Ramesh Sippy’s Sholay (1975) changed the course of Hindi Cinema. It transformed the life of its actors, and became the gold-standard for commercial film success. The film is about two friends, Jai (Amitabh Bachchan) and Veeru (Dharmendra), who take revenge on the dacoit Gabbar Singh (Amjad Khan), on behalf of a Thakur (Sanjeev Kumar) who hires them. As one director Darmesh Darshan puts it, is “part of our heritage as Indians.” The film’s dialogues are common-place idioms, and its characters part of our cultural litany. To celebrate 45 years since the film’s release, here are 45 interesting things you might not have known about the tome that is Sholay.
Also Read: Movies I Love: Amish Tripathi On Sholay
1. In 1999, BBC-India and assorted polls christened Sholay “Film Of The Millennium.”
2. In Mumbai’s Minerva theatre, Sholay ran uninterrupted for five years, from 1975 to 1980.
3. Sholay was India’s first 70 mm, stereophonic sound film. But the premier, at Minerva theater, was done with the 35 mm print because the 70 mm prints were still in customs!
4. Writers of the film Salim Khan-Javed Akhtar got 10,000 Rupees as a signing amount, which was a huge amount in the 1970s.
5. It is said that Sanjeev Kumar wanted to play ‘Gabbar’ so badly that he offered to blacken his teeth, and shave off his hair, to convince director Ramesh Sippy that he could play the part. He eventually played the role of Thakur.
6. Dharmendra wanted to play Thakur’s role after hearing the final script. He knew Thakur and Gabbar were central to the story. Director Ramesh Sippy cleverly convinced Dharmendra to play Veeru by explaining that if the roles were swapped, Sanjeev Kumar would get Hema Malini at the end. The Dharmendra-Hema romance had just begun, and Sanjeev had already proposed to Hema once.
7. Shatrughan Sinha was originally considered for Jai’s role.
8. It was Salim Khan who recommended Amitabh Bachchan for Jai’s character. Initially met with some opposition, he held a trial of Zanjeer which alleviated all doubts. Dharmendra too lobbied for him.
9. Dilip Kumar was initially offered the role of Thakur Baldev Singh, which eventually was played by Sanjeev Kumar. Salim Khan noted that later, Kumar felt bad about rejecting the role.
10. Danny Denzongpa was initially offered the role of Gabbar Singh. However, he was busy shooting Dharmatma in Afghanistan and could not accept the role.
11. The one-minute scene of Radha (Jaya Bachchan) extinguishing the lamps while Jai (Amitabh Bachchan) played the harmonica during sunset took 20 days to shoot by cinematographer Dwarka Divecha. Because Ramesh and Divecha decided that these tender scenes required the golden hue of the magic hour, the few minutes between sunset and night.
12. Sholay‘s centerpiece – the massacre sequence in which Gabbar obliterates the Thakur’s family – was shot in twenty-three days over three schedules.
13. Gabbar Singh is featured in only nine scenes of the film.
14. Salim Khan’s father, a cop, had told him stories of a notorious dacoit named Gabbar, who kept dogs, and chopped the noses of cops. This was how Gabbar Singh’s name came to be.
15. Thakur Baldev Singh is actually the name of Salim Khan’s father-in-law. Initially a retired soldier, his character was later changed to that of a policeman.
16. While shooting in Bangalore, amidst greenery and rocks, there was some resentment over the sets. People thought the film needed to be shot in a landscape like Rajasthan.
17. Initially planned for six months, the shooting stretched to well over a year. Juggling various actors’ schedules was also getting difficult. Many producers who had to finish movies simply moved their production to Bangalore.
18. The scenes of Gabbar’s hideout were shot in Ramanagra near Bangalore, a part of which was renamed Sippy Nagar in honour of director Ramesh Sippy.
19. Real bullets were used for some scenes in the climax. Amitabh Bachchan was almost killed by a stray bullet, as Dharmendra’s shot missed him by inches.
20. Gabbar Singh is shown as a modern dacoit who wears a military dress. Before this, the dakoos were dressed in dhoti-kurta mostly in Chambal’s ravines. As Javed Akhtar put it, he belonged ‘somewhere between Mexico and Uttar Pradesh’.
21. To give Gabbar Singh’s khaki uniform, purchased from Chor Bazaar in Mumbai, the dirty bandit look, Amjad Khan lived in these army fatigues.
22. Gabbar Singh’s character was so famous that Britannia Biscuits made a commercial with Amjad Khan eating biscuits. This was the first time that a villain character was used by a company to publicize its products. The advertisement was an instant hit in children and the sales doubled.
