The shooting for Ram Gopal Varma's Sholay is in full swing and Ram Gopal Varma, who started the film with Gabbar Singh's scene, says that Amitabh Bachchan wiped off the image of Amjad Khan's Gabbar "in one shot".
The indefatigable Varma is shooting with his new-age Gabbar in a house near Yari Road in suburban Mumbai.
"It's Amitji's introductory scene. I had to start with Gabbar Singh's scenes first. And what can I say? Thirty years of the impact that Amjad Khan had on me as Gabbar Singh has disappeared in one day's shooting. In the very first shot Amitji just bowled me over," Varma said.
"For a guy like me, who has grown up on Gabbar Singh and everything that I know about filmmaking came from watching Sholay... to forget the earlier 'Gabbar' wasn't easy. Amitji has made the impossible happen."
Varma warms up to the topic.
"For me Gabbar Singh is now Amitabh Bachchan. And I'm sure that's how it's going to be for audiences when the film releases."
Dressed in intimidating clothes with a stick in his hand, Amitabh looks every inch the decadent gangster.
"See the whole point of Gabbar Singh in the city in my Sholay as opposed to Gabbar in the Chambal Valley is that the latter is cut off from all civilisation. Amitji's Gabbar is a devious gangster who stays in Mumbai and challenges the authorities to catch him.
"So, he isn't on the run, nor is he in prison. This isn't a scruffy frantically on-the-run gangster like the ones in my Satya or Company. My Sholay is going to be a very exotic glamorous film. And Amitji's Gabbar will be suave, dapper and elegant.
Varma says Amitabh's Gabbar is like Phantom.
"He's in touch with the minds of terrorists from all over the world. I wanted to make him look menacing and yet magnetic appealing and panther-like."
On Wednesday, when Amitabh walked in for the first day's shooting in his ordinary clothes and the stick, there was a discernible gasp.
"He hadn't done that much to his looks - no wigs, not too many accessories except the stick, no stained teeth at all - but he exuded terror. He has brought in all the elements of the original Gabbar. Then he has brought in his own element, which only he can describe."
"All these years Amitji has hidden his evil side so well. I want to bring it out on screen. How can anyone be so correct? No one can be so morally perfect. Like I always said Sholay to me is synonymous with Gabbar. And now Gabbar is synonymous with Amitji. He's the heart of the film."
One radical change from earlier plans - Himesh Reshammiya will no longer sing 'Mehbooba o mehbooba'.
"Male vocals didn't fit into the song any longer. Asha Bhosleji will sing the song for Urmila and Amitji will pitch in a few lines. That's a change from the original because in the earlier Sholay Amjad Khan never danced or sang. I'd have loved to have Himesh sing 'Mehbooba'. But it just didn't fit in," said Varma.
So, does Gabbar Singh still remain the guy with no overt sexual desires?
Varma nearly fell off his directorial chair.
"Are you crazy? Did you see Gabbar's lust when Helen was dancing? Who says Gabbar was disinterested? He was looking at Helen as though he'd eat her up. Trust me. I'm the lust expert. The same sort of chemistry will exist between Amitji and Urmila."
In the meanwhile voices against Varma's "Sholay" continue to blare.
"I believe Amjad Khan's son gave a statement that Mr. Bachchan shouldn't play Gabbar Singh. He should at least see what I've done. Everyone from Lata didi to Hemaji feels making Sholay is like playing with fire.
"Well, I've one consolation for them. Since the critics have already exhausted all their expletives for Shiva, they'd have nothing left to say about Sholay. I think they'll pool their money and hire a gangster to get rid of me. If Allah, Jesus Christ and Vaishno Devi come together to plead against my doing Sholay I'm still making it."
Incidentally, Basanti remains un-cast.
"Why this brouhaha over Basanti? She isn't as important in my Sholay as she was in the earlier version. If you remove the tonga and ghagra-choli from Basanti she's just another girl in the plot."