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Sholay (Embers)                          
I watched the complete Sholay last night, and can easily see why it is such a landmark film in India,
--if you are not familiar with the iconic personalties of Amitji, Dharamji, Sanjeev Kumar, and Hema Malini -- it would just be a long Spaghetti Western with Masala sauce, fairly primitive in parts (Like the unerring accuracy of the shots by the dynamic Duo --every single shot drops an endless array of horsemen or bandits up on the rocks with nary a miss) but also with some Spectacular set pieces --The Rollicking ride on the motorcycle with flying sidecar -- the HOLI village dance and attack by the baddies -- Dharmendra up on the water tower threatening "suicide" unless Malini marries him -- every scene with Hema --she is so funny as a motormouth Tonga driver -- her dance on broken glass -- Yeh --lots of memorable shtick --But for me the absolutely outstanding scene of all is Asrani's Hitler shtikk with the Great Dictator globe thrown in -- Absolutely side-splitting --  

I would have preferred the politically incorrect ending where Thakur grinds Gabbar to death with his spiked shoes, but my new DVD had the polit correct version with the cops interceding in the name of Justice = I watched it with some other people who were elder intellos and new to Bwd Film --some left early but two stayed on (surprisingly!)  and liked it --
I then came home and read your lengthy review which enabled me to reassemble the plot in my head -- SHOLAY is certainly an iconic Landmark in Indian film but it wouldn't stand up to dozens of REAL WESTERNS I can think of -- altho I would personally prefer it to Butch Cassidy or the Hollywood version of Seven Samurai (Magnificent seven) from which it borrows quite obviously --
I could easily watch it agin, but I wd half to Fast Forward over some of the grittier territory -- and I didn't really care too much for Gabbar (as an actor ) - any Sergio Leone villain would dust him, and an number of Indian actors have been better -- but I thought that Sanjeev Kumar was perfect as the Thakur and does ALMOST steal the show from the Dynamic Duo --  Dharm & Amit, altho they are lots of fun to watch as long as you realize you're watching a comic book --not a serious film-- but then-Serious/shmerious --who gizzashit? --as long as you're having a good time.  What is perhaos most intersting about SHOLAY from an Serious Film Critical Point of View -- is the fine line it treads between comic strip simplicity and some gripping drama --without ever committing itslef one way or another --and I guess, in that sense, it is the Culmination of Masaala --The whole first section up to the first flashback --works as highly expert comedy with  the aforesaid INCREDIBLE Comic Hitler insert --that guy Govardhan Asrani should have gotten a lifetime academy award for that one --and it wasn't even recognized in India with a comic award that year, although he got one the following year for a different film! -- I would love To see one of his GUJARATI films --but then I sort of have a thing about gUJARATI GIRLS ...

 FUN FILM FARE and most certainly a historic landmark in Indian Cinema ... but the "best Indian Film Ever"?  --No fukkin Way! -- I can think of twenty better Indian films on the fingers of One hand -- Altho PATHER PANJALI is NOT one of them!   And that closes the IcOno-clastic Indo-balcony for today --Tune in again next week for our review of SILSILA. 

NOTE: Prof. Lutgedorf is a recognized exprert on Indian cinema 
and teaches a course on Bollywood at the Univ. of Iowa
Date: Sun, 8 Aug 2010 23:40:09 -0500

Subject: Re: SHOLAY RIDES AGAIN -- Biff--Bam --Boom - Socko!

Dear Alex,
Thanks for your thoughts on this. At a certain period, 
Sholay had enormous impact in India, and a whole generation grew up watching it over and over again. Such people cannot “objectively” judge it against Westerns they never saw. For them, it is iconic, its characters are archetypal, and its dialog has nearly scriptural weight. Even though I was not one of these people, I find (having watched it maybe 8-10 times) that it holds up remarkably well. It is smart, tightly constructed, and surprisingly dark.

Hi Philip.

I appreciate your SHOLAY remarks.
Of course, not having been born yesterday,  I am well-well aware of the impact of SHOLAY on 
the collective Indian conscience.  I was merely trying to offer up a detached (non-Deshi or NRI-shi)
view of the film in the context of World Cinema, against which it will inevitably be judged or adjudged
by western viewers unfamiliar with all the indigenous Deshi goodies in the film, and moreover, having
perforce to read the (iconic) dialogue, (as it were), through subtitles. 
"What's your name, Basanti?" is a cute throw away line but it's more at the level of Jerry Lewiscomedy than the truly memorable "dialogues" (yes, I accept the Indian-English plural) of Preston Sturges, Hitchcock, etc, Hollywood films.

