Jalsa , Mumbai Aug 15/16, 2012 Wed/Thu 1 : 02 AM
Sholay released on the 15th of August several years ago, and it is to its greatness that it still enters the conversation to date. It has had its share of recognition and fame and commerce, and in some recent research been declared the the greatest of all time, but it is always been of wonder how the circumstances led to its making, its ideas and its final positioning.
The selection of the location was a major point of discussion in those times. Dacoit and adventure films had but one regional presence - the desert, and Rajasthan seemed aptly to fulfill this demand. That or the ravines of Bhind-Morena, where the dacoit culture flourished, where some of the most prominent and fearful names emerged from. They were not all looked upon as villainous. Many of the most wanted were Robin Hoodians of their time - looting the rich to care for the oppressed. They were admired in certain communities that benefitted from them, praised and worshipped almost god like in others.
The ravines where most of them built their hide outs and their places of living, have geographically been most treacherous terrain. Dry, mud laden, with minor hills around and intricate alleyways, provided the required protection these men and women searched for. No one place was permanent for, they moved constantly to misguide the forces of power that searched to eliminate them. Their fighting spirit and their modus operandi was always unique.
In my younger days we were in awe with Daku Man Singh, whose escapades and adventures were common conversation in and around every possible gathering. As kids we would imagine the size and the massiveness of this person, and were made fearful of his sudden presence, if we did not go to bed at appointed hour or fussed about finishing our meals, or to be back home in time before dark.
In the summer months of Allahabad, when the sun would set and the lawn used to be watered to cool the ground, the family would sit out in the evenings, and as night came upon us, the elders would ask us to go to the house and put the lights on in the rooms. For us it used to be a moment of extreme trauma, because even though the house was not more than 50’ away from where we were sitting, the fear of the dark as you walked in, was numbing. We felt almost as though Man Singh would suddenly appear from behind one of the doors or grab us as we strode back to where the elders were sitting !
The summer nights were also spent out in the open. Our cots would be taken to the lawn and we enjoyed the cool summer breeze that would caress us at night. ther was no protection. The gates of the house were always kept open, as were the doors and windows. The only sounds were those of the jackals in the distance, and the street night guards with their lantern and their ‘lathis’ thumping them on the floor of the tarred road, announcing their presence in loud intermittent screams to the other guards a couple of streets away, with ‘jagte raho’ - keep awake !!
When the mosquitoes bothered us, we would put up our ‘masehri’, mosquito nets, strung together on four bamboo poles and angularly entrenched on both sides of the head and toe of the ‘charpai’, the bed. The individual ‘masehri’ on your bed was like a cocoon like existence, where we would treat it as our small little home for the night. There would be a marginal distance between each bed and each ‘masehri’, almost signifying to us our designated domain ! At times when we would all want to be together, our four beds or ‘charpai’s’ would be laid together as one large bed and the ‘masehri’, a large one, would be strung over it, almost tent like, so we could all be under ‘one roof’. At times when the heat at night was unbearable, and it often was, a small table fan, a Marconi as I remember its make, would be placed outside this mosquito net and the air from it would flow through to give us some relief. Air conditioning was unknown to us, and to those that it was, it was far beyond our means to acquire. During the day and the intense temperatures of 45 to 48 degrees centigrade, my Mother would buy a block of ice, wet the floor and float the ice slab on it to give us some succor. The ice slab was about 3’x1’ in its dimension, and that was all we could afford !
So Sholay geographically did not at first match my temperament for a dacoit film, and i would express that to Ramesh Sippy often of it. But his theory was that the location would be different than what had been seen before and hence could turn out to be attractive. Every bit of structure that you see in Sholay, the house the village are all built up sets. The village was the biggest set and it was not just a slide that looked alright from the front. It was built completely, each and every house and cottage. In those times it was a great novelty for us actors. We would use them as our make up and changing rooms, often rest there during breaks, and at times Dharamendra ji, a great outdoor person, he having spent his youth in the fields of Punjab, would spend the night there, to save the 45 min drive from the Ashoka Hotel, Bangalore where we were all staying.
Dharam ji and I would often travel together in his car and spend the long drive playing cards - rummy ! And on an occasion when our car broke down in the middle of the most crowded area in the city, we both jumped out to avoid the mobbing and hailed an autorickshaw, and travelled in it for the entire distance to the location ! Those were fun times !
The crew from England, the DOP and the stunt directors were a first in the history of film making in India. They brought in and taught us the use of some of the most amazing gagets that we could use without hurting ourselves during action sequences. Jerry Crampton, who did all the dangerous stuff, became a dear friend and still is when we accidentally bump into each other in London at times.
Shooting was a joy. Made some wonderful friends that remained with me ever. Amjad Khan for one, affable and most considerate and who on meeting immediately nick named me ‘shorty’. The entire star cast was like a family on a long outdoor vacation, meeting up in the evenings, laughing and just happy that we were all together.
On completion there was the anticipation of seeing our product in 70 mm a first for the Industry. Being in London on vacation and visiting the recording studios there to witness the sound mixing that was in progress. the release day, the premier, the suspense of the 70 mm print not being released by the customs in time because it was coming form UK, watching the film in 35 mm, and then late at night much after the premier was over the print arriving in 70 mm and how we, a few of us pleaded with Ramesh ji to see it, sitting down at almost 2 in the morning in the same theatre to be enthralled by this new technology. I remember Vinod Khanna who had come to the premier, staying back and both of us sat on the floor of the theater to see this 70 mm wonder !!
The next morning then .. at my rented place ‘Mangal’ in the JVPD scheme where I stayed before Prateeksha was made, Ramesh ji, Salim saheb, Javed saheb and I sitting somewhat disappointed and morose, because the film had not been appreciated and wondering why it was so. The various discussions that took place, finally reaching a conclusion that the sore point was my death in the film and that it should be reshot to keep me alive. The argument being that my death had deprived a widow, played by Jaya, yet again to reestablish her life - a pertinent idea in the fast changing moral and social bindings that prevailed and still do, in some parts of the country, that of widow remarriage !!
Preparations were then swiftly made. We would reshoot the death scene, keep me alive, it was a Saturday, we would fly down on Sunday, get all the equipment form Madras which was close to the location than Bombay, can it and after process make the additions so that come Monday the film would have the changes made. Until …
As we all dispersed from my house, Ramesh ji said, lets wait till the next days shows take place before we set off, just to see if there is any change in the audience reaction …
And that as we all know was the day history was made ..
Milestones in life have peculiar ways of being constructed … the world is filled with many more such incidents, graver and carrying much more in its importance … !!
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