Directed by Ramesh Sippy
Imagine a movie about which we felt in synthesis what we feel separately for Citizen Kane, Star Wars, The Usual Suspects, and The Princess Bride. This movie is, for Indians, Sholay. It is the Bollywood classic, and it stars the Bollywood superstar of all time (this can’t be exaggerated), Amitabh Bachchan. This is a movie about which it is best to approach knowing nothing of the plot, so I will simply tell you that it is usually put in the category of “curry westerns,” but you should not let this stop you if westerns aren’t your thing. I am not a western fan. This movie is more along the lines of a classic, culture-transcendent epic. The narrative is broad and sweeping, covering the span of several years and told with intermittent, easily-followed flashbacks (Bollywood’s got a corner on flashbacks). The story inhabits many genres easily, as all great epics should, including comedy, farce, tragedy, romance, excitement, war, and social commentary. This movie was so beloved that a separate soundtrack of just the dialogue was sold; many people have the lines memorized. The acting is superb and never brash—the one case where it might seem such, with a Hitler-like jailer—is appropriate to the farce genre the movie was in at that time.
Song Highlights: The song in which the villagers celebrate Holi, the festival of colors, is a celebration itself of song picturization. The directing and cinematography in this item number is joyous, capturing the villagers in a time when they feel they can freely celebrate life. This contributes to an immediate irony in the song, as Holi also celebrates the vanquishing of evil, yet the song opens immediately after the villain asks, “When does the village celebrate Holi?” Another highlight is “Jab tak hai jaan jaan,” when Basanti is forced to sing and dance; it includes a reference to the famous dance scene in Pakeezah, when the main character dances over broken glass for her lost love. Helen does a dance number as well (the requisite sexy-dance-for-the-band-of-bad-guys); Helen is one of the the ladies of Bollywood, most known for her dancing, usually as the vamp. Music by R.D. Burman and lyrics by Anand Bakshi.
Tidbits: The two main love interests in the movie were married in real life; Hema Malini (who played Basanti), although very conservative (as was expected of Indian women), actually became Dharmendra’s second wife (Dharmendra played the other of the two professional thieves with Amitabh). And Amitabh is married to Jaya Bhadhuri. Another interesting fact is that I called an Indian store here to see if they had this movie; their response was “Isn’t that an old movie?” So either the books I read exaggerate its influence, or those owners weren’t major Bollywood fans.
Rating: This is a good choice for the first Bollywood movie to see. The storyline is more than accessible (as I’ve said, it’s cross-culturally epic) and most of the “stereotypes” of Bollywood are nonexistent. Just disregard the first song, “Yeh dosti,” when Amitabh and Dharmendra steal a little bike cart. The song was very popular in India, but does not translate culturally or aurally.
Library Collection: Whatever the motivation for the collection, this should be included. It is Bollywood’s most beloved movie, it is an epic in its own right, it has great music, and it serves to show an important historical point in the Bombay film industry.