Sholay was more of a mythological tale for me than a movie. Sholay opened in the theaters in 1975 before I was born. My earliest film memory had nothing to do with Amitabh Bachchan's cult movies like Deewar and Sholay. If I can map my first film memory accurately, it is of watching Naseeb (1981) in the box seats in a theater in Chapra. I remember the sequence where Rishi Kapoor threatens to commit suicide, by jumping off a building as he failed his examinations, in his efforts to blackmail the staff. I also remember bursting out in a wail.
In 1988, Shahenshah opened to hysteria as it was the first of Bachchan's films after his short lived political career. I don't know if I am saying this correctly but we were a pretty repressed family in terms of the modes of entertainment. Those were days when we did not have a TV at home though the first TV revolution in India occurred in 1982. The radio was not much of an alternative. It should be specified that such electronic sources of entertainment would not have had much capability in my small town which had electricity for a maximum of three-four hours and that too after midnight. My father did buy a Philips Two-In-One, as it was called then, which had the cassette player and the radio (so 2 in 1), a small squarish box of 13-15 inches a side. Maybe the repression had more to do with the times than to my filial world. Nehruvian socialism engendered a particular sense of insecurity in which white goods served as inefficiently used capital. Hindi films for a long time were seen as the harbingers of decadence and immorality. A lot of the reluctance was related to the issue of theater visits of the women in the family, as theaters were not seen as respectable places.
It was the month of January, I was home for my winter vacations when the Shahenshah fever afflicted me. I had to use various combinations of the following: insistence, tears, cajole, beg and get melodramatic for about two days before a cousin was found to chaperone me. I also can recollect a front page newspaper picture of audiences breaking a gate down in a Patna theater.
The ancient Hindu tradition was an oral one and is called 'Shruti' and most of the holy/philosophical books were passed on from generation to generation by the word of mouth till they were put to paper much later. In a similar manner I like to categorize my socialization into the Sholay hysteria as an oral one. My class mates who came mostly from the eastern part of India and Bhutan and Nepal were better informed than me when it came to Hindi movies. So it was in such circumstances, when my interest in hindi movies was growing that dialogues and soundtracks from Amitabh's movies were repeatedly narrated to the all-ears-curious me. During these years, there used to be cassettes available which used to contain songs and dialogues from Bachchan's movies. So apart from the excited narratives of 10-11 year old marwari, Bhutanese and Nepalese kids, these tapes and multiple hearings developed the Sholay myth for me.
Jai, Veeru, Basanti, Soorma Bhoopali, Dhanno. The cheer they spread in my mind invariably got me all high. I choose to focus on the comedy track in Sholay precisely because it was the funny parts which really got to me, much more than the menace of Gabbar Singh. I was to see Sholay much later during my college years. Nor was I fortunate enough to see it in a theater but on a TV telecast, interrupted by advertisements. Having lived the movie vicariously in many avatar's, the movie did not have much of an impact on me, but it did not either breakdown the high of the narratives of the school years.
Ram Gopal Verma, the director of such terrifically in-the-face-films like Shiva and Satya, was once on the verge of changing the rules and paradigm of Hindi films when he slipped into a perfectly Indian mediocrity. Ramu as he is called, owned a video library and his love and fascination for cinema grew in that phase centered around repeatedly watching films. There is no doubt that Ramu was a high phase for my film junkiness related to Satya (1998), Rangeela (1995) and till much later even Company (2002). So when the newspapers reported his intention to remake Sholay and I got all excited about it.
Owing to copyright issues and my own declining interest in Ramu as much as his bad years, I was clueless about this remake of Sholay called Aag and it slipped out of my mind. The casting for Aag is also something which escapes me beyond the fact that Bachchan was playing the Gabbar Singh role. Interestingly, for film magazines, it was favorite exercise to hypothetically conjure up a new cast for Sholay every few years using the top stars of the time. I used to enjoy these games but when it came to the real remake of the film, I guess I was out of it.
A friend over the past few days failed to build up the expectations regarding Ram Gopal Verma's Aag but did queue me in to its release. The Friday (31 August 2007) of its opening, I was at the theater where I normally watch my movies as yet another friend was booking his tickets for the night show. I thought about it and asked myself if I wanted to watch the movie and without a moment of doubt I decided not to or maybe not yet. Later when I thought about it and after reading a few reviews, I decided to keep my memories of Sholay safe with me and not watch Ram Gopal Verma's Aag. This decision was not as neat as it appears in its recounting. The sequence of events on that fateful friday was such: at theater but refuse to book advance tickets; someone texted me that the reviews are bad; read a couple of reviews and it is here that the certain idea formed that, boss, this is going to be crazy, stay away; the friend who watched the movie was silent till next morning before he expressed his own outrage in a review profanely titled Ram Gopal Verma ki Jhaant (Needs orkut log in.). Since I will not watch RGV's Aag, I will not have a review but for those interested, I have complied the links of various reviews of the movie.
RGV Ki Aag is RGV ka daag, Rajeev Masand,CNN-IBN
RGV ki Aag, Tushar, Passion For Cinema
RGV ki Aag, Nikhat Kazmi, The Times of India
And the Worst Film Award goes to.., Khalid Muhammed, The Hindustan Times
Ram Gopal Varma ki.. Aargh!,Raja Sen, Rediff
A boring homage to Sholay, Sukanya Verma, Rediff
GABBAR SINKS, Rangan Baradwaj, Indian Express
And perhaps the only positive review
Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag, Taran Adarsh, IndiaFm and Yahoo