For Bollywood 70s Week, I chose to begin with the movie that is said to have changed Indian cinema forever, the Blockbuster of all blockbusters, Sholay. Till now, I haven't seen any Bollywood film older than Shah Rukh Khan's oldest film so, say 1994? I don't have much of a frame of reference for my review of Sholay as either representative of the 70s or the revelation it apparently turned out to be to film audiences. I don't know what typical 70s fare was in Bollywood or how Sholay may have differed from that. I most likely cannot do it justice because while I was watching it,I was thinking more about the Clint Eastwood movies I grew up watching with my Dad than any other Hindi films. So, with that disclaimer...on with the review.
Sholay does have several things that make me happy: 1) morally ambiguous heroes a la my favorite of all time, Han Solo. Yes they are just there for the money in the beginning but eventually a hot chick and doing the right thing will get them to stick around, 2) a motorcycle with a sidecar. I don't know why but I've always loved them, 3) someone playing a poignant harmonica at dusk while someone else listens wistfully, and 4) a villain who refers to himself in the third person and lackeys who laugh when the villain laughs because they don't want to die. It also has an ambiguously gay duo, an annoying chatterbox played by Hema Malini who is supposed to be charming, about an hour too much film, and an unfortunate attempt at humor in the form of a prison warden who looks like Hitler. Has Hitler ever been even slightly amusing? Didn't think so.
I enjoyed all of the performances except for Hema Malini. Maybe she was bad or maybe it was just an awful role and she played it well, either way, I wish I'd had Amitji's earplugs. Jaya had the perfect look for the young, soulful widow. She didn't really do much throughout the film but I thought she was physically perfect for the role. Dharmendra was charming as the funny, boisterous half of the heroic duo and Amitabh was the perfect foil as the quieter more intense of the two. Let me also say, as much as he irritates me in his current public avatar, in 1975 Amitabh could definitely rock a red T-Shirt. I found him much more compelling in the attraction department than I did Dharmendra.
That was the end of Gabbar Singh, the man who killed my father, raped and murdered my sister, burned my ranch, shot my dog and stole my Bible.
OK, so I stole that from the opening of Romancing the Stone. In my defense, I couldn't stop thinking of the opening scenes of Romancing the Stone when the movie was showing us the dastardly deeds of our villain. He's a real baddie, make no mistake. He will kill your daughters and their husbands and then smile into the eyes of your innocent, young grandson as he pulls the trigger. He'll also cut off both of your arms simultaneously with a couple of wicked looking swords. You do not want to cross Gabbar Singh! That's why Thakur hires those wacky thieves Jai and Veeru to do the job for him...well that and he doesn't have arms anymore so kinda hard to do it himself.
After we're introduced to the characters and we get the exposition out of the way, what follows is several near misses between Gabbar's bandits and Jai and Veeru. When they're not out trying to capture Gabbar, Veeru is drinking and making passes at the annoying chatterbox and Jai is soulfully playing the harmonica...at dusk and tempting the sad little widow Radha (Jaya). Sholay is pretty much your typical shoot 'em up western revenge tale. The shootout scenes were not too much more over the top than what you'll find in any American western which was a bit of a surprise. Sholay is definitely derivative of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, as well as any of the spaghetti westerns you can think of. If you like those movies, you'll probably get a kick out of Sholay.
Ultimately, I guess Sholay didn't really live up to all of the hype for me but that's often what happens when you hear great things about a movie before you see it. I will say that it seemed rather restrained in the filminess department so maybe it was considered gritty and realistic when it came out? Again, it was just ok for me. I've read that there is an alternate ending in which the Thakur gets to finish killing Gabbar but it was censored to prevent sending any positive messages about vigilantism. I would have liked that ending better. Actually, I think Radha should have gotten to do the deed since he basically widowed her twice. In any case, I'd rather watch Clint Eastwood. Sholay is the stuff that legends are made of but, like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, I guess you kinda had to be there. (Oh stop gasping! Not everyone loves the Beatles and the Rolling Stones you know!)