Is Sholay the greatest film of all time? writes Sajid Khan

The story of poor farmers in a small village, being looted by the local bandit and then getting bad but lovable toughies to help them, is not new.
Sabse pehle advance booking mein… Happy Independence Day. Ek woh August 15, 1947 tha, where we got our Independence — our freedom — aur ek woh August 15, 1975 tha, where we got our greatest Hindi film ever… SHOLAY. Is this film truly the greatest Hindi film of all time? Let’s find out…

The story of poor farmers in a small village, being looted by the local bandit and then getting bad but lovable toughies to help them, is not new. Akira Kurosawa told the story first in 1954’s Seven Samurai. In 1960s, John Sturges adapted that film to make The Magnificent Seven. Ramesh Sippy’s 1975 classic Sholay had the same premise.

The difference was the writers Salim-Javed wrote characters and dialogues which rose above the story of the film. Sholay was inspired from The Magnificent Seven and Seven Samurai, it was far more entertaining. The Sholay poster was unique and pompous. “The greatest star cast ever assembled,” it read. The 70s best — Dharmendra at his peak, Amitabh Bachchan just touching stardom, the 70s biggest heroine Hema Malini, the most adored heroine Jaya Bhaduri, the most respected actor Sanjeev Kumar and an unknown… Amjad Khan… Gabbar Singh.

These two words are the most iconic words in the history of Indian cinema. Gabbar Singh. The filmmakers, writers and all the other actors had no idea that Gabbar Singh, the villain would become not just the most popular character of the film, overshadowing everyone else, but also Indian cinema. You guys must be thinking, ‘Arre, yeh Sajid Khan bahut zyada bol raha hai.’ Samjhaata hoon. Samjhaata hoon.

Print, hoardings and TV commercial endorsements were very rare in the 70s. Perhaps, a heroine for a soap or a hero for a cigarette. Amjad Khan, who was neither, became the first ever character to endorse biscuits in 1976.

The tagline was ‘Parle G: Gabbar ki asli pasand’. Tera kya hoga kaaliya, kitne aadmi the, yeh haath humko de de Thakur were just a few of the dialogues which are iconic till today. The film ran for a straight stretch of five years in Mumbai’s Meenarva cinema. With the poster of all the actors in the same size being replaced with a giant hoarding of Gabbar Singh after the first year, clearly Sholay was Gabbar and Gabbar was Sholay.

The character, like the film, had become a trend. But this was not the case in the first couple of weeks of release. Shunned by the critics, written off by the film fraternity, the film was called the biggest debacle of the century. A big filmmaker at the premiere, even told one of the lead actors that ‘this film is the biggest mistake of your life. You see, there’s one major element missing, without which no Hindi film can be a hit… ‘Maa’. There’s no mother in Sholay and there is no title song either.

The premiere of the film was a sad affair. The only people who didn’t lose hope were Ramesh Sippy and Salim-Javed. They knew they had created something which wasn’t run-of-the-mill, which was deep-rooted in Indian village culture, but shown in a Westernised style. They also knew that it would take people a little time to adjust to it. But once people did, they didn’t let go. (Latest example: The highest grossing films of all times in the world is Avatar, which met with a similar reception in the first week)

This was the first time ever that trade magazines, after two weeks, printed apology letters of how wrong they were about the film. Sholay was unstoppable. The original ending of the film had Thakur killing Gabbar Singh very gruesomely. But because emergency was declared in the country, the ending had to be re-shot where Gabbar Singh is arrested to give the message that law is above all.

Over the decades, the film as well as its characters have been aped, spoofed, mimicked on every platform of entertainment. August 15, 2015 marks the 40th anniversary of Sholay.

So is it truly the greatest Hindi film of all times? I know there are many out there would say Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge or a Hum Aapke Hain.. Koun! or 3 Idiots or maybe a Mughal-e-Azam or a Mother India. Undoubtedly, each one of these films is a gem, a true classic. But in my humble opinion, Sholay is the greatest Hindi film ever made. JAI HIND.