Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Sholay, or, The Embers Glow Even Today

Let me just start out by saying that I usually don't expect too much from movies produced in the same decade as yours truly. I detest most American movies from the 1970s, and that includes The Godfather. Yup, I'm a total Philistine. However, the year that gave us One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (blech) and Barry Lyndon (huh?) gave India one of its all-time popular classics, Sholay (Embers, or Flames), starring Amitabh Bachchan, Dharmendra, Hema Malini, Sanjeev Khumar, Jaya Bhaduri and Amjad Khan as the villain Gabbar Singh. And it still holds up very well today, even to an ignoramus like myself.

Jai (Amit-ji) and Veeru (Dharmendra) are best friends and partners in crime. They roam the countryside, singing about their friendship, hanging from vines, stealing motorbikes, and the like. They decide to have a friend turn them in for the reward money that's offered for their capture, arranging to split the payoff with him. Surprise, surprise, the friend wants all the cash and betrays them to the police after they escape from jail. (I'm completely skipping over a SuperFantastic Bollywood WTF side-plot involving a vaudeville-style-Hitler-esque prison warden and Jai and Veeru's antics while imprisoned. Trust me, you're not missing anything.)

However, fate has different plans than a rock quarry for Jai and Veeru. A former law enforcement official (I never did understand who exactly he worked for) who now is a landlord remembers their bravery and honor in a tough situation from many years back, and is looking to hire the two as mercenaries to deal with a dacoit (which means bandit) who's been terrorizing his village. The Thakur (played by Sanjeev Khumar with old-school style and gravitas) arranges to have Jai and Veeru released and transported to his home.

The iconic "Yeh Dosti."
Once there, the two are brought from the train station to the Thakur's haveli by the talkative Basanti (Hema-ji! Whoo-hoo!) who refers to herself in the third person, answers her own questions, and drives the laconic Jai up the proverbial wall. Veeru, more easy-going and friendly, is utterly charmed by the vivacious beauty. Jai, however, is drawn to the widowed bahu Radha (Jaya) almost immediately upon entering the Thakur's home.

The Thakur offers a massive amount of money in addition to the reward already posted for Gabbar Singh's capture. However, he also extracts a promise from the other two men to bring Gabbar Singh to him alive. An initial scuffle with three dacoits goes well, with Jai and Veeru easily defeating the goons and earning kudos from the villagers.

When they return to their rocky, mountain-surrounded campsite, the bandits confess all to Gabbar Singh, who then reveals himself to be the Evillest Evil Evildoer EVER through a sadistic game of Russian roulette. Did I mention that he's probably going to Hell?

Back at the village, Jai and Veeru play Holi.


The song isn't subtitled on the DVD either but you can find translations at BollyWHAT. Aaaand then life goes downhill rapidly for everyone involved as Gabbar Singh remains intent on proving himself The Incarnation of All Evil.

Sholay is full of great scenes that I couldn't look away from, like Helen's hip-twitching wonder-powers in "Mehbooba:"

Holy mother. Not to mention the many adorable scenes between real-life couple Dharmendra and Hema (I especially like the one where he's pretending to be a divine revelation), the poignant longing between Amitabh and Jaya, the awesome buddy pyaari between Jai and Veeru, the amazing scene wherein Basanti dances for Veeru's life... It's a long train of classic moments, and worth watching just so I can finally get the near-constant references made to the film in subsequent Hindi movies.

Of course, it wouldn't be a masala movie without a few SuperFantastic Bollywood moments. (Spoilers ahead!) There is, of course, the freaky Hitler-lite in the early prison scenes, the jumpy cutting and near-endless supply of goons galloping across the countryside, overlong chase scenes, total camp melodrama ("Give me your ARMS, Thakur!"), and some truly grisly violence.


However, they only add to the overall charm of Sholay. At the end, my husband turned to me and said, "You never would have watched that if it hadn't been an Indian film." True, true, and yet I wouldn't have wanted to watch it if it hadn't been a Hindi film either. Sholay is, of course, worth every penny.

13 comments:

  1. I agree with the last line "Sholay is worth every single penny". Because its truly a great movie. Its a great mix up a comedy and action, which is rare.

