Thursday, December 17, 2009

Embers: Still Burning

On the way to work today, I heard a riddle on radio.
Q: "Agar Basanti ki mausi Thakur ko rakhee bandhti hain, toh Thakur Basanti ka kya rishta hua?"
A: "Abbe - Mausi rakhee bandhegi kahan???"

I was not so much impressed by the joke as I was taken in - yet again - by the durability of Sholay. For the last 35 years, the film has spawned ads, jokes, riddles, songs, spoofs, films and in the case of Raju Srivastav, an entire career in showbiz!
In fact, I sometimes feel that if there was a law against using Sholay themes, there would be no advertisements (and half the content) on radio.

And why only ads? The film is almost coded in the DNA of children born after its release. So, even now - when Virender Sehwag scores 284 in one day, there are headlines proclaiming "Joy, Viru".

The first take-off on Sholay started in the trade magazines - in the first week of its release. The most expensive film to be made had a very lukewarm opening, on the back of its violent and unemotional storyline. The trade pundits called it Chhole! Somebody else called it Teen Maharathi aur Ek Chooha - alluding to the squeaky voice of the villain.

Of course, all that changed when the film started becoming big. And the first positive take-off was when biscuits started getting advertised as 'Gabbar Singh ki Asli Pasand'. Attributed to then-Group Product Manager, Sunil Alagh (who went to become the CEO of Britannia), Glucose-D biscuits became the first product to be endorsed by a villain.

Very soon, Jagdeep expanded his role of a wood trader from Madhya Pradesh into a full-length film - Soorma Bhopali. The film easily beat Kunwara Baap as the film with the maximum number of guest appearances as almost the entire cast of Sholay and half the film industry landed up at Jagdeep's request.

Then came Ramgarh Ke Sholay - which can rightfully claim the original's legacy of the Greatest Starcast (of Duplicates) Ever Assembled. Amitabh Bachchan, Shatrughan Sinha, Dev Anand and Anil Kapoor starred in completely arbitrary parts while only Amjad Khan (in a hugely bloated avatar) returned to his iconic role.

Channel V came in the mid-90s and just took off on take-offs of Sholay!
One series was animated (a sample available here) and all the films ended with their icon Simpoo Singh getting all the characters together for a group photograph. They would raise their hands to form the Vs of the channel. The standard joke - of course - was the raising of Thakur's hands.
The other series was live-action, made with duplicates of the lead actors and mostly involved ringing phones in the Thakur's vicinity!

While on the subject of Sholay spoofs, comedian Raju Srivastav has created infinite parallel universes around the film and the material has contributed a lot in his becoming one of the leading comic artistes of our times.
One of his sketches is how Gabbar becomes old and is bullied by Kaalia, Sambha et al.
Another one - at one of the film awards - is about how Amitabh would do the role of Gabbar.
Yet another is about Gabbar kids being interviewed on present-day TV.
And his mascot - Gajodhar - goes to watch the film and returns to regale his friends with the story.

Somewhere in between, advertising agencies joined the bandwagon. In massive numbers.
Thakur bit Gabbar to death, thanks to his strong teeth due to Orbit Chewing Gum.
Dancing competitions on TV have Viru saying, "In kutton ke saamne mat naachna" to the background sound of dogs barking but Basanti ignoring it to say, "Nahin, main nachoongi. Gabbar, botal todo. Main nachoongi." And Thakur adds, "Is ke liye toh mere pair hi kaafi hain!"
So on and so forth...

A film which paid tribute to Sholay and RD Burman in equal measure was Jhankaar Beats.
Even the not-so-explosive dialogues of the film came into everyday lingo. Soch lo, Thakur. Holi kab hain, kab hain holi? Bahut yaarana lagta hain.
The film even had a short quiz played between the leads (Rahul Bose and Sanjay Suri). One asks, "Gabbar ka baap naam kya tha?" and the other replies, "Hari Singh."
The first one says, "Very good. Sholay mein doosra Hari kaun tha?" and the answer is "Hariram naii..."
This is indeed a touching tribute to Hariram Naii (played by Keshto Mukherjee, as the jail barber - a 5 minute role) though my humble submission is that Gabbar father's name (heard briefly when he is sentenced) is probably Bihari Singh. At least, that's what I heard!

That was about a full film. There are innumerable films, which have passing references. The rickshaw in which Shahrukh chases villains in Main Hoon Na was called Dhanno. Johnny Lever in Kuch Kuch Hota Hain calls himself "Angrezon ke zamaane ka tailor".
And Luck by Chance has Macmohan giving away awards at an acting class but ending up saying the three words that made him a star - "Poore pachaas hazaar"!

Though intended as a tribute, RGV ki Aag is probably the biggest spoof of the film with Ramu managing to excise pretty much all that was magical in the original and making an unpalatable rehash of the balance.

Though, there are still people untouched by the film's magic.
My son's name is Joy and some time back, Tina and I were toying with idea of having one more baby. Obviously, we wanted a daughter this time but she was quite petrified of having another naughty son.
"What will we do if we have another son?", she asked in a slightly alarmed manner. "We will name him Veeru", I said.
I think she abandoned the idea of a second baby after that!

End-note:
And the most famous question from Sholay has returned to haunt me - Kitney aadmi the? Apparently, 5 kam they!
Calcutta Chromosome became the runners-up in the Best Entertainment category of Indibloggies by a margin of 4 votes. Boo hoo!
Thanks to all for voting vociferously and writing really sweet things in the comments. Do keep tuning in!
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