I personally found the flick quite enjoyable but I am not the typical raw-newcomer to Indian/Bollywood film,
and dug it on the many levels that would not come across to uninitiated western viewers.
Moreover, I have a hunch that--many --(but not all) western viewers would laugh it off the screen.  I would love to see 
Sholay with a totally "raw" western audience (one who, for example, would have no idea of the significance of Bachchan to Indians) ... and hear the comments on the way out of the theater.  Mind you, I am not talking about students watching SHOLAY as part of a course on Indian film --who would already be "pre-conditioned' (as it were) to love the film (and respect it) --whether they actually loved it or not.
Many Americans sneered at Sergio Leone Spaghetti Westerns when they were making the rounds of the drive-ins in the 
1970s --but many others dug them on their own terms --just as many people (Many-Many) went Ape over Bruce Lee Kung-fu flicks which I found Ughitty, Stupid and BORing ... catering to the lowest level OF IDIOTC violence buffs -- I watched one or two of them and then swiftly moved on --
Not to say that SHOLAY is on the ridiculous level of a KUNGFU wham-banger --but it's closest cousin--in terms of International Cinema -- (world cinema) is, in fact, the Spaghetti Western.  And again --there are good, not-so-good, and completely shitty Spaghetti westerns -- I would rate SHOLAY as a fair-to-middlin' Spaghetti western --and Amitabh-ji far BELOW Clint Eastwood as a charismatic taciturn hero of that genre -- (to compare Sholay to "A Fistful of Dollars" ==>is like comparing FOOLS GOLD TO GOLD) --
As for the famous villain "Gaffar' played by Amjad Khan --- that so many writers on Indian film keep calling by some kind of knee-jerk recitation of the Standard Litany  "The greatest Indian screen villain of all-time" -- -- this is absolute total bullshit!  The villain in ZANJEER (Anjit as "Teja") was far more convincing, as have been numerous other Indian villains -- 
and Lee van Cleef in any of his Sergio Leone films would just blow Amjad away --  

Sholay works very well as an action comedy in the first section, culminating in the Marvelous Bit by ASRANI as the hysterically funny Hitler of a jail warden (better than Chaplin!!) -- but sort of goes on from there as Second Rate "Magnificent Seven minus Five", with the burden of the plot being carried along by the excellent actor Sanjeev Kumar as the armless Thakur (Homage to or ripoff of Nargis' husband in Mother India?) and stumbles to a stirring (but badly filmed and unconvincing ) climax -- borrowed from the one-armed Spencer Tracy in "Bad Day at Block Rock" -- However ... along the way, you have all these nifty bits between Dharmendra and Malina -- (that pick the film up every time it starts to drag) -- and most of the buddy-shtikk between Amitji and Dharamji is a cut above Jerry Lewis -- 

All in all, I think that "Sholay" is surprisingly 'light' (unheavy and luminous) rather than 'dark' -- by no means "tightly constructed" -- very uneven, in fact  -- both in narrative DRIVE and filming style -- but highly entertaining (although longishly so) --and certainly does deserve the status of a major cult film -- but Great Cinema this is not -- Pretty Good, yes ...(given the intentions of the filmmakers to come up with a Box-office smash based on a soup of maybe ten Hollywood films) -- but Great it is not -- except in size. The fantastic devotion of the Indian public to "Sholay" over the years, and the fact that serious writers and filmmakers always rank it very high or atop their listings of All-time Best Indian Films --has far less to do with Cinematic quality or "Bestness, and far more to do with Indian Social Psychology and the Mass Hypnosis effect that seems to prevail there carried on the wings of the quasi-religious devotion to the music of these films.
I can think of numerous similar Indian films that are actually much better than "Sholay" in absolute cinematic terms -- and would probably stand up better to a non-preconditioned western audience; for example, "Kalnayak", "Dilse" -- and, probably "Bandit Queen".
I would like to see "Sholay" on a double bill with "The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful" -- and compare audience reaction --
both were made at roughly the same time. (or, better yet, coupled with "High Noon", or maybe Quentin Tarantino's Japanese Samurai Sword essays with Uma Thurman. (The Kill Bills crap)
Feel free to publish this assessment of "Sholay" if you don't think it would be too offensive to some of the True Believers in India or elserwhere..

Next up, "Yash Chopra's "SILSILA" --stay tuned .....

