Sholay, 1975

Directed by: Ramesh Sippy

Induct me into the Legion of Fillum Watchers because I’ve finally put on my legitimacy pants and watched Sholay.

Sick of all the endless taunting and eye boggling that would ensue when I admitting to never having seen it, I popped down to my DVDwallah and picked it up with Nagin. Together the films will be a gift for my coworker, but not before I’ve watched them first.

Please hold all judgements you might have on my using a gift before I’ve given it. It’s just easier this way.

Simply speaking, this is the look I would get.
Also, I never intended on the absolute luck of watching and writing this on Dharmendra’s birthday. So happy 75th to one hell of a smoking hot grandpa.

As usual, I cannot promise an absence of spoilers but since I was probably the only person left on planet earth who had not seen this film I am sure it’s safe if I give away some secrets.

Sholay can be summed up in one hyperbolic word: seamless.

Compared to its contemporaries there is a evenness and level of cleanliness that shines throughout Sholay and that you fail to find in other films. Is it my beloved Masala? Yes, but it is Masala done so well that it comes off as effortless, plausible and all together worthy of its standing as a Classic of Indian cinema.

Mainly I respect Sholay for utilizing two of my favorite concepts:
1. Use of essential personnel only
2. Faith enough in the story and the vehicle of story telling to kill characters.

I have waxed poetic and relentlessly on so many films about the mistake of giving screen time to characters and side-plots that do not need to be there. It pulls attention away from what the audience is supposed to focus on and it drags the pace. In Sholay the story is trimmed back only to the handful of characters who matter; namely Thakur Baldev Singh (Sanjeev Kumar), Veeru (Dharmendra), Jai (Amitabh Bachchan) and Gabbar Singh (Amjad Khan).  The film has a large supporting cast, toting the names of Hema Malini*, Jaya Badhuri*and Helen, but they come and go as needed. Speaking their peace, interjecting backstory and giving a 3D nature to the main characters when needed but they fade well enough into the background when they’re not needed and provide a clear and uncluttered stage upon which the drama may be played.

My second point, while considerably morbid, is no less important. As I was watching the ending I kept thinking “please do not cheapen this by keeping them all alive just for appearances’ sake!” It did not feel right to me that all of them should make it to the end, having the evil nature of Gabbar Singh been showcased as it was. There is a smack of Realism about Sholay that transcends the film and seems to tell you straight out that the story is going to give you something truthful. The decision to kill off a character is a bold move, and whether done in film, TV or literature is the sign of a writer who has faith enough that the story can stand on its own without the support of an actor or specific voice. As I watched a wounded and abandoned Jai try to fight off four ruthless henchmen I hoped that he had wits enough about him to fight back but that the odds would be realistic. Sholay will not provide a deus ex machina, and for that I’m so thankful.

At the end of the film there was another piece of action that totally won me over: Thakur is faced with the chance to kill his enemy and enact his revenge OR to turn over Gabbar Singh over to the cops. There is a moment of hesitation as he decides and I cannot honestly say I knew which path I wanted him to choose. There was the choice I knew I wanted him to make but also the one I thought would be right given the circumstances. It was like the decision for Jai to die; either direction would have worked but ultimately the writer and director made the correct choice and added to the credibility of the film.

Gabbar Singh. How do I even go about explaining Gabbar Singh?

I’ll start by saying that it is good to be finally clued in to all the jokes that have ever been made about him in any of the films I’ve ever seen. I feel like I belong to the worlds biggest inside joke. It feels amazing.
Quite frankly, Gabbar Singh scares the living daylights out of me. He’s heartless, ruthless and so devoid of any sense of right and wrong that it makes my blood run cold. However, credit must be given to the yummy** Amjad Khan for giving the character more than just a hateful shell, but for giving him the gem  of comedic relief. His expression, posture and outer absurdity masks the moral depravity that resides within our Mr. Singh. This humor is seen most freely when Gabbar Singh is lounging around in his out-of-doors hiding place in the middle of a mountainside. Actually, now that I am writing this the humor seems wrong. Very wrong. It is more of a look amusement at the pain he is causing, and the abandonment of decency that he has achieved. Nonetheless, and this probably says something horrible about my character, I found him rather amusing at times… Now I am all sorts of conflicted.

Our heros, Dharmendra’s Veeru and Amitabh’s Jai, were as expertly defined as they could have been. Throughout you see Veeru being fun loving and up to all sorts of antics while Jai languishes on the side looking, at turns, bored or apathetic. The latter of which is rather interesting to see. A disinterested hero is a fun deviation from the Hero with a Cause or the Wounded Man. This is when I wish I was back on set (and back in time) so I could ask if this was a conscious decision; and whether it was made by the director or the actor.

And you know I’ll never say “no” to a greased-up, sweating, dirty Amitabh. No sir. It goes against my basic biology.

