Amitabh Bachan, Dharmendra, Sanjeev Kumar and Amjad Khan during the shooting of film Sholay (1975)

Amitabh Bachan, Dharmendra, Sanjeev Kumar and Amjad Khan during the shooting of film Sholay (1975)

Generally accepted to be the greatest Hindi film of all time, this film appeals to everyone and is always a good choice to show to people who have never seen a Hindi film before, as it needs no cultural explanations (even though they can add to the meaning).

Jai (Amitabh Bachchan) and Veeru (Dharmendra) are petty crooks, hired by Thakur Baldev Singh (Sanjeev Kumar), a former police officer. He has lost his whole family to the evil Gabber Singh (Amjad Khan) in revenge for being sent to jail. Convinced that the law is inadequate, he is determined to take his own revenge, but Gabbar cuts off his arms. Veeru falls in love with the tonga-driver, Basanti (Hema Malini), while Jai is attracted to the Thakur’s widowed daughter-in-law (Jaya Bhaduri). But they have to fight Gabbar and his gang …

The film’s great foundation is its script and dialogue. Unforgettable scenes include the dismembering of Thakur, Jai’s meeting with Basanti’s aunt (Leela Mishra), and, of course, the episodes in Gabbar’s camp. It is not unusual for people still to quote the dialogues today (especially Gabbar’s ‘Kitne aadmi the?’ speech or his ‘Tera kya hoga Kaaliya? ‘and ‘Arre o Sambha’, but also Basanti’s ‘Chal Basanti!’ and her address to her horse, ‘Chal Dhanno, aaj teri Basanti ki izzat ka sawaal hai’, all of which were released on disk and now can be found on numerous websites).

The film also stands on the performances of the four major stars. Dharmendra as Veeru is the tough man with the soft heart, best remembered for his performance in the drunken scene. Jai is cool, quiet and composed but has a great sense of humour, as demonstrated in his meeting with Basanti’s aunt. Hema Malini shines as the chatterbox of a tonga-driver who is forced to dance for Gabbar’s sadistic enjoyment, while Jaya is silent apart from the flashback to the family’s Holi party. This film shows why Sanjeev Kumar is considered to be one of Indian cinema’s best actors. However, Amjad Khan as the evil Gabbar Singh has the best lines and is the baddie everyone loves to hate. The more evil he is, the more we are entertained.

The R. D. Burman songs include the hugely popular ‘Yeh dosti’, with its crazy sound effects and silly picturisation; the Holi song, ‘Holi ke din’, Basanti’s tortured dance, ‘Jab tak hai jean’, and the dance song performed by Helen, ‘Mehbooba’.

Sholay has been called a ‘curry Western’ (rather than a spaghetti Western), no doubt in part because of its stylish baddies (Jai’s resemblance to Clint Eastwood’s characters has been noted), its bleak locations and the characteristics it shares with films like The Magnificent Seven (1960). While it has features that are unusual in a Hindi film, such as the absence of family ties (apart from those of the Thakur, which have been destroyed) and the presence of evil rather than just a villain, it is still very much a typical Hindi film, with songs, comedy and romance, as is clear from a comparison with its antecedents, in particular Mera gaon mere desh.

Cast and Production Credits

Year – 1975, Genre – Crime, Action, Drama, Romance, Country – India, Language – Hindi, Producer – G. P. Sippy, Director – Ramesh Sippy, Music Director – R. D. Burman, Basu Manohari, Maruti Rao, Cast – Amitabh Bachchan, Dharmendra, Sanjeev Kumar, Hema Malini, Jaya Bachchan, Leela Misra, Sachin, Arani, Jalal Agha, Raj Kishore, Amjad Khan, A. K. Hangal, Satyen Kappu, Iftekhar, Vikas Anand, Mac Mohan, Geeta, Om, Rajan Kapoor, Birbal, Bhanumati, Habib