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Trade pundits were in a hurry to declare Sholay a flop, says Ramesh Sippy

The filmmaker cleared the air about the 'slow start' at the box office of his most successful work.

Keyur Seta

Ramesh Sippy’s Sholay (1975) was not only a big commercial hit, but was also a film with high artistic value, be it in the performances, technical aspects, narration technique, or music. This ensured that it became one of the most loved Hindi films and continues to be so more than four decades on.

Over the years, we have heard numerous stories about how the film did not do well in the initial phase after its release and only picked up gradually. But Sippy put all such theories to rest while speaking at the launch of the latest issue of Society magazine, which features him on the cover. 

The director said trade pundits had written Sholay off very early. "Some people believe that when the film was released, it flopped," he said. "This is not true. Our trade pundits, who ran trade magazines, felt the film hadn’t done well. I think they had already made up their minds because the film’s budget was Rs1 crore and it went to over Rs3 crore. The promotion and publicity took it to Rs4 crore. How can such a film make money? So [they believed] it was a flop even before its release. They wrote that this film is a disaster for the industry. How can you recover such money? Industry doob gayi. But as far as the audience was concerned, this was clearly not the case."

Sippy admitted, however, that he was worried by the audience’s initial reaction. "When I went to see the film with the audience for the first time, there was silence. Even the second and third time, it was the same. I felt there was some problem. There was just no noise from the audience. I then went to Geeta Talkies at Worli. The manager told me that the interval is over and his problem is that there has been hardly any sale of snacks and beverages. I was surprised that nobody was either making noise or having anything." 

But there was a pleasant twist in store. "The manager said hardly anyone wanted to move out of the hall in the interval, and the reason for the silence was that people had never seen such a film before. All the hard work we had put in was described in this single sentence. Slowly, word kept spreading. After four or five days people began reciting the film’s dialogues. By the seventh week, people realized that it was a hit. And in the 15th week, even the trade pundits agreed that such a hit had never been seen before." 

However, Sippy said his life did not change after making such a blockbuster. "At least, I didn’t personally feel it," he said. "I have always been more or less what you see today. Even Salim-Javed once said to me, ‘Looks like you are born mature’."

Sippy said he had always been a dreamer and his big desire was to make Hindi films as good as, if not better than, the films made in the West.