Friday, September 2, 2011

Anupama Chopra's Sholay: The Making of a Classic

I read Anupama Chopra's entertaining "Sholay: The Making of a Classic" yesterday - and I heartily recommend the book if you are interested in cinema, and especially, Indian cinema.  The book clocks in at an easy 190 pages and is easily read in one sitting.  Chopra's prose is breezy, and if the tone struck me as too adulatory in parts, there is enough detail about the process of film-making to make it well worth your while.  (The photographs - some black-and-white and a few color - are an added bonus.)

Perhaps the most surprising thing I learnt was that Sholay had an ending where the Thakur kills Gabbar - savagely - and then breaks down into tears - because revenge doesn't really get him back what he has lost.  Of course, since this was India in 1975, and even beyond that, an Emergency was in effect, the Censor Board found this piece of vigilante justice disturbing and insisted that the Sippys change the ending - that the police step in and stop the Thakur from killing Gabbar.  Already over the bduget, and desperate to release the film, the Sippys agreed.

It's Chopra's final lines that chilled me:
But apparently, somewhere in this world, rumoured to be impossible to trace now, a few prints survive of the original untouched film, with all its final bleakness intact.  Occasionally, videotapes and DVDs of this original film surface, copied from copies of copies.  Those who have seen these nth-generation copies say that despite the fuzziness and the bad sound, the Thakur's hopeless weeping is chilling, and it becomes clear to the viewer that all the visceral attractions of power and violence lead inevitably to this agony, this loss.
I wondered: had ALL copies disappeared?  Why hadn't the Sippys kept a few prints?  What was wrong with people?

But a few Youtube searches helped.  Here, then, are the original excised scenes, the ending and Ahmed's killing, which was also cut (not by the censors but by Sippy himself).

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