OR Amitabh’s legs…
OR Amitabh in white bell bottoms and slinging a rifle on to his shoulders with a cool, Devil may care attitude…
But I digress…

I know that we have the lovely Shashitabh, but I am thinking there needs to be another such name for the Dharmendra-Amitabh paring. They are too adorable for words. I want to be their best friend. I have it: Dharmytabh. Adopt this, people.

While I adore both Jaya and Hema I feel as if they were cheated in this film. They were both given such stock characters and they adhered to them so rigidly it is hard to commend or disapprove of their performances. While both are endearing, they are not wildly memorable and were used just to give our heros someone to woo. It is fun that each character ended up with the personality that mostly resembled their own… and the women did provide reason for Veeru and Jai to give up their criminal ways and desire to settle down, but for me that just is not enough. On a side note, I did enjoy Jaya’s “before” personality immensely. She was such a bubbly thing!

Holi love song? 
Perfect.

For having a Burman score, it is interesting to me that I can’t remember any of the songs, except for the consideration that the songs are not the focus of the film. They are used to add flavor to the film but they do not drive the film, nor interrupt it.

Sholay is a total winner in my book. I can understand why it is revered and admired across decades and opinions. Before, when I was skeptical and unaware I would bitterly say “It better f’ing be like the Indian Godfather.” It is. Pure and simple.

All in all, I consider a substantial part of my Filmi education complete. I just have to polish off a few of the other Classics and I’ll be a giant among… something.

Oh dear. I am so going to have to buy another copy of this film. I don’t think my coworker can have this one.

*Hema Malini and Jaya Badhuri are listed as “main” characters, but for the purpose of explanation and the parts that they played in development of the plot I am referring to them as “supporting”.
**Don’t even think about judging me for that one. He’s handsome.

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Silsila, 1981

Directed by: Yash Chopra

I cannot hate this film. I just can’t.

It goes against my better nature, but I can’t. I don’t have the power to.

I despise cheating/adultery/sneaking around/hidden romances… all variations of dochebaggery.
I find all forms of self-sacrifice, withering, and pathetic justifications absolutely disgusting.
BUT
I appreciate semi-quasi-maybe-it-is-and-maybe-it-isn’t biographical flicks.
I love awkward semi-quasi-maybe-it-is-and-maybe-it-isn’t casting. It’s so true to life! It happens all the time!
Couple those with some of my favorites, Rekha, Shashi, Amitabh, Jaya and Sanjeev; throw in some Alps, romantic tulip fields, some nods to Clara Bow, and overall Yash-Raj-ishness and you probably will get a movie that I’m going to love.
This movie is like the cleaner, more endearing Bombay Talkie. It is highly, highly Romanticized, but it still has the same basic feel, except for all of the pathetic characters; on the whole, while I pitied the characters in this film, I neither hated them or thought they were right. They were just being human. (With glaring morality issues, but for this moment, that is beyond the point).
 
Shekher (Shashi Kapoor) is an officer in the Indian Air Force and he is truely, madly, deeply in love with Shobha (Jaya Badhuri*). 
 
Shekher has a brother Amit, whom he loves dearly too. And they do precious brotherly things… like shower together…?
The unfairness of this reverberates through MANY levels of unfairness.

Amit (Amitabh Bachchan) is a playwright, lauded for his voice which he uses to read his plays over the radio, and is smitten by the seductive Chandni (Rekha) whom he meets at a wedding and woos in precious filmi-love ishsyle. 

 

Chandni is promised to another man, but when she tells her father she is in love with Amit, he breaks off the engagement and allows her to follow her heart. When Shekher is killed in a rescue mission, Amit rushes off to the funeral and in the process discovers that Shobha is pregnant. Out of loyalty to his brother, and compassion towards Shobha Amit marries her. Amit writes a tearful goodbye to Chandni and shuts her out of his life for good…
 
Or so we think. While Amit plays the doting husband very well, especially after Shobha loses the baby, he is tormented by what his life could have been like, had he been free to marry Chandni. The more the couple drifts apart the more desperate Amit becomes in his quest to find Chandni and revive their romance. Almost by design the two meet, and meet again, and again and again… At first Chandni is firm, there will be no relationship. Amit is married, she too married a Dr. V.K. Anand (Sanjeev Kumar) and she will not take part in the eventual destruction of two families. 

 

Amit is nothing if not persistant, and eventually wears down Chandni’s resolve and the two begin a passionate, blissful affair. At first the relationship is taken casually by the respective participant’s spouses, but slowly, ever so slowly Shobha and Dr. Anand get the hints.  After a particularly telling display at Holi the lovers are confronted. Shobha tries to scold Amit but he does not find her serious and Dr. Anand persuades Chandni to forget her past before it rips apart their marriage. 

 

Later, when Dr. Anand and Shobha chat the Doctor tells Shobha that she has rights, and she has the ability to stand her ground and get what she wants too. Shobha races off to tell Amit that she loves him, and she does, but only after he confesses that he is being unfair to her, he loves Chandni and he’s leaving. 
 
