'Sholay' though supposedly inspired by a Japanese film, developed an identity of its own and became a legendary movie of Indian cinema.
'Sholay' which means 'flames' in English, is based on the theme of the revenge-seeking mission of an ex-cop Thakur Baldev Singh (Sanjeev Kumar) whose family members, save for himself and his young daughter-in-law, Radha (Jaya Bhaduri) have been killed by the dangerous dacoit - Gabbar Singh (Amjad Khan) who has deprived him of his hands too. Handicapped, Thakur seeks the help of two petty thieves - Veeru (Dharmendra) and Jay (Amitabh Bachchan) who visit his village, Ramgarh, only to earn money in return for helping him. However, the knowledge of the truth transforms their hearts and they fight tooth and nail with the bandit and his gang. Jay loses his life in this mission whereas Veeru gains the love of his life in the form of Basanti (Hema Malini).
It is said that good pieces are made through hard, sincere and planned work but masterpieces are born by default. The same thing has happened to 'Sholay'. It's a masterpiece by default and not by deliberate effort. The screenplay contains many loopholes and it's definitely overdramatic, devoid of the naturalness to a large extent. Still it keeps the viewers hooked because the high-quality and all round entertainment provided, does not allow an eye to fall upon any loophole. In fact, had the story been portrayed as a natural one, perhaps it would not have enabled the movie to be considered a classic.
The over-the-top nature of the picturization alongwith comic and witty dialogues (and their memorable delivery) is something which makes this entertaining movie not only more entertaining but also an unforgettable experience for the viewers. It's this trait, which provides unmeasurable repeat value to this movie. No surprise that several spectators have watched it dozens of times.
There are two major plus points of this movie adding spice to its already high entertainment value - 1. The mannerisms of the villain, Gabbar Singh and his theatrical dialogue delivery, 2. The comedy generated by Veeru, Basanti, Jay and some insignificant characters like the Jailor of the British times (Asrani) and Soorma Bhopali (Jagdeep). The scene of Veeru climbing up the water tank in a drunken state, threatening to commit suicide and demanding the hand of Basanti in marriage, is definitely the best comedy scene of Dharmendra's career.
'Sholay' is just like a dish in which every ingredient and every required spice is just right, making it a highly delicious one, rendering a taste to remember forever. It's not a realistic movie about the bandits of India. It's an entertaining movie, providing wholesome entertainment through the activities of the characters who may not be found in this world.
Director Ramesh Sippy has directed the movie well, despite loopholes and inconsistencies. It is a movie which keeps the audiences in a hypnotized state right from the start to the finish.
Technical and production value aspects are quite high, despite the fact that almost the whole story takes place in the rural setting. Music by R.D. Burman is ok, the Holi song being definitely one of the best Holi songs from the Bollywood movies. Ditto can be said for the friendship song of Jay and Veeru.
The biggest strength of the movie is the dialogues, especially the dialogues of the villain, Gabbar Singh. These dialogues alongwith Gabbar Singh, his sidekick - Saambha (played by Mac Mohan) and a member of his gang - Kaalia (played by Viju Khote) have become so popular that now they are a part of the Indian folklore. Who can forget - 'Arre O Saambha', 'Tera Kya Hoga Kaaliya' and 'Jo Dar Gaya Samjho Mar Gaya' is now quoted like a maxim.
The high-profile star cast of Dharmendra, Sanjeev Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan, Hema Malini and Jaya Bhaduri has excelled in the roles assigned. Everybody gets full marks for the underplay (Amitabh, Jaya and Sanjeev) and overplay (Dharmendra-Hema) as required by the scene. Asrani has been given the get-up of Hitler in his completely over-the-top role of Angrezon Ke Zamaane Ka Jailor (the Jailor of the British times) but he and the others like him, generate laughter as demanded by their roles. Leela Mishra, A.K. Hangal, Sachin etc. also leave their mark in their cameos. A.K. Hangal’s emotional performance upon the demise of his son, Sachin is something to remember forever. It's a movie in which every character is able to maintain his/her identity. Leave aside human characters, even the animal - Dhanno (the mare of Basanti, driving her tonga) has become something unforgettable.
Finally, it's Gabbar Singh (Amjad Khan) who has become immortal because of this movie. Never in the history of cinema, a villain had amassed so much popularity which overtook the popularity of the hero/heroes. Amjad Khan never got such a role in his career again and also could never come out of the hangover of this role. Gabbar Singh with his mannerisms has become a legend.
'Sholay' is a movie in which the negatives also turned out to be the positives and everything just fell in place to render it a class of its own.