Article Hindi

Sholay is like the Bible, Gita, Quran for writers like me, says writer-director Farhad Samji

As Ramesh Sippy's classic turns 45, writer-director Farhad Samji explains why the film is considered a reference point for writers even today.

Keyur Seta

Ramesh Sippy’s blockbuster Sholay (1975) is not just a massy entertainer loved by crores of cine fans over the decades. The film, written by Salim-Javed, is also a textbook for aspiring as well as established screenwriters. 

Writer-director Farhad Samji has no hesitation in admitting this as Sholay completes 45 years today (it was released on 15 August 1975). In fact, he observed that he isn’t the only writer to think so.

“Sholay is like the Bible, Gita and Quran for people like us," Farhad Samji, who has co-written several hits of the past 15 years with brother Sajid Samji, said. "Whenever I have had sittings with big writers like Robin Bhatt and the late K Subhash, the first film we take as a reference is Sholay. Like in cricket, we still think of Don Bradman as the greatest. These are legends who have left their mark.”

Dharmendra and Amitabh Bachchan in Sholay

For those who may not know, Sholay revolves around the burning desire for revenge of former police officer Thakur Baldev Singh (Sanjeev Kumar) whose family, with the exception of one daughter-in-law (Jaya Bachchan), is wiped out by the dreaded dacoit Gabbar Singh (Amjad Khan) who also chops both his arms off.

The Thakur assigns the task of capturing Gabbar Singh alive to two petty criminals and close friends Jai (Amitabh Bachchan) and Veeru (Dharmendra) whom the Thakur had arrested once when he was a police inspector. 

45 years of Sholay: Why the film remains a gold standard in Hindi cinema

Jai and Veeru arrive in Ramgarh, where the Thakur resides, and slowly start adapting to life in the village. Veeru falls for the talkative Basanti (Hema Malini) who runs a horse-drawn cart. Jai starts having feelings for Radha, the sole survivor in the Thakur clan. Gradually, the day when Jai and Veeru confront Gabbar Singh draws closer.

Farhad Samji said that what strikes a writer like him the most about Salim-Javed’s script is the multiple tracks in the story. “Whenever we sit down creatively, people say the story should be kept simple and we shouldn’t tax the audience’s mind. At that time, I give them the example of Sholay where there were seven tracks playing simultaneously. Like those of Jagdeep, Asrani, the revenge angle, the friendship track, love with a widow, etc,” he said.

Farhad Samji

Samji believes this is a major reason for the film's cult following. “The reason why Sholay is so big is because it has so many tracks running simultaneously. It is the greatness of the writing which nicely weaves all the tracks together and serves it in one thali [traditional dinner plate]. You can’t say this film is only about friendship or revenge. So, personally, I have always been inspired by Sholay for this reason,” he said.

Samji said he once worked on a film with Ramesh Sippy. The project never did come to fruition, but he got to hear some interesting bits about Sholay from the director himself. “I came to know how the film was made and heard various anecdotes connected with it. He told me that the screenplay was prepared in just around a month! He said for some films we work so hard. But there are others which are like god’s blessings and they just get made on their own.”

He cited the example of a dialogue he wrote for Singham (2011). The line was: Meri zarooratein hain kum, isliye mere zameer mein hai dum, which means I have few needs, so my conscience is sturdy. “You can see it’s a well-thought-out line,” Samji said. “But the greatness of Sholay is that even a mundane line like ‘Kitne aadmi thay [How many were they]?’ became an iconic dialogue. It’s not even a proper line of dialogue. But in the film it is included at the right moment and used perfectly. It’s the first line the villain speaks.”

Amjad Khan and Viju Khote in the iconic scene from the film

Samji said Sholay was also the first film to bring in ‘dialogue-based editing’, a method of cutting a scene at the exact moment a dialogue ends. “Like how, right after the dialogue, ‘Holi kab hai? Kab hai Holi?’, we cut into the Holi celebration song in Ramgarh. It is dialogue-based cutting. Rajkumar Hirani also does that. I haven’t seen this in earlier cult films like Mughal-e-Azam (1961), Pakeezah (1972) or Naya Daur (1957). An important aspect about dialogue writing I learnt from Sholay is that it’s not just about the words you utter.”

Sanjeev Kumar, Dharmendra and Amitabh Bachchan in Sholay

Samji said he saw Sholay for the first time when he "gained my senses". And over the decades he has seen it times without number. “If I land on the film while changing channels, it is mandatory to watch it till ‘The End’ appears on the screen,” he said.

Samji said another reason for him to love Sholay so much is that he can identify with how the film is rooted in India. “I won’t be able to write something like War (2019) [co-written by Robin Bhatt, Anurag Basu and Akarsh Khurana] the way I wrote Singham because the [latter] film is rooted in India. Sholay had those Indian roots,” he said.