Rather than put up a fight, Shobha lets Amit leave, citing that he will return when his sense of duty kicks in and that she is resigned to wait for him until that happens. 
 
When the two extramarital adulterers go to a wedding together “as friends” things get messy. And fast. During the ceremony Amit thinks of his wedding to Shobha and her newly confessed love for him, he’s haunted by his nonchalance and lost sense of duty.  A phone call in the middle of the wedding alerts the two decietful lovebirds of a plane crash involving Chandni’s husband. The two race to the scene where Amit sees Shobha. He is ready to jump into the continually exploding wreckage but is halted by Shobha who begs him no to. She doesn’t want to loose him, he should consider saving himself, if not for her, than for her unborn child.  With those magic words Amit’s demeanor changes and he softens a little. He promises that he will come back to her, and flies into the burning plane. 
 
Dr. Ananad is alive, remarkably, and Amit assists in dragging him out of the plane and to his wife; Chandni, in a move uncharacteristic for her thus far, embraces her husband and rejoices at his safety.
 
Amit races home to find Shobha (who had collapsed due to anxiety) and professes he is her husband, she his wife and nothing else matters. The film closes with Shobha and Amit strolling lovingly through a park, cuddling, goo-goo eying and looking very happy.

 

First a foremost I don’t understand why Amit had to marry Shobha at all. Se appeared to be an independent woman who could take care of herself. I understand that she would have been an unmarried mother, but surely all parties would have been better suited had Amit just married Chandni. The whole idea of marrying his brother’s fiancee, not wife, but fiancee, just seemed incredibly Biblical and dated. Plus, if I were to put myself into Shobha’s shoes, I wouldn’t have wanted someone to marry me just because they felt sorry for me. There was so much guilt, regret and misplaced sympathy in that that relationship, and that is just not healthy. Of course something like that is going to self-destruct. If not in an affair, in another way.
 
Amit needed to grow up, and that’s that. HE made the choice to offer marriage to Shobha so HE shouldn’t have felt the need to call up Chandni whenever he got a little mopey and insist they get back together, especially after she tried to say no! At least she was being a responsible adult in her attempts to have some sense of propriety. After her blatant refusal it should have been a non-issue, but Amit persisted and look where that got them.

I’m not going to even start on Shobha’s “I’ll wait till he returns because I have no claim on him, he has no responsibility to me, I only must do what he says and stand by him because I owe him for marrying me in the first place” stance. I refuse to go there. 

 
I think I was so sympathetic to this film because it was shot absolutely beautifully. Visual aesthetic will get you quite far in my book. Yash Chopra has a gift for composing stunning scenes that just ooze perfection. I drool over this mans lighting and his eye for creating ambiance and interesting pictures.

I especially liked Rekha’s treatment in this film. Obviously she was the femme fatal, and I don’t know if Yash was going through a Film Noir binge or what but there are some excellent moments where Rekha is shot  very much in the style of all the steamy oldies. She’s the Clara Bow of Bollywood. That’s my new name for her, because frankly, she is. Oh, her half-opened eyes and her pouty baby-doll lips, I can’t get enough! 

 

The performances made this movie. Being cast in their “real-life roles” (yes, I will get there**) added some spice and edge to the film. There was discomfort laced through every scene. There was tangible tension and moments of “Please stop looking at each other like that, and get back to acting, please” where I thought they had forgotten that they were playing characters.
 
 However, I do have to say that my favorite performance was by Sanjeev. He’s quickly becoming one of my favorites, he’s just so calm and collected, yet manages to convey everything his character is experiencing through his subtitles in his face and carriage. When he confronted Rekha about her affair it was heartbreaking, astonishingly real and overwhelmingly touching. 

 

The music is simply beautiful. Melodious, catchy, calm, soothing, beautiful…etc. Everything that good music is, this soundtrack has it. Of particular note are Sar Se Sarke and Ladki Hai Ya Shola. As well as having good songs, there are A LOT of them. As far as I’m concerned they’re all going on my iPod to help stave off boredom on my flight to India.

Ok, the drama.

As far as I’m concerned I don’t really care about the Rekha/Jaya/Amitabh real-life love triangle. I’m not one to get involved in celebrity woes and drama, and based on the effortless, minimal hunting I did no-one could tell me if it actually happened or not. Let’s though, say it did, in which case kudos to Yash Chopra for wrangling all three of these people and getting them to say “yes” to this film. On the other hand, let’s say it’s not true, and again, kudos to Mr. Chopra for getting them to play up the press the “affair” was getting. (I tend to lean towards the “yea, it happened” ideal, but still, I find that rather irrelevant)

I’mma say it again:
I love this movie.

*Jaya is billed with that last name, but on the film credits as Bachchan. I left her with that one, because that’s how I roll…
**I thought about not mentioning the real-lifey bits at all, but I know better than that. 

AND, a joy I had never considerd, Shashi in uniform! Enjoy: