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The iconic pair of friends played by Amitabh Bachchan and Dharmindra, pictured here in a shot from the film. - File Photo
“There has never been a more defining film on the Indian screen. Indian film history can be divided into Sholay BC and Sholay AD” -Shekhar Kapoor

The praise that Shekhar Kapoor has showered on “Sholay” is one that is echoed not only by film lovers from the sub-continent, but from around the world. No film captures the blockbuster appeal and flamboyant storytelling pattern of Indian cinema quite like Ramesh Sippy’s classic.

Though the film was inspired by other classic films, such as Akira Kurasawa’s “Seven Samurai” and the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone, it remains an original in its own right. The simple story of a vengeful landlord who hires two good-hearted rogues to defend his village and capture a notorious bandit has entered popular culture and remained stirring nearly four decades after its original release.

But “Sholay” was not predestined to become the movie it has become. At the outset the production was plagued by problems. It took over two years to make and the casting of Amitabh Bachchan in the lead role as Jai along with Amjad Khan as the iconic Gabbar Singh was not a sure bet.

Believe it or not, Shatrughan Sinha was first considered for the role that eventually went to Bachachan simply because “the Big B” was considered box-office poison at that time. And even more astonishing, Danny Denzongpa was initially offered the role of Gabbar Singh which eventually to Amjad Khan who, as we all now know, immortalised the character.

Amjad Khan as Gabbar Singh in Sholay - File Photo

Would the film have been a classic if these alternate castings had actually taken place? Hard to say and even harder to imagine. But aren’t we all glad that the film turned out the way it did.

The film has everything in it, or all the ingredients that make a great film. Terrific direction by Ramesh Sippy, a sharp script by Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar, beautiful cinematography by Dwarka Divecha and classic songs by R.D Burman, including “Yeh Dosti” and “Mehbooba Mehbooba”.

With unforgettable characters including Dharmendra’s Veeru, Hema Malini’s chatterbox Basanti, Jaya Bhaduri’s quiet and cold portrayal as Radha, along with Sanjeev Kumar as the stern yet dignified Thakur Baldev Singh, the film has given us a veritable gallery of Bollywoods best dialogue.

The most memorable character in the film is, of course, the dacoit Gabbar Singh, played brilliantly by Amjad Khan. The first genuinely evil character in Indian cinema, without pity or remorse, he kills and terrorises all those that oppose him or get in his way. Said to have been inspired by a real life dacoit from the 1950s, Gabbar Singh takes sadistic pleasure in torturing his unfortunate prey simply for his own vanity. The character was also strongly inspired by the character Frank played by Henry Fonda in Sergio Leone’s “Once Upon a Time in the West”.

Sadly for Amjad Khan, he could never escape the shadow of Gabbar Singh till the day he died. Even though he acted in a number of other classic films including “Qurbani”, “Laawaris” and “Muqaddar Ka Sikandar”, Khan will forever be known as Gabbar. He himself said that “From here, the only place I can go is down. This cannot be repeated”.

Ramesh Sippy, the director, could also relate to the above quote. He could never top Sholay’s success and the film will probably remain his epithet. After an initial lukewarm reception, the film became a sensation and ran in theatres for over five years. Over the passage of time, it has remained the gold standard by which box-office success is judged in India.

Even though the film didn’t win any of the major awards in the year that it was released, it did win a number of other honors as the years passed. At the 50th Annual Filmfare awards it was designated as the Best Film of 50 Years. It was declared “Film of the Millenium” by BBC India along with topping the British Film Institute’s rank of “Top Ten Indian Films”.

It has been imitated a number of times, including the forgettable “China Gate” directed by Rajkumar Santoshi in 1998 and the even more horrendous “Aag” directed by Ram Gopal Varma in 2007. Although it’s said that imitation is the best form of flattery, no film has, as yet, flattered “Sholay”. Still the quintessential “Curry Western”, it can still be enjoyed no matter how many times you watch it.