23. From Glucose biscuit to gripe water, Sholay has been used to sell a wide range of things in the market. It’s been used by copywriters in ads of Aiwa Electronic products, and Channel V spoofs.
24. The concept of Sholay was first taken to Prakash Mehra but he was busy with Zanjeer and so, the script ended up in the hands of Ramesh Sippy.
25. Pran’s name was considered for the role of Thakur, who had done several Sippy Films earlier. But Ramesh Sippy was convinced of Sanjeev Kumar’s talent.
26. The tanki scene, where a smashed Viru climbs on top of a water tank and threatens to die by suicide, had been discussed but wasn’t written yet. Javed Akhtar wrote it in the car on the way to Bangalore airport. He made his assistant check-in for him, while he trashed the scene out on paper, on the hood of his car.
27. Jai’s coin-flipping trick was directly adapted from Gary Cooper in Garden of Evil. In that film, Gary Cooper and Richard Widmark drew cards to decide who will leave and who will stay behind to fight off the Apaches.
28. The scene of Gabbar massacring Thakur’s family is adapted from Once Upon A Time In The West. Salim-Javed kept the Hollywood Western as the primary inspiration but also used Hindi cinema references to add colour to the characters. For example, Raj Khosla’s 1971 film Mera Gaon Mera Desh, had a one-armed man, that would become the inspiration for Thakur. The Bimal Roy’s Madhumati has a scene in which a boastful servant is caught by his master, much like what happens with Soorma Bhopali in Sholay.
29. Soorma Bhopali’s character, played by the late Jagdeep, wasn’t said to be part of the original script. It was added later as Salim-Javed, after watching the rushes, felt the film needed another comic punch. A qawwali was also shot on Jagdeep but was taken out as it was bloating up the runtime of the film.
30. The song was called ‘Ke Chand Sa Koi Chehra’ One of the singers of the song was the lyricist Anand Bakshi while the others were Manna Dey, Kishore Kumar and Bhupendra.
31. Since the song was recorded but never picturized, Bakshi felt disheartened. He felt that if they had shot it, it could have made his career as a singer.
32. Actor Sachin Pilgaonkar, received a refrigerator as remuneration for his acting
33. Dharamendra used to pay the lightboys to mess up when he was doing romantic scenes so that he would get to hug and embrace Hema Malini again and again.
34. The original ending was very different from what was finalized. There are bootlegged DVDs out there of the original ending where Thakur kills Gabbar with his feet, for his hands were hacked off by Gabbar.
35. The ending was changed at the behest of the Censor Board who thought it was too violent. With a few days left for release Sippy, who realized that if he fought with the board, his film’s release would be delayed, conceded and went to shoot the new climax in Bangalore again, calling back Sanjeev Kumar who was in Russia. This was during the emergency which had began in July.
36. The situation for the song ‘Mehbooba’ was not there in the original screenplay but was created when the director Ramesh Sippy and his wife Geeta, heard ‘Say You Love Me’ by Demis Roussos number in London, asking RD Burman, the music composer to adapt this song.
37. The film was being edited as it was being shot. The film was shipped from Bangalore to Mumbai Film Center where editor Madhav Rao Shinde would cut it and send it to Bangalore for Sippy’s approval.
38. Ramesh had exposed 300,000 feet of negative. It had to be whittled down to less than 20,000 feet.
39. Salim-Javed were toying with the title “Angaarey” for the film. But later decided on Sholay. That title was Salim Khan’s idea.
40. After failing to convince Asha Bhosle to sing ‘Mehbooba’ in an extra husky old gypsy female’s voice, Pancham decided to sing it himself.
41. The film was made by the planned budget of 1 crore but ultimately rounded up with a bill of 3 crores.
42. Javed Akhtar had said that everyone thought the film would fail, “The emotions are negative, the film is gruesome, the villain’s voice is weak and the casting is wrong. In the end, they all proved to be wrong.”
43. Initial reports suggested that Sholay would be a flop and the producers went into damage control mode. But writers Salim and Javed were confident that it would do well. They even put out an ad in a trade paper, which said that Sholay will make Rs 1 crore in every territory which had never happened before. It went on to make 2 to 3 crore in every territory at a time when movie tickets cost Rs 10!
44. The film ran for 25-weeks in over 100 cinema houses.
45. Sholay, which proved to be a blockbuster with the audience, received only one Filmfare Award, for Best Editing.