If it was just about the name, then the whole fracas between Ram Gopal Varma and the Sippys would have been understandable. After all, it was director Ramesh Sippy who had changed producer GP Sippy’s working title of ‘Shole’ — named after a 1953 movie directed by BR Chopra that GP had distributed — to the more iconic ‘Sholay’. And since Varma has been quite outspoken about his version being a homage as well as an update of the 1975 blockbuster, one would have thought that the Sippys would be touched.
But there is the matter of trademark violations and brand equity. The same way that Marvel Comics realised that it made better sense to own popular characters like Spiderman than to publish unpopular comics, the Sippys have figured that Ram Gopal Varma ke Sholay — with the same story and the same characters with the same names — could have walked away with a substantial monetary as well as artistic chunk of the classic pie. And since it’s Varma in the director’s seat — as opposed to Farhan Akhtar, who was behind the 2006 remake of another Salim-Javed script, Don — chances are Ram Gopal Varma ke Sholay could have divided the audience, not to mention future DVD sales. Whatever be the case, Sascha Sippy, director of Sippy Films Pvt Ltd, has stated that the son of the late GP Sippy, Ajit Sippy, did not have the copyright himself to the characters of the original film that would have allowed it to be transferred to Varma. He wants only one Gabbar Singh, one pair of Veeru and Jai, one Basanti....
So Varma’s homage will now be called Ram Gopal Varma ke Aag — and all of us will have to pretend that Babban Singh is not Gabbar Singh, Ghungroo is not Basanti... and the original Sholay wasn’t lifted from the Sergio Leone 1968 classic, Once Upon A Time in the West. Not that any of the Leones will be knocking on the door of the Sippys.