Sunday, September 11, 2005

revenge of the ishq: Sholay

[Mabye ishq only means romantic love. Whatever. Let me have my lame pun.]

I watched this because I felt I should, sort of like An Affair to Remember and, more to the point, High Noon. I can't imagine the circumstances that would make me really enjoy movie violence (other than James Bond, a phenomenon I cannot explain), so I was wary when I put in the DVD. But, of course, it was great. I'm going to yadda yadda over all the corpses and the deranged sense of revenge that drives the plot (although happily does not drive our heroes, I don't think), since I don't have much to say that's relevant.

A story about friendship is always a good time, this one expanded by the real sense of family and love Veeru and Jai have for each other. That was plenty good enough to make me enjoy the movie, but I thought the comic bits were really fun, and, although I just finisehd the movie a few minutes ago, I think I can heartily say that if I had to choose what Bollywood heroine I would like to be, I would choose Basanti. I also liked that the nobility of sticking to your promises, of doing the right thing, of choosing a new way of life, of falling in love, seemed to be done with thought. It wasn't just "hey, okay, I'll let go of the bad dude becuase Thakur's final revenge will be easy." It was "Okay, I'll let go, because my dead friend promised, and he was my friend, so I'll do what he would have done, even though I think, given the givens, it's foolish."

What does the word "sholay" mean, actually?

Also, was there significane to Radha's head covering being off when she looked out the window at Jai's pyre and then closed the shutter?


ads said...

I still haven't seen Sholay yet, but I think the title means "Flames."

Beth said...

Oh, that would sort of make sense. I honestly cannot whole-heartedly recommend that you see it, especially based on what I infer about your tastes from your blog and our comment correspondence. I don't want to be so narrow-minded as to say it's a movie for boys, but... well, I think it might be for boys. It's a western, a genre which seems to translate very easily, losing or gaining nothing in particular, as far as I can tell. Someone was telling me it's good to see Sholay just so you'll get the references to it, which is why I saw Casablanca. I don't really like Casablanca, but I do feel a little more with-it having seen it. So, yeah, Sholay is fine, whatever - I figured if I wanted to really understand Bollywood, and maybe even a little more about India in general, I shoudl see it. I would really liked to have seen it with someone else who is into BW so we could do a running play-by-play and discuss it. The comedy really is funny to me, and the romance between Veeru and Basanti was cool, but the rest of it I can take or leave. Probably leave, so I can go watch our fake pretend movie boyfriends. Maybe it's a 70s thing - I don't like most of the big US 70s films either, except Godfather.

carla said...

Hi Beth, me again, still working my way through your archives.

I am glad that, having chosen to watch Sholay because of its importance in the grand scheme of things Bollywood and things Indian, you actually enjoyed the experience.

I *love* this movie - it is (to paraphrase one of my law school professors) one of the eight movies in my all time top three movies. I'm not a guy, and I also hate hate hate movie violence, but I found the violence in Sholay forgivable because the story was just so compelling. I love the humor, I love the dosti, I love the digressions into the histories of the side characters, I love the ridiculous Helen number, I love the two-headed coin, I love Basanti dancing on glass, I love the whole thing.

But I also love getting all of the references to it that proliferate elsewhere in Indian popular culture.

Sam said...

You know, you've been blogging for such a long time, and I only just found you on the Interwebs. Funny, seeing as I am nuts about Bollywood.

In any case, great blog, on my bookmarks now etc.

On Sholay: maybe I'll sometime make a post about this, but did you notice that almost all the violence was off-screen. The really grisly ones at least. You never *see* Thakur's hand get cut. Even the vendetta visited on the family - there are freeze frames that stop just short of them actually getting hit. Even the nails on the boot violence fury that Thakur unleashes upon Gabbar - you're expected to imagine what that would be like.

I know, I know, the violence is implied, and I guess that makes it even more terrifying, but academically interesting as the film was to you, thought I'd mention it.

Beth said...