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  2. You know. I totally agree with your hubby. I wouldn't watch many Hollywood 70s movies either but with Bollywood, heck yeah I will! :)

    I did watch Sholay and I did enjoy it a lot. I do need to watch more Bollywood oldies

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  3. Yaaayy, you finally got around to reviewing this humungo movie! i love the campy-ness of the "I want your arm Thakur" it made squeal with laughter, and helen's dance is just soo vampy and sexy!

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  4. I am always amazed how emotional this movie makes me- I cried when sanjeev's family died, when the blind man found his son was dead, when jai sacrifices himself- so much angst and I love it!

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  5. The embers certainly glow! I heard about Sholay for years, heard its dialogues so often that I could quote them verbatim, saw several of its scenes on TV and endured several good and bad copies/parodies of it, before I finally saw the movie a few years ago. After a lifetime of Sholay bombardment I fully expected to dislike it intensely and was amazed at how much I loved it! The jokes were corny, the situations were cliched, the acting was OTT, but it still works so well.

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  6. This movie remains my favorite Bollywood movie to this day. An ode to spaghetti westerns and showcasing all that makes Bollywood great - great stars, fantastic villain, larger than life story and of course those marvelous tunes. Even though this movie is from the fantabulous 70's it technically is NOT a 'Bollyweed' movie (Bollyweed meaning a movie from the 70's that is so insane & over the top that you either need to be smoking something to truly enjoy it or the producers were smoking that same something while they were making it).

    It's just a well crafted and well made movie. There is a great book written about it as well with a multitude of wonderful photographs and copious amounts of juicy trivia - http://arian.sulekha.com/blog/post/2007/09/the-making-of-sholay-book-review.htm

    Salim-Javed made their names as screenwriters with this movie & Deewaar and their ability to weave both the dramatic as well as the comedic parts is just amazing. Most overlooked performance has to be by Amitabh during his comic scenes such as when he is talking to Basanti's grandmother and purposely throwing Dharmendra under the bus for no other reason except to make himself laugh. Ditto when he is sitting in the back of Basanti's horse carriage and after hearing her refer to herself for the umpteenth time in 3rd person asking 'But what is your name again Basanti?'. Classic.

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  7. Hi Bollywood Lover! I agree that the balance between action and comedy is *awesome* in the movie; well, with the exception of the whole prison subplot. ;-)

    Nicki, I hope you post about the oldies you watch; you always have such great screencaps and you review a lot of movies I've never heard of. :-D

    Rum, I *totally* loved the melodrama--OMG Basanti's bleeding feet!!! And you're right, Helen was a total sex rani in that dance.

    Shweta: I loved this movie, all the angst was awesome. Seriously. And that line where the blind guy talks about how he's sorry he doesn't have more sons to give... **wipes tears away**

    Bollyviewer: Sholay was a wonderful surprise for me too; I fully expected to roll my eyes through it and I ended up enjoying it sooo much!

    Sanket, thanks for visiting and commenting! You're right, it's not a WTF-fest like a lot of 70's stuff I've caught bits and pieces of. I thought the script was some great work, and the comic moments translated well which isn't always the case of course. I *love* that scene you mentioned when he's making Veeru look totally awful to Basanti's grandma. And of course his total disdain for Basanti (how often to guys give total approval to their best friends' girlfriends? hardly ever IME) is great.

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  8. It's funny, I watched this old Clint Eastwood flick called The Gauntlet on TV a while back and was weirded out that I actually kind of really liked it! Then I realized why .. it reminded me of movies like Sholay. Even though Sholay, now that I think of it, is more a reminder of those kind of Eastwood films that vice versa.

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  9. Veracious, I liked it for the inverse reason... I grew up watching those old westerns so this spoke my language despite its Indian-ness. ;-)

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  10. It's not only a gr8 movie but also it creates a history in bollywood.It's an epic movie.Even i heard that this movie has been included in syllabus for reading.

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  11. I completely agree that Sholay is a fantastic and great movie, I have seen this numerous times and still enjoy it a great deal.....

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  12. Saheli, what sort of syllabus? Like for a university course? I'd love to take that class!

    Reviewer, I really want to watch it again but I have so many movies in my queue I might get to watch it before my next birthday. LOL

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