Saturday, January 22, 2011

An Interesting Story - The Sholay Story

While going through the apprehensions that any young team faces when they are attempting something new, something big and different, something based on their beliefs, I remembered an old book I read about the making of 'Sholay'. I distinctly remembered the apprehensions that the director and the team had when people walked quietly out of the halls, no whistles, claps. Then I searched online for stories on Sholay and found this wonderful link. Clearly every time you make something different you have to fight the audience, the critics and stick to your belief that you made something good. Follow the link for an incredible story but I will paste some excerpts from it which impressed me and should be read by anyone making an attempt to dream big and different.

.......‘Sholay’ flopped. The critics were harsh, the performance at the box-office was mixed, and the industry, waiting for the smallest hint to knock the mega project of the brash young director, was merciless. For the first time since Salim-Javed narrated the four-line idea two and half years ago, Ramesh panicked. The weeks leading up to the release had been a blur. Ramesh was bug-eyed from lack of sleep. The climax re-shot and re-mix had increased the birth pangs ten-fold. Prints and negatives were flying between Mumbai and London. There was no time to savour the finished product. Meanwhile the hype had assumed a life of its own. The trade could talk of little else. Every day there was a new rumour: the film was being offered an ‘Adults only’ certificate; the censor board wanted further cuts; the 70mm prints were not ready, so the Sippy’s postponing the release date… and on and on. 

A column in ‘Trade Guide’, the industry trade magazine, wrote: ‘Wherever we went, we heard nothing but ‘Sholay’… sometimes we also thought we would get allergic to it. Everyone wanted to see nothing but ‘Sholay.’ Many people in the industry preffered to discuss ‘Sholay’ to their own film.

Minerva, on Mumbai’s Lamington Road, had been selected as ‘Sholay’s main theatre. Minerva was known by its tag line: ‘The pride of Maharashtra.’ It was the only theatre at the time with a screen big enough for 70mm and six-track sound, and with 1500 seats it was also the largest cinema in the country. The theatre was dressed up like a bride for the release. Outside stood 30-foot cutouts of the star cast: Dharmendra, Amitabh, Sanjeev, Hema, Jaya and, of course, Amjad Khan. Inside were rows of photographs from the film, and garlands of flowers.

The premiere night was a glittering affair. On 14 August, two premieres were held simultaneously, one at Minerva and one at Excelsior. For the cast and crew, it felt like life had come full circle. It was pouring outside, just as it had been on the first day of the shoot, and Jaya was glowing again – this time pregnant with Abhishek. The industry’s top names, all spiffed up and shiny, walked into Minerva to see what the fuss was about. But there was a problem – the 70mm print hadn’t arrived yet. It was still stuck at the customs.
The 70mm saga was a plot worthy of Salim-Javed.....

....Through the screening; there was little reaction. The audience seemed unmoved. There was no laughter, no tears, no applause. Just silence. ‘It was very scary,’ recalls Geeta (Sippy). In the stalls sat Prakash Mehra, who had once been one of the contenders for the four-line story. ‘Maine yeh kahani kyun cchod di? he asked himself aloud. After the film, as the audience streamed out of the hall, Pancham, who had been sitting next to Mehra, whispered to him: ‘Log to gaaliyan de rahen hain.’ ‘Don’t worry,’ Prakash replied, ‘this film is a hit. No one can stop it.’

The morning-after-the premiere grapevine dripped poison. The film was dubbed ‘Chholey’, and the main cast, ‘Teen maharathi aur ek chooha (Three warriors and a mouse)’. Everything was wrong with the film. Why would women and family audiences want to see so much gore? The friendship was in such bad taste. Amjad had no presence, and no voice… ‘Hindustaniyon ko aisi picturein nahin achhi lagti hain (Indians don’t like films like this),’ pronounced a prominent industry figure. The critics agreed. Taking off on the title of the film, K.L Amladi writing in ‘India Today’ called it a ‘dead ember’. Thematically, its a gravely flawed attempt,’ he wrote. Filmfare’s Bikram Singh wrote: ‘The major trouble with the film is the unsuccessful transplantation it attempts- grafting a western on the Indian milieu. The film remains imitation western-neither here nor there.’ The trade magazines weren’t gushing either. ‘The classes and families will find no reason for a repeat show,’ said ‘Film Information.’
‘Trade Guide’ called it a milestone but qualified the praise with a negative comparison with ‘Deewar’ Now it was upto the audience. On 15 August 1975, ‘Sholay’ was released in the Bombay territory with forty prints.