Hi Sam - Thanks for commenting! It's timely that you were "here" - I tried to rewatch Sholay yesterday with a group of friends, and we had some interesting discussions about why this movie is just so loved. One of the ideas we were kicking around was that somehow it manages to be an intense and dramatic film without really being melodramatic even though the elements of 70s Hindi melodrama are there. Somehow they've been stripped of certain kinds of excesses and wind up seeming less showy, less begging your suspension of disbelief. I wasn't paying particular attention to the violence but you make a really good point - I wonder if I hadn't noticed because the violence, as you say, IS so thoroughly set up that your brain almost assumes you've seen it.

Sam said...

Probably the biggest reason it is so beloved is the pacing, I think.
Bollywood is notorious (or famous, take your pick) for the song and dance routines, but the fact is that they exist as a means of pacing. Sholay uses it's songs very judiciously. That and the varied character based (as opposed to mere Jagdeep style slapstick)comedy lent a fairly serious and sombre film a vibrant pacing that (and this is important) never lets you get bored.
It helps that Sippy knows where to point the camera, so even now it looks fairly interesting.
You're right - the lack of excesses make it a much more timeless film than any other actioner, and maybe that helps too.
Anyway you cannot take any of what I say seriously. I am too baised to be an impartial source of information. :)

Continuing the violence discussion, small tidbit: The final scene in the film (as shot, dubbed and executed) was that of Thakur killing Gabbar by literally stomping all over him, and then seeing the bloody mess he made, he gets down on his knees and lets out a primal scream.
The censor board, quite scared of anti establishment films, and seeing as this one was glorifying vendetta, firmly asked for a change.
Hence we got the non-cathartic, but politically correct ending.

Nabeel said...

Sholay refers to embers - or perhaps burning, red hot, coals. The thing with Urdu/Hindi/Arabic is that the words all have so many connotations.

And, well, this is a classic. Few movies have so profoundly affected the entire industry..arey oh sambha!

kitne aadmi they?

god i loved it!

khaana peena saath hai,
marna jeena saath hai
saari zindagi!

Nabeel said...

no wait. embers would be 'angaarey'. but sholay is all about red-hot burning anger/ least the title. the movie itself is appropriately described as masala country western, but the mausi jee scene is just too good. (ref:

The satire and nuance in the dialogue is just....out of this world.

Jay said...

I think you are missing out on how significant SHolay is. It's not just a western Bollywood movie. It's THE western Bollywood movie. It's the movie that defined how western movies (or rather dacoit movies) are made in Bollywood. It inspired hundreds of rather unsuccesful copycats

Besides that, it has Amjad Khan as Gabbar. Gabbar iss a total bad-ass. Till this day when kids don't go to sleep, their moms tell them "Son, go to sleep, otherwise Gabbar will come" He is unapologetic in his evilness. Before this movie, the villians of the 70s were snooty, upper class types who had couple of henchmen doing his bidding, and a dancing girl hanging around. Gabbar OTH is roll your sleeves up kind of villian. When his henchmen don't do his bidding, he plays russian roulette with them. How effed up is that?

Beth said...

Jay - You're absolutely right. Since writing this almost 6 years ago (and still new to Hindi films) I've seen this movie many more times, and my appreciation of it has grown with each viewing. I still don't looooooove it the way some people do, but I understand much more about why people do love it and hold it in such high regard.

And absolutely re: Gabbar. Off the top of my head he fits into an interesting palette of villain characterizations and I bet someone has written a great huge essay, if not whole book, on that, which I would love to read!

shikhar said...

this muv is the wild untamed horse of indian cinema and is totally into our culture now .just as a wizard of oz / sound of music is there in the west. yesteryears directors had far greater aesthetic sense.... agree? the way u like the two american musicals that i mentioned ?

Beth said...

Shikhar - That's an interesting way of looking at it! I like your comparison to the energy of a wild animal, though I think Sholay is very carefully controlled, paced, etc. (in a good way). I can't agree with your statement about directors of the past having a greater aesthetic sense simply because it's too broad, though I personally do really like what a lot of the 70s and early 80s people in particular did. For exmaple, as much as I am maddened by some of Karan Johar's work, I would not diminish his aesthetic sense, even if it's not a vision I always like or respond to.