As in the Christian world it is before Christ or after, in the Indian film history it is before Sholay or after, says filmmaker Shekhar Kapur, and interestingly the film is etched in the memory the generation that came before Sholay and the one that followed. There is no escaping Ramesh Sippy's magical action-thriller that was to change the face of Hindi cinema with its release exactly 40 years ago.The popularity of the film is well captured by a blogger who blogs with the name Kamakaze: "I grew up with Sholay playing on the tape-recorder of the village paan-shop years before I actually saw the film. Sholay is an unprecedented movie in Indian film history in the sense that its complete soundtrack, not just songs, was playing in the remotest corners of the country. All of us in my school knew the dialogues by heart. It had a magic, films of later years were not able to recreate."
Indeed the magical spell is cast even on the post-Sholay generation and Simran Dhatt, a research scholar at Panjab University, says: "I saw the film on cable TV and enjoyed it thoroughly. Most exciting were the scenes with Basanti (Hema Malini) as the tangewali and her mare Dhano." Well, even the mare's name is not forgotten!
Punjabi singer Dolly Malkiat recalls that she was just 10 when she watched the film for the first time and then went on to see it many times over the years. "It had an interesting story, action and romance with the two hit pairs of the time Dharmendra-Hema and Amitabh-Jaya and of course the advent of Amjad Khan as the dreadful Gabbar Singh," she says.
Nearly all who commented on the film and its success were of the opinion that the magic was worked by the story and dialogues of Salim-Javed and also the debut performance by Khan in the inimitable role of the sadistic dacoit. This was a complete break from gentleman villains such as Pran and Prem Chopra that the cine-goers were used to watching. Chandigarh-based theatre director Rani Balbir Kaur says: "The film's strength was its dialogues and the startling performance of Gabbar Singh. The recent 3D version of the film did not do too well because in the past 40 years there have been many Sholays and better-made films like Gangs of Wasseypur and Badlapur. Tastes have changed but the flavour of Sholay lingers on." Tapesh Sharma, the secretary of Chandigarh Film Society, opines: "People had enjoyed the original film so much that they had no need for the 3D version."
Some of the memorable dialogues were spoken by Gabbar Singh who made his entry an hour after the film started and these are quotable quotes even today: 'Tera kya hoga Kaaliya!', 'Arre O Sambha, kitne aadmi the?' or 'Bahut yaarana lagta hai! "These dialogues are still repeated by youngsters," says Navdeep Brar, a fresh MBA passout from Panjab University, adding "this film is a link between the past generation and the present. Both relate to it well."
Not only was Dharmendra's classic suicide act atop a high water tank cursing his Basanti's wretched aunt with the oft-quoted line: 'Mausi going jail and chakki peesing and peesing' copied many times on reel but it became a popular act of protest in real life too. Film buffs will recall that nearly two decades after Sholay was released, Anupam Kher mimicked the scene in Hum Aapke Hain Koun (1994) to much applause.
But in real life, it has become a popular nationwide form of protest from Jalgaon to Sirsa; from Bhopal to Bathinda. Sometime ago, villagers in Jalgaon did a repeat performance to press their demand for regular water supply. In Bhopal, a man climbed a mobile tower and created a stir to get justice from the chief minister. Bathinda too has seen protesters atop the water tank to press for their demands.
The funniest was when a junior engineer climbed atop a water tank in Sirsa last year to get his wife back from her maternal home. The Sholay act went on for hours till the police arrested him for attempting suicide. "Come along with us. We'll get your Basanti back," a policeman told him after the arrest.