Dispite the notorious Mumbai ki barish which was coming sown in torrents, the crowds turned up; in fact, many people had started queuing up outside the theatres the night before the advance booking had opened. The demand for the tickets was so high that in some theatres the managers just put the phone off the hook. Looking at the advance, trade pundits were predicting that the film would cross a business of eleven lakh rupees in its first week.
The buoyancy was balanced by the legions of cynics. After the premiere, the critics and indusrywalas had already given their verdict, and their had been more brickbats than bouquets. Even the black marketeers- those most knowledgeable of critics – were a little apprehensive about the film. Sure, it was the Midas touch of the Sippy’s and Salim-Javed, and yes, the film had an impressive starcast, but the story sounded strange: Sanjeev was playing a handicapped man and Jaya a silent widow, and there was some new villain who wasn’t in the mould of the suave smugglers of the day like Ajit and Pran.
The Sippy’s only hope was that the audience would prove them all wrong. There was no reaction. On Friday, 15 August, the first day of ‘Sholay’s release, Ramesh drove from one theatre to another to assess the reaction of the audience. As on the premiere night, there was only silence. Over the weekend, panic set in. The theatres were full but the reports were mixed. Pundits were now predicting disaster. No one told Ramesh that, but he could see it in their faces of all those he met. Every one wore that peculiar expression of pity and awkwardness. They met him like he was a man in mourning.
The Sippys moved into damage-control mode. On the weekend, a hurried meeting was convened at Amitabh’s house. G.P Sippy, Ramesh and Amitabh put their heads together to try and come up with solutions. Since there was no fear of piracy at the time, the release of the film in the major territories was being staggered. They could make substantial alterations before ‘Sholay’ hit the rest of the country. One suggestion was re-shooting the end again. Amitabh, post’Zanjeer’ and ‘Deewar’, was too big a star to die. Jai was just a petty thief, he hadn’t done anything to deserve death. Perhaps an ending in which the two couples walk into the sunset would salvage the film. Salim-Javed were vehement that the film shouldn’t be touched. Ramesh considered the suggestion for a new ending, but not for long. His head said he should do it but his heart wouldn’t allow it. He went with his heart A happy end would compromise his film even further. It was important that the audience leave the theatre with a feeling that something had been left unfinished. That slight ache in the heart was part of the film’s appeal. Not a frame would be touched. He would swim or sink with the film.
As the week wore on the anxiety of the crew turned into depression. On Monday morning, when the second week advance booking opened, there were modest queues outside Minerva and Excelsior where the 70mm prints were showing. At other theatres, hardly two or three people stood for tickets. In most of the suburban theatres, matinee shows had less than fifty per cent collections. For Ramesh, this was confirmation that all was lost. He was devastated. That evening he walked into Film Center, where more prints were being made, and told Anwar, ‘Printing band kar do. Abhi kuchh samajh main nahin aa raha hai (Stop the printing. I don’t understand what’s going on.)’ At home the unflappable demeanour cracked. It was the first time in his remarkable career that he was facing a flop. ‘I think I’ve failed,’ he told Geeta.