Alex Sinha, 
Hollywood, USA

with which it shares THREE main characters: 
AMITABH, SANJEEV KUMAR, and JAYA --- and nothing else.


Other comments:
The only halfway interesting thing about this suffocating overrich piece of Indian junkfood 
is the costumery and Amitabh's super stylish wardrobe -- notable are some of the flashy, dazzling, primary colored
saris worn by Rekha in nearly every scene in which she appears -- (just stills of these would be a more rewarding than sitting through the whole film) -- Amitabh's carefullly tonsured headdress --er -- hairdo.... and his white suits with flaired trousers, a hommage to -- in fact a throwback to --mod American and English male fashions of the sixties (already out of date by 1981) --
The song picturizations on Amitabh and Rekha are not just bad --they are Sickening -- traipsing through fields full of Dutch tulips -- argh --embarassing -- Mister "Big B" is just not cut out for Romantic roles of this kind -- (a wide range as an actor he does have, but Romance is the one thing he does like a robot going through the motions) -- the whole thing looks like a prequel to Shahrukh Khan 15 years later! -- However ...  the near-miss lip-sync kisses, and one kiss actually planted on Rekha's lips in long shot, are daring for the time --very daring, one might say ...
But Amitjjii, flailing about on top of her and slobbering all over Rekhaji --just doesn't work for me --especially not on the heels of just having viewed SHOLAY -- Purely ridiculous, embarrassing  -- Maybe if he slapped her around a little ...or maybe if there was a little more comic relief by Aswaniji ...
The theme of the jaunty heroic jet pilot killed in action (previously the likes of Rajesh Khanna and Raj Kapoor -- in this case Shashi Kapoor.) has been worked so to death that it practically constitutes a sub-genre of Indan films on its own ... but there were some nice jet fighter landings and takeoff scenes -- [somebody ought to make a compilation of just such dashing Indian flyboy scenes]
While eagerly looking forward to SILSILA because of the star cast, the star director, and all that has been written about the alleged kinky real-life triangle amongst Amitabh and Rekhaa/Jaya -- I started getting underawed from the very first song/dance tulipy picturization opening the film and soon found myself saying --"What IS this? --This is absolutely NAUSEATING ... not to mention ridiculous -- one soap opera set piece after another following upon one comic strip coincidence after another.. (and just then ... while Rheka is at the wheel driving they happen to hit a kid crossing the street, and the cop at the station turns out to be Jaya's brother-in-law...Kulbhushan Kharbanda! -- c'mon, give us a break...) -- but I did dutifully watch it all the way to the family-values-must-prevail required ending, out of sheer determination ... with gritted teeth.  The only halfway decent performance in the ENTIRE flick was Sanjeev Kumar as the look-the-other-way devoted surgeon husband of Mme. Rekha -- This flick while gorgeously mounted (as are all Yash-chop films) has just about every tired cliché in the book and caters SLAVISHLY to every salacious preconception the Indian public had about the stars at the time -- UGH-ugh, and Ugh!  Three thumbs down.  Only to be included in a "Worst of Bollywood" (and Worst of Bachchan) retrospective --
Incidentally -- this was made the same year (1981) as Rheka's sublime UMRAO JAAN -- and that's one to put in one's pipe and smoke it!


Orphaned at very young ages, Shekhar (Shashi Kapoor) and Amit Malhotra (Amitabh Bachchan) are survivors and lead independent lives with Shekhar being a Squadron Leader with the Indian Air Force, and Amit a struggling writer. (Hmmm) While Shekhar has fallen in love with lovely Shobha (Jaya Bhaduri), Amit woos an attractive Chandni (Rekha). Both brothers plan to marry together. But fate has something much worse in store for them when Shekhar is killed in a plane crash, leaving behind a pregnant and devastated Shobha. Taking pity on Shobha's plight, Amit marries her and writes to Chandni to forget him. This news breaks Chandni's heart, and she goes on to marry Dr. V.K. Anand (Sanjeev Kumar), who is very much in love with her. (Who wouldn't be?)

Tragedy strikes once more, and Shobha loses her child in a car accident. (Hmm)...
With no child to tie them together, Amit and Shobha drift apart. Amit happens to meet Chandni and they secretly rekindle their romance. They meet on the sly, until one day when Chandni accidentally hits a passerby.(Hmm) The police get involved, but Amit manages to hush the matter up. But their secret meetings will no longer be secret anymore for the police inspector in charge of this accident is none other than Shobha's cousin, (Hm-Hmm!)  Kulbhushan, and he is determined to expose Amit's affair with Chandni.

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