Raza Ali Sayeed is a journalist at

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (29) Closed

Alok Jan 21, 2012 12:17pm
Sholay will rule the 'TOP' title for decades to come.
Shri Jan 21, 2012 12:52pm
captured emotions of people of our subcontinent----truly amazing..
syed asif zafar Jan 21, 2012 02:26pm
Actul story hijack from English flim.But india made good copy
Indian Jan 21, 2012 02:50pm
Sholay shows the strength of India. Both Hindu and Muslims contributed to this hit Pluralism Triumphs
raika45 Jan 21, 2012 05:08pm
The dialogue "kitne admi they" still rings.
Viran Jan 21, 2012 06:50pm
Hi, I would like to add few things here. Amitabh got this film due to an influence of Dhramendra who suggested to Ramesh Shippy to cast him. This was appreciated by Big B. in award function in public. Sholay has mixed concept of 4 English Movies including successful Hollywood movie " The Magnificent Seven" Credit goes to Salim Javed. The Photography was excellent and credit goes to Late Dwarka Divecha. In early 70, the youth were not watching Hollywood movies much more what they used to do now because now it is dubbed in Hindi too. As a result Sholay was overall successful in India and greately appreciated by All youth. And lastly Sholay was first action Movie which is very closed to Hollywood Movie and Star were very closed to Hollywood Actor Clin Eastwood style. I have seen the comment of some of the American people on various blog who has praised only this Indina Movie. Veeran
Arisha G Jan 21, 2012 09:36pm
Can you leave out the 'religion' card for once?
Gabbar Jan 21, 2012 11:49pm
Are O Sambaha, Kitna inam rakhe hai sarkar hum par?.....
Asim Jan 22, 2012 01:25am
One of my favorite movies of all time
Aftab Jan 22, 2012 06:52am
You are spot on! it is a copy like many bollywood movies but never acknowledged. Anyway the copy was good and enjoyable.
Malone Jan 22, 2012 07:46am
As the review says, the story was ``stolen'' from a Japanese film: Seven Samuari. I have seen Seven Samurai, it does not even come close to being so emotionlly gut wrenching, probably because the counterparts of Gabbar Singh and Basanti are missing in the Japanese film. Also, what many have forgotten is that another Hindi film had tried pushing the same theme BEFORE ''Sholay', that was ``Khote Sikke'', a good film that simply did not have all the masala. Sholay was successful because it ``stole'' from many films. Even the eerie sountrack that one encounters when Thakur Saab returns from somewhere by train to find his sons and family members dead was stoles from ``How the West was Won''. The point is - this was great creative stealing.'
H Sandhu Jan 22, 2012 10:05am
At least we copy good things...harmony not degrading other relgions or doing jealous.. we go to DAWn web site for good articles even aganist India but we still like its style......presentation...
manoj Jan 22, 2012 11:47am
great article, thanks, film shows how india cinema has gained golden heights by contribution of people from different religions bayground, this is india strength also.
(Dr.) B.N. Anand fro Jan 22, 2012 03:44pm
Sir, Like always I liked this review by your film critic. The review in news analysis articles in your esteemed paper are always balanced and even if critical of our country are always mild in the tone and are thus always acceptable and do provoke introspection. Your paper indeed follows a unique approach in dealing with the affairs of our country. Thanks. BNA
A Pakistani Jan 22, 2012 05:28pm
(super) like
Indiano Jan 22, 2012 08:13pm
The article has summed up the phenomenon of the film. Every character whether big or small had a significant impact on the making of the film. Asrani the angrezon ke jamane ka jailor, Jagdish the soorma from Bhopal and AK Hangal the Maulana were all excellent. It is no secret that the film lifted a lot of ideas, one being the coin with heads on both sides. If its is a copy its is good one. My Kashmiri teacher used to say there are three ingredients of a good copy - aqal, naqal and shakal. Sholay had them all!
prabhu Jan 22, 2012 06:16pm
Both Hindus And Muslims played very good role in this film.
shiva Jan 22, 2012 11:34pm
even the tune for the song "mehabooba mehabooba" was copied from the Demis Roussos hit "say you love me"
baloch Jan 23, 2012 04:49am
no matter the sources of inspiration , this how entertainment should be , have watched it countless time. the dialogues have become modern day idioms, the action sequences put to shame the movies from this year. which other movie has translated so many bit roles of 5 min or less soorma, jailor, sambha , kaalia , even poor ahmad into characters to be remembered by. very rarely does bollywood click so well
Gary Sahi Jan 23, 2012 06:29am
I whole heartedly agree with you Arisha though I am an Indian too.
Jack Jan 23, 2012 08:09am
In the second still, the correct the spelling should be Dharmendra, not Dharmindra.
Concerned Indian Jan 23, 2012 08:47am
But he is right.
vijay, chennai, Indi Jan 23, 2012 05:50pm
@concerned Indian Concerned about religion? BTW I second Gary's comments
Raj Jan 23, 2012 08:16pm
Sholay is my the most favorite movie on Top 5 list, others are DDLJ, 3 idiots, Dil Chahta Hai and Hum Aapke Hai Kaun?.
Raj Jan 23, 2012 08:22pm
Art has no barrier.
Sandeep Jan 25, 2012 12:52am
Poore Pachas Hajar!
Tariq Shah Jan 30, 2012 09:18pm
Sadly latest indian movies have lost this creative copying technique and instead are copying western movies without imagination and just lifting them straight out of the english version, this is causing confusion as we dont want to see the West in a desi movie, we can see a Hollywood movie for that, why do I want to see Sharukh Khan pretending to be Tom Cruise when I can see Tom Cruise? Desi movies should keep their desi format, culture, style, dialogue and its more interesting. After all Basanti would not be Basanti in a skirt.....
Amir Khan Jan 30, 2012 09:23pm
Thanks, the Pakistani press is very mature and professional and does not ape the childish journalistic styles often portrayed in Hollywood movies and copied by many real world organizations in our region, for instance coming up with jingoistic, nationalistic, banshee screeching, angry, loud, labelling, kneejerk, impatient yellow journalism at the drop of a hat.
Arya Jan 31, 2012 10:49pm
"Sarkar maine aap ka namak khaya hain" Ab daal kha.....muaahhaahhh