When Sholay releasedin 1975, director Ramesh Sippy said, “A 70mm format takes the awe of the big screen and magnifies it even more to make the picture even bigger, but since I also wanted a spread of sound, we used six-track stereophonic sound and combined it with the big screen. It was definitely a differentiator.” Over 38 years later, generations of Indians who have grown up on DVDs of Sholay will find enough curiosity value in this to see the film in its new differentiator— 3D theatrical release.

Sholay has never been far from the hearts  of avid film buffs, because in cine-terms, it is a time machine. The picture takes us back to the days when true entertainment could actually be packaged into one film. As a film, it is a pastiche of many films, yet is original Hindi cinema. It is a film that refuses to be classified into a single genre and, even after almost forty years, refuses to age.

So how does Sholay fare in 3D? For the first few minutes, not so well. Unlike Gravity or Avatar, this movie was not designed for the 3D format, so it takes some time getting used to the rocky terrain of Ramgarh in deep focus. As the opening credits roll on to the screen, the initial adjustments make you miss out on R D Burman’s soaring soundtrack. The effect is akin to watching Sholay through an aquarium window with figures in the distance, like tiny blurry goldfish, as you try to focus on just those in the foreground. As your eyes adjust to the 3D vision, the famous train sequence runs, and from the moment Thakur Baldev Singh (Sanjeev Kumar) shoots the handcuffs off of Jai (Amitabh Bachchan) and Veeru’s (Dharmendra’s) hands, and the bullet comes flying at you, suddenly, you are in the midst of the action, and the magic of Sholay in 3D takes over.

Sholay is a movie we have seen over and over, and yet one memorable scene after another, it keeps us entranced. It remains timeless because, as Fareed Kazmi says in his book, The Politics of Conventional Indian Cinema, “Sholay plugs into the central nervous system of its audience by creating a world which it can really identify with. The world of the good and the bad, the strong and the weak, the vulnerable and powerful and the oppressors and the oppressed...” It’s not just a revenge drama; it’s reel catharsis for the audience. Sholay starts off as a series of set episodes, but soon the stitches in the quilt start taking shape as Jai and Veeru assume the roles of Thakur Baldev Singh’s reluctantly recruited soldiers in exacting revenge on Gabbar Singh (Amjad Khan).

Exceptional performances, excellent cinematography and a haunting soundtrack are the cornerstones of the film, but the real hero of the movie is the screenplay. The scriptwriters (Salim/Javed) make sure that an atmosphere of violence pervades every scene—whether muted, or overt—as the audience is relentlessly sucked into the vortex of evil that Gabbar creates. All through the narrative, tension is created and then relaxed, giving the audience momentary relief while the circle of violence continues—an action scene could be preceded by a victory celebration, a festival dance followed by death. Even the dialogues, with their cadence, rhythm and repetition, enhance the suspense and tension. The script constantly underlines the duality in the film—the duality of good and evil, duality of character, the duality of circumstances. But what it also creates, almost as a corollary, is a host of memorable cameos—Soorma Bhopali, The Jailor, Kaalia, Samba. It’s not as if all the characters are integral to the plot, but they layer the story with the feeling that they could only inhabit the world of Sholay.

The 3D effects do enhance the story in some scenes and work best in the action sequences, as gravel flies from the thundering hooves of horses, and bullets fly thick and fast at the audience. The colour correction makes it a clearer and better way to watch the movie than the grainy prints we have been so used to on the small screen, but it does appear to be more of a gimmick as the film progresses; almost a minor irritant in the flawless plot.

The tagline of Sholay, when it was first released, called it “the greatest story ever told”. Sholay in 3D proves that, even in the jostling crowd of films in a multiplex world, some movies remain timeless, whatever the for

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: FEBRUARY 2014