Large swathes of popular Hindi cinema are no longer what they used to be when Ramesh Sippy’s all-conquering Sholay was released nearly four decades ago.
Yet, all these years later, the film remains a benchmark that commercial filmmakers in Mumbai can only aspire to match, let alone outstrip.
Why on earth then, one might wonder, would anybody be interested in watching a 3D version of a megahit that is part of Indian cinema folklore?
Hasn’t Sholay been watched, written about, celebrated, imitated, parodied, cannibalised and butchered ad nauseum?
Yet, there are several good reasons why Indians who are not old enough to have ever seen the film on the widescreen should go out and watch Sholay 3D.
Thirty-eight years on, the saga of Ramgarh and its bitter battle with the dreaded Gabbar Singh holds up pretty well.
The film has enough innate strength to this day to be able to salvage itself from the raging fire that one Ram Gopal Varma ill-advisedly sought to consign it to a few years ago. The embers of the original still glow as bright as ever.
A rather simplistic yet irresistibly immersive good-versus-evil tale that drew inspiration from alien filmmaking traditions and yet did a masterful job of dovetailing a borrowed genre into the indigenized narrative structure of the dacoit film, Sholay wasn’t obviously made with 3D in mind.
So, apart from adding depth to the frames, the added dimension does not actually ‘add’ any significant value to the movie experience. Here, 3D is no more than superficial embellishment at best. At worst, it seems to rob Sholay at times of the natural panoramic sweep of 70mm Cinemascope and lend it a caged-in feel.
However, a few of the action sequences do acquire life-like proportions, especially when bullets, shrapnel, rock splinters and other missiles fly at the audience. But that does not happen often enough to make a lasting impression.
The effect of 3D is felt only occasionally, but this is a restored print that should do the rounds in 2D format as well.
Sholay was a landmark Hindi film, and a repeat run can only help today’s moviegoers appreciate the sheer scale of the ambition and achievement that it represented.
Lines like Basanti, inn kutton ke saamne mat naachna or Chal Dhanno, aaj teri Basanti ki izzat ka sawaal hain may sound quaintly risible today, and yet they still strike a chord because they have continued to live in our midst like timeless taglines.
The two aspects of Sholay that no amount of modern-day technical wizardry can match are the outstanding cinematography and the on-screen performances.
Director of photography Dwarka Divecha, who passed within three years of the release of Sholay, left an indelible mark on the film.
He pulled off many a sequence that would have seemed very difficult, if not impossible, at the time.
Remember that Divecha did not have today’s CGI or SFX to fall back on. So you can only marvel at the goods train raid sequence early in the film or the horse carriage chase in the run-up to the climax.
It is common knowledge that Sanjeev Kumar as Thakur Baldev Singh and Amjad Khan as Gabbar Singh towered over everyone else.
Basanti, Jai and Veeru, too, are talked about whenever Sholay is mentioned.
But another viewing serves to reveal the depth that Jaya Bachchan brought to bear upon her interpretation of the character of the widowed Radha.
Many moviegoers, even oldtimers, might not have seen the pre-marriage Holi scene involving Jaya Bachchan, Sanjeev Kumar, Iftikhar and Satyen Kappu. It is very much a part of this three-and-a-half version of Sholay – it is a flashback that highlights how sprightly and full of life the now speechless widow was as a young spinster.
You also sense the intrinsic quality of the screenplay in the fact that virtually every cameo in the film – notably AK Hangal’s Imam Sahab and Leela Mishra’s mausi – is sharply etched out.
Sholay was an event when it hit the screens way back in the mid 1970s. Its reappearance in a new format may not create quite the same ripples, but Sholay, 3D or not, is definitely worth a revisit.