Tuesday, August 09, 2005

the lost embers of Sholay

Managed to catch the "director's cut" of Sholay two weeks ago. Why wait so long to post? Don't ask. The connection between mind and body seems to be going through a strange state of dissociation and limbo.

Nothing was planned. Happened to end up at a friend's place after a day of arduous physical activity involving over-filled boxes, couches, mattresses, ascent and descent on flights of stairs and a generally rich avenue to target the adrenaline. All the signals the body sent out by now were to just flop onto a couch and let the pleasant sensation of exhaustion kick in. But, lo and behold! There atop the video cassette player lies a tape of Sholay. Asking my friend for more information didn't get me anywhere (who goes about with finely granular information about the different versions of a Hindi movie anyway?). So while everyone was attending to cleaning up, I flopped on the couch and popped the tape in. I hit the FWD button immediately, since the differentiator would be the climax. And my efforts were rewarded in full: this was the "director's cut". Of course, the original grouse was that Eros had been a skunk about producing DVDs of either version [more details]. The other minor grouse was that this tape came from an Indian store that didn't know or care (are there any that care?) about aspect ratios, so this filmed in 4:3 screened in matted 2.35:1 movie was stretched, cut and randomly tweaked to "fit your screen". [Insert suitably vile invectives here]. But I digress. The delight is in the details.

Everyone knows the ending in the released print: the police arrive (too late, as always) in time to stop Thaakur saahab from killing gabbar; then we have jay's funeral, viiruu leaving on the train (along with basa.ntii who decides to tag along). In the original ending there ain't no cops. Thaakur uses his specially designed shoes (another deleted scene appears on this edition to support the shoes -- raamalaal punches another spiked stud into the special shoes as Thaakur watches on) to stomp gabbar's hands (with the ye haath mujhe de de gabbar), and then manages to kick him onto a metal spike sticking out of one of the sides of the place where gabbar had tied Thaakur and appropriated his haath. While gabbar's death itself is nicely done, it's rather hilarious to see the Thaakur/gabbar fight sequence (especially the physics-defying leaps that Thaakur indulges in -- since he has no hands). It's like you were watching Crouching Thaakur hidden gabbar.

The other additions include more detail in the ahamad (Sachin) meets gabbar sequence. There's more explicit menace (and a larger hint at what brutality was in store for ahamad). Frankly, though, I prefer the more understated version in the original release, where all you see gabbar do is swat a fly and then you cut to the donkey returning to the village bearing ahamad's corpse. When Roger Ebert reviewed the release of the original longer Cinema Paradiso, he welcomed the longer original simply because it represented the director's vision, but also noted that he preferred the shorter version (one of the few instances where the Weinstein butchery seemed to pay off as a better viewing experience). I feel compelled to paraphrase that sentiment about the ahamad scene.

A big big boo was that the print seemed like it had been subjected to the brilliance of a billion suns. Everything went so bright it felt like a TV soap opera.

losing the nostalgia for Sholay: After watching the film yet again, I can see my global appreciation for the film break down into appreciation for the specifics. From noting the influences (both acknowledged and unacknowledged), to noting the innovative space that the film defined and noting some of the understated performances I have come to the point where a bulk of the film just grates -- the viiruu/basa.nti romantic stuff is overdone (a trend in Bollywood that still refuses to go away); Hema Malini grates; Dharmendra hams gloriously; some of the timing of Amitabh's retorts seems off, there's a lot of perfunctory "essential" sequences that don't seem to add much to the movie (the jail sequence, even suuramaa bhopaalii), except perhaps to establish the characters enough from a mainstream POV; and there's a LOT (and I mean that, a LOT) of exposition. All these won't be grouses that a mainstream audience looking for a "complete" entertainer will have. And perhaps that's where Sholay fits best -- a film in the mainstream mould that attempted something different while complying with the conventions of mainsteam "entertainment". And for defining the "curry" western. Do I still like it? Time to toss that coin.

elsewhere: a more detailed list of the differences | more Sholay trivia

Short notes thanks to a chat-o-rama with JR: Yes, I noticed saambaa's second line of dialogue (exists in both versions)

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