More on Sholay, and other Indian films

Posted: August 21, 2004 in Uncategorized

How was Sholay after 29 years? How does it compare to movies of today? And such questions are still left unanswered after my previous posting on the movie. The previous posting was clearly an unabashed appreciation of the film. But a week after viewing Sholay again, I can certainly afford to sit back and take a more balanced view and comment on other aspects with regards to the film.

I must say that this different view is on account of a prompting towards it, by a good friend, and I will take some ideas from the questions he posed, and comment on them.

Like for example, how does Sholay look in 2004?

Well, first of all, as soon as you enter the cinema hall and watch it come alive on screen, you can make out that its an ‘old’ film. Some of the things that make the film appear old:

a. The colours. Today’s films show nearly true colours. Same was not the case in the 70s. In relative terms, you do see weakness there. Its like how computers have gone from 16 colours to 256 colours to 16 million colours pallettes. I guess same applies for cinema too.

b. One of the worst offenders is the sound. And in that respect, I understand that technology was not the reason for the poor quality, as much as it was attitude. I quote this same friend, who is much more of an expert in this area, and he says, “They had raw material of the quality of Kishore and RD, and they created crap which was much worse that what Frank Sinatra and Louis Armstrong and the Beatles sounded like in the fifties and sixties. And _technology_ was obviously not a bottleneck here, because any good spool tape recorder and good mixing console in the seventies would have given RD the Frank Sinatra quality of sound. Those Hindi film bast***s just didn’t _care_. They just wanted to make their music for tinny radios playing in hair cutting saloons in Bhatinda and Jhumri Tilaiya … that was the limit of their sensibility. I’ll never forgive the Hindi film industry forthis. For a counterpoint, pick up Lagaan, Dil Chahta Hai, or any A R Rahman movie’s soundtrack.”

The point is very well made. Besides the songs, the general sound in the movie was too loud. There were many a scene in the film, which came out so loud that many in the audience put their hands over their ears. There are many new films that have loud sound, but I can scarcely remember any in recent times, where the audience has to cover their ears with their hands. The sound in Sholay appeared many times, to screech and scream at you, instead of just being loud.

c. Then there was a certain lack of finesse. Let me give a couple of examples. Take the song, “Holi ke din dil…”. Here is where there are a lot of extras who keep coming in and out of the dance sequence. At least on two occasions, I could sense as if the chappies were static when the camera started rolling, and THEN they started making their move. It did not seem seamless. Perhaps the fact that multiple cameras may not have been running, and the synchronisation with the music steps may not have been easy, if they were an already moving group. But if you care to notice, you could see this slightly jerky motion. Then there were a few of the fight sequences, which also had similar stop-and-move motions. Like the fight started a second AFTER the camera started rolling, and due to which there appeared to be a jerky motion.

Contrast the song and movement of extras with a particular sequence of the song “nimbuda” in HDDCS. Here the camera pans in a SINGLE SHOT, first a close up of Aishwarya as she is dancing a long single shot dance. Then the camera pans back and the shot becomes a longer shot, even as she continues the dance. And then the camera starts moving UP. And even while the shot continues to get captured, the camera has made a climb right to the top, and is now getting a top view on the dance going on downwards. And at that time, you see down, a large group of dancers (men) going in rows vertical and horizontal (criss-crossing), of course, in perfect synchronism. I am not sure if the description gives any idea of the phenomenal shot that was taken. Almost unbelievable. And if you don’t remember it, for this shot itself, it may be worth renting out the movie and seeing that song again, and watching it closely. I bet that single shot must have taken a few DAYS to get done. It demanded that much of perfect synchronism of all the elements.

**Just for brilliance in camera work and editing, you may also look at the first song in the same film, HDDCS. The song where Aishwarya plays ‘lagori’. Its an absolutely awesome piece of camera work, with focus / defocus, panning of camera, freeze shots, the slow motion capture of her hair swinging into her face, and all of it accompanied by fast paced music in the background. Amazing conception of the shot. **

d. And the special effects also had a lot of weaknesses. When Sanjeev Kumar is chasing Amjad on horseback, most of the shots were very long shots, and you could make out that some doubles are sitting on the horses. The few closeups went straight to the faces. I am sure today’s action heroes also have doubles doing the dirty work for them. But they have managed to do both, get a far better look on the double’s faces, so that they can afford to take relatively closer shots, and secondly, they have been able to superimpose the hero’s faces on the ‘in-action’ shots, to make it appear as if its the hero who is doing all of those dare-devil stunts.