At the Sippy house the tension was palpable. G.P Sippy stood rock-steady and characteristically optimistic. He was sure that the film would turn around. But at the back of his mind sat unpleasant thoughts: The film had gone way over budget and creditors had to be paid back. They might never be able to make another film again. This was one gamble that could put them back years. There were even rumours that the Sippys were packing up and leaving the country. 
One week later, on 22 August 1975, ‘Sholay’ was released in Bangalore in six theatres. Suresh Malhotra, the distributer, organized a grand premiere. The entire main cast and crew flew in for the night. Suresh loved ‘Sholay’. When interviewed by ‘Film Information’ in July, he had predicted that the film would do a business of one crore. But it didn’t look like the business would bear his claim. Even before the first week was over, collections took a dip in Bangalore.
But the worst affected was Amjad. As negative feedback filtered in, Amjad became more and more silent. The normally effusive and volatile man retreated into a shell. His house was enveloped in gloom. An equally disheartened Asrani visited him in the first week. Asrani had been shooting at the nearby Mehboob Studio with Aruna Irani and she had suggested dropping in at Amjad’s. ‘Maine dam laga diya, ab nahi chali. kya kar sakte hain (I gave it all I had, but it hasn’t worked. There’s nothing to be done now),’ Amjad told them mournfully. ‘Lekin aapki taareef to bhut ho rahi hai (But theres great things being said about your performance),’ Asrani countered. Praise was little consolation. ‘What’s the use, yaar?’ Amjad replied, fighting back tears. ‘Salim-Javed have told Ramesh that my voice ruined the picture. Sorry folks, I’ve missed the bus.’
In all the sound and fury, Salim-Javed stood firm. ‘Nothing doing,’ they said to re-shooting proposals. ‘This film will run.’ It was the cockiness of youth and the confidence of a job well done. The following week, the two put an advertisement in the trade papers. The ad said, ‘Salim-Javed predict that ‘Sholay’ will be a grosser of rupees one crore in each major territory of India.’ The trade predicted that going by the response, the Sippys would be lucky if ‘Sholay’ managed forty lakh per territory.
Salim-Javed were wrong. As it turned out, one crore was a conservative estimate. Mid-week, a curious thing happened: there was little advance booking, but the theatre’s were full. The proprietor at Geeta cinema in Worli told Ramesh, ‘Don’t worry, your film is a hit.’ It was the first time Ramesh had heard the word used in connection with his film. ‘How can you say that?’ he asked. ‘Because the sales of my soft drinks and ice-creams are going down,’ the man replied. ‘By the interval the audience are so stunned that they are not coming out of the theatre.’.
Finally Ramesh understood why there was no reaction. People were overawed by what they were seeing. They needed time. Now, clearly ‘Sholay’ had found its audience. Word of mouth spread like a juicy rumour. The visuals were epic and the sound was a miracle; when Veeru threw the coin in the climax, people in the 70mm theatres dove under their seats to see where it had fallen. By the third week, audiences were repeating dialogues. It meant that at least some were coming in to see the film for a second time. Polydor noticed this and was quick to act. Record sales weren’t good and the music company was in a panic. Even though people came out of the theatres with smiles on their faces, they didn’t buy the music. The music men were bewildered. What was the problem here? Some key managers were dispatched to the theatres to see the film with the audience. They realized that the reaction to the dialogue was extraordinary. Obviously ‘Sholay’s visuals and dialogue were so overpowering that the music barely registered. If Polydor wanted to sell more records, it would have to give the audience what they remembered when they left the theatre: the dialogue. The strategy succeeded. Polydor couldn’t keep up with the demand as records flew off the shelves.
The tide had turned. ‘Sholay’ was beginning to prove all doomsayers wrong. As the film caught on, tickets became priceless. The lines at Minerva stretched a few kilometres, from the theatre to the nearby Tardeo bridge. The bus stop outside was renamed ‘Sholay’ stop’. The Minerva manager, Sushil Mehra, could barely keep up with the demand. He stayed at the booking window from 8 a.m to 8 p.m and finally just moved his family into a two-room apartment at the theatre; going home seemed pointless.
The Sippys stopped listening to the trade. As the collections mounted, it became obvious that they were looking at something big. In September, Ramesh left for London to take his much-deserved holiday. But every week the collections were given to him over the phone. Ten weeks after its release the film was declared a super hit, and on 11 October 1975 ‘Sholay’ already a blockbuster, was released in the territories of Delhi, U.P, Bengal, the Central Provinces and Hyderabad to a record-breaking box office.
Several months later, Asrani ran into Amjad. Both had been invited to inaugurate a studio in Gujarat. On the flight, Asrani laughed: ‘Haan ji, did you miss the bus?’ Amjad broke into a broad grin. The studio was about forty kilometres away from the airport. While driving there, Amjad’s son felt thirsty, and they stopped at a small roadside stall. It was a ramshackle place selling cold drinks, biscuits and cigarettes. There was no other building or even a hut to be seen for miles. As they entered the shop, a voice crackled on a rickety gramophone:
‘Kitne aadmi the?’
Gabbar Singh’s dialogue boomed through the shop. The stall owner served the group drinks but did not recognize the star. For a minute, Amjad stood absolutely still. His eyes squinted in recognition of his own voice. Then, listening to his voice playing in a shanty on a dusty, deserted road in the middle of nowhere, Amjad Khan sat down and cried.
1. Released on 15 Augast 1975.
2. Real Bullets were used for the close up action scenes.
3. Amitabh was almost killed at the end of the movie when a stray bullet from dharmendra missed him by inches.
4. First scene shot for the movie was Amitabh returning the keys to the safe to Jaya.
5. There are two sets of negatives, one in 70mm and one in 35mm as every shot/scene was done twice.
6. The last shot done in the village was Jai’s death scene.
7. Basanti’s chase sequence was shot over twelve days.
8. Jim Allen,Gerry Cramton,Romo Commoro,John Gant…some of the foreign technicians who worked on the action sequences.
9. The train sequence took seven weeks to shoot.
10. The last scene shot for Sholay was the Thakur meets Veeru and Jai outside the jail and offers them the job.
11. Sholay took nearly two and half years to complete (450 shifts)
12. Amjad’s voice was nearly dubbed as there were whispers it not being strong enough for a villain.
13. The background music took a whole month to complete.
14. Sholay’s Budget was close to three crores.
15. Jaya was pregnant during the shooting of the film with Shweta Bachchan.
16. Jaya was glowing again during the premiere of Sholay…this time with Abhishek Bachchan.
17. Sholay’s premiere audience saw a 35mm print as the 70mm one was stuck at customs.
18. Sholay was released in Bombay with 40 prints.
19. Saachin was a veteran film actor with 60 films behind him from 1962…. but A.K Hangal was a newcomer to films.
20. Amjad’s first scene shot was his introduction scene …..his first lines “Kitne Aadmi The”?......


Every success story has its own story behind it. Brilliant stuff! I can't imagine how these guys went back to work after this. 

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