Saturday, September 26, 2009

Dissecting Sholay

I was born after Sholay, and a movie buff that I am, I was the last to see this magnum opus in my generation. It wasn't because I hated it, but because I was busy watching all those movies which went unnoticed (on a humanitarian ground, so that their viewership should be a non- zero positive integer). Because of my staple diet consisting mainly of B- grade movies (it's not that i like them, just that they are quite too much in abundance, just like members of class Arthropoda), this movie seemed grand in all respects, and it continued to intrigue me hitherto, when it dawned upon me why it was, the way it was.

Originally, the makers of Sholay wanted Danny to play the arch- villain Gabbar Singh, and they were thinking about putting Hema Malini opposite to Sanjeev Kumar. Although Danny has a grave and heavy timbre, would that be sufficient to make Gabbar a legend?
In order to understand why Sholay was a hit, it is necessary to fully analyse the mechanism of Masala, a sub- genre of Drama. Drama movies rely mostly on the intensities of emotional deliveries of characters involved. Mostly, the emotions go to extreme, regarding some incidence, and the narration of that incidence would often highlight the effects more than the cause. The subtle is the ignorance of the cause, the better the effect on audience. Masala, also in particular depends heavily on co- incidences. In purely mathematical terms, the smaller is the probability of an event, the better it makes Masala. The unbelievability of content is the gist of a class such as this.
The story line of Sholay is a mix and match of all kinds of probabilities- The very same thugs being employed by Thakur to eradicate a cruel and cunning dacoit, who saved him earlier, and both of them falling in love with the ladies of that village. Having a single bullet left and the bomb on the wooden bridge, and respecting the nuances of Indian cinema that a person dies only after delivering a complete dialogue, the movie is abundant of such incidences as well as columns of this infrastructure.
Real success of a film is not in the moolah it rakes at the box office, but how larger than life its characters become. Be it Mogambo, or Clint Eastwood's portrayal of a cowboy on a Texan soil, or the Gabbar Singh. It is quite difficult to imagine Gabbar without Amjad Khan's voice, but when I do it with Danny's voice, I find it to be equal to numerous other menacing dacoits portrayed in the course of Indian Cinema. The reason what makes Gabbar dreadfully menacing is the way he delivered. It was the silence before his dialogue began, and ample resting time between words to stress their pressure on our ears, and expectation of the crescendo, which his voice would reach, created a tension in the air. It can be paralleled to a piece of symphony, in which, all the orchestra stops at a point, takes a split second "rest" and then the mildest of the instruments start the tune, and very soon, the instruments keep on joining, increasing the tempo like a boulder rolling off a hill, gaining momentum, and finally crashing with a loud bang. Followed by a silence. May be perhaps you can hear your own breath when orchestra concludes, or, in our case, the blowing wind., with a minimal haunting music. If you take this out of Gabbar, the legend falls to Dr. Dang of Karma- and Sholay collapses into a regular masala flick.

The second significant point I find is about the characters. A masala movie requires that all the characters should be of different emotional domains, so we have a lot of characters, big, and small, like strokes in a big landscape, with the incomplete statements analogous to the half shaded image often describes its own boundaries. Imam Saheb, played to the perfection by A.K Hangal, was one such stroke, so was Sachin Pilgaonkar as his silent son, or the flamboyant Basanti with her dialogues, or the mystifying Radha, the ever silent daughter in law of Thakur, whose behaviourial dialogues were like the sciography of expressions hidden in various shades of melancholy. Any of these characters can be removed, and the basic story remains the same, but less than grand.

A good story teller never spends too much of time narrating the same sequence. A good director, similarly, keeps the audience's moods varying from light to deep and vice versa, always hitting them with his best shot in every reel, but never letting them delve deep into it. As a result, the person is always left with a want to come back to the previous scene. This emotional overload works, and Salim and Javed duo made sure they never kept people busy in one setup for more than five minutes.

The music, in concordance with the Indian values of movies, were a necessity, and good music at a right point always strikes pay dirt. And the lack of it intensifies a scene- again an orchestra- rest- crescendo effect.

Sholay was highlighted as the first 70 mm grand screen cinema, which was a specialty, simply on technical grounds. So whenever I remember the poster of Sholay, 70 mm comes to my mind next. It was as if a tag line. It was also a fact that Sholay was the first film in Indian Films' history to have completed 5 years in a theatre, from 1975 to 1980, which made it a legend that I was the last to see in my generation.
Post script:
Gabbar (in a languid U.P. tone, with a menacing look towards the three "stooges"): "Are o Sambha, kitna inaam rakhe hain sarkar humpar?", with a single haunting tune.