There were also scenes like when Hema Malini is racing her horse carriage, as also when Dharmendra is singing and riding a bicycle next to her. It is so easy to see here, that they are moving themselves about, standing in one place, while the background view is moved on a large back screen, to make it appear as if they are racing away, and the trees and jungles are being left behind. Again there is an absence of front shots, showing Hema Malini riding her buggy herself, and coming towards the camera. The shots are right on her face or her body, but not with the full horse and carriage.

Contrast this to the song in Dil Chahata Hai, with Aamir Khan and Preity Zinta walking at a brisk pace, and the train rolling by, right next to them. Now even this shot could have easily been taken with them walking in a studio, and running the train movement, on a large background screen. It was quite likely done that way. But it is not made to appear like that. The first one or two times that I saw that song, I was actually amazed, as to how many shots they must have taken, to synchronise with the train’s time, and their own walking motion! It looked so real.

Some other questions:

– If Sholay were to be made in 2004, would I do anything different?

No, not really. I think, as pure entertainment value, it was perfect. With all its filmy dialogues, stunts and what not.. thats what made it the entertainer that it was.

– How do today’s films compare with Sholay?

Well, except for some technical issues like the ones listed above, today’s films do not come close to Sholay. For true and wholesome entertainment, I would take Sholay any day.

– So what are the really great movies according to me?

My choice is again based on entertainment value. For the 2-3 hours (sometimes slightly more) that we sit and watch the film, do we enjoy ourselves thoroughly? Whether its comedy, action, thrill, romance, or what have you, if a film captures you, keeps you glued to your seats, generates emotions and passions within you, I consider such films as good. Some of the movies that top my list of such entertainment are:


Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (a clear number 2 in my list)

Amar Akbar Anthony (a perfect Manmohan Desai classic; leave your brains at home, and come and enjoy yourself – isme action bhi hai, drama bhi hai, emotion bhi hai, etc.. )

Deewar (a slick thriller, one of AB’s best performances)

Trishul (great dialogues, good match up of Sanjeev-AB, although several scenes of Shashi Kapoor, Poonam Dhillon, etc. were unnecessary),

Lagaan (cricket+Bollywood, what an unbeatable formula, for India),

Sarfarosh (lesser known, but slickly made),

Dil Chahata Hai (well made first film of Farhan),

Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham (I didn’t care for its byline, ‘its all about loving your parents’; found it absolutely corny at that time, but the movie captures emotions beautifully; I understand that in a few scenes, many a man in the audience had moist eyes!),

1942 – A Love Story (Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s best; classic photography, RD’s swansong music, etc.)

There are a whole lot of comedies that were really good – Gol Mal, Chashme Badoor, Katha, Rang Birangi, Angoor, Chupke Chupke, Choti si Baat.

And among romantic films, with good music, etc., I would pick the likes of Kabhi Kabhi, Silsila, Aradhana, Amar Prem, Dil To Paagal Hai. Yes, indeed, Yash Chopra dominates this list. He has made this his clear speciality. What I love about most of these films, is the beautiful visuals, good music, and mushy love stories!

I don’t much care for Suraj Barjatya’s films (elaborate wedding set specials). I hated Devdas (extremely overrated; if I have to pick Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s second best film, it would have to be Khamoshi, his first film, and not Devdas). And I am not a great fan of Shah Rukh’s stammering and very standard acting style.

Would love to know others’ favourite films and logic for those too.. !

  1. RPM says:

    After all that Sholay praise, it almost seems odd to read about so many potential ‘flaws’ in the movie 🙂

    Esp coming from you 😉

  2. SPM says:

    The flaws are not so much about Sholay, as they are about how films were made in 1970-75. Its like saying that planes in 1970 were such, and they are so much better now. The comparison is academic, and conveys the progress in a field over the years, and cannot be considered as blame or flaw of that particular 1970s object. The fact is that Sholay was such a great movie, inspite of it all, and inspite of those apparent “flaws”, its still popular in its rebirth!

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