Still got the fire

Anuj Kumar
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Cinema Ramesh Sippy down memory lane. Anuj Kumar

The game changerRamesh SippyPhoto: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar
The game changerRamesh SippyPhoto: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

As Ramesh Sippy prepares for a fresh innings, the iconic director turns nostalgic about his best works, clears up some misconceptions and reveals why he is not happy with the conversion of “Sholay” into 3D. Excerpts from an interview:

On his return to direction

There is work going on but it hasn’t concretised yet. I have two ideas and I am trying to make my judgement. Having done films like “Andaaz”, “Seeta Aur Geeta” “Sholay” and “Shakti”, I want to make something that goes with my past work. In my first round I tried to make each film a little different from the previous one. This time when I am coming back after a long time, I would like to do something different. But I am not going to mount it at the superstar level.

On the long break

In the last couple of films that I made, I didn’t see something right. I didn’t add anything to my repertoire with “Zamana Deewana” (the Shah Rukh Khan starrer released in 1995, a few months before “Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge”) though the film did decent business. I needed to stop for a while, have an overview of things and then decide. While I was waiting I did some television work and then I realised my son (Rohan Sippy) has grown up. It was important to launch him because he was keen to start.

On his casting coups and “Shakti”

It didn’t work every time! The real big one was “Shakti”. At that time Amitabh Bachchan, who was on top, and Mr. Dilip Kumar, who was the best till then, were keen and interested in doing something different and the timing was absolutely right. Both heard the script and both totally okayed it without asking any questions. Nothing changed during the shoot. If somebody suggests it, he is completely false. As a matter of fact I was the only one who had a little inkling that the film is a little too grim because by the time I was shooting “Shakti”, Bachchan had become a one-man variety entertainment. I realised I had a straitjacketed role for him and there was not much room to bring in all his other qualities. I did discuss with Javed (Akhtar) and Bachchan that should we open up the film a little bit. Because of his “Coolie” injury there was a gap and during this period we discussed it. But we realised that the purity of the film will be lost . The box office was less than people would normally associate with these two actors but we were not aiming at it. Today as we remember “Shakti” there is fondness for it; there is a lot of respect for it.

OnZameen” that never got completed ostensibly because of casting…

What misfired was not the casting of two top heroines (Madhuri Dixit and Sridevi). I had no problem from either of the girls. The film was stopped midway because of the financial reasons. We had a strong script by Manohar Shyam Joshi. The shoot was 60 per cent done but the person who was backing it didn’t fulfil his commitment. The film had too many stars (Rajinikanth, Sanjay Dutt, Vinod Khanna). I will call it a one-off case.

On the role of Salim-Javed in his success

There was a period when they were consistently coming up with great things. A lot of what is said about their role is true but if you have seen all their films you can judge for yourself whether it completely holds true or whether a few of their films stand out more than other others. “Sholay” was so strong on paper that whosoever might have made it, it would have worked. But would it have been so big that every scene is memorable? That level is achieved because everybody contributed, including Salim-Javed. It was one of the first films to have been shot outdoors and I worked with a cameraman who had never worked outdoors. Dwaraka Diwecha was a master of indoor shooting. He studied books and did everything possible. I had seen him shooting Dilip Kumar for A.R Kardar’s film. When the shot ended, the director said cut and looked at him for confirmation, but by then he had moved the camera without looking into it. He had so much confidence. I wanted such strong people.

On his mastery over action sequences

It is unfair to give me full credit. I didn’t shoot them. I just found the right technicians to do it. After watching some Hollywood films we felt can’t we achieve this kind of result in our films? If we can afford the technicians why not bring them here? Gerry Crampton and Jim Allen were called. They had a different way of cutting shots. I would tell them to work out action keeping the storyline in mind. The way they did it made all the difference, because it lifted the whole sequence.

On Dharmendra’s reluctance to play Viru

There were six characters, and every actor has a little sense of insecurity. He knows his role is good but he still wants to know if that one is a little better. Thakur and Gabbar were central to the story and Dharmendra liked Thakur’s character. A director has to understand his actor and sometimes twist things a bit so that the actor takes the right decision. Around that time Sanjeev Kumar had proposed Hema Malini. I told Dharmendra, if you play Thakur, Sanjeev will get Hema Malini in the film. All doubts vanished!

On Salim-Javed offering “Sholay” to Manmohan Desai

The script idea of four lines was with Manmohan Desai. He was not too keen on moving on it and when we thought of making an action adventure, they narrated it to me. And then they went and narrated something else to him…“Chacha Bhatija”. He found it up his alley! Somehow, it happened conveniently for everyone.

On reports that “Sholay” didn’t open well

To say that it didn’t open well is wrong. Chakku chhuri did come into effect at advance booking! So the craze was there. When the film released the trade papers lambasted it. They felt it was too expensive a film and is workable. There is no ‘maa’ in the film so it is very western in its concept. We were worried because this word was spreading. The manager at Geeta theatre in Worli was the first man to point out the impact. We were a little lost, so we went there on the fifth day. He said during interval the sale of the cold drinks has come down drastically because people don’t come out. Initially, I thought he had called me to give me more pain. Then I went inside and found people in a daze. They were not used to this kind of shot taking, this kind of impact. And by the second week they started repeating the dialogues.

On not repeating the Dharmendra-Amitabh Bachchan pair in “Shaan”

Dharmendra was considered to play Bachchan’s role in “Shaan” but I became a little insecure. The colour of the character was not exactly to his taste and when I started “Sholay”, Dharmendra was the bigger actor; after that Amitabh became the bigger actor, and then balancing them would have become difficult. This kind of thing caught up with me in “Zameen” (where Vinod Khanna proved a little difficult to work with).

On the 3D version of “Sholay”

I have nothing to do with it and I have never been consulted and that is why I am upset. The matter is in the court (because of a feud in the Sippy family). I had the choice to make it in 3D because the platform was available. I know that in 3D some action scenes really come out well. The way the train rushes through the logs, it will generate an impact but my sense is, on the whole 3D works better in animation films and it flattens out the emotional drama. I may be completely wrong but this is my film and I should be allowed to look into where the effect is working and where it is not.

On scaling down to small screen with “Buniyaad”, which is being showcased on Doordarshan all over again

Even “Saagar” was a romance in 70 mm! When I watched its last show at Excelsior I could see people not liking the soft moments of the film. I felt the audience was changing. I could see the increasing presence of the ‘lower denominator’ as the classes were slipping away to have the experience of seeing films at home. So I decided to make something for them and decided to give them the same experience on the small screen. Don’t forget that the first 26 episodes of “Buniyaad” were shot on film format and then I passed on the baton to Jyoti Swarup.

On family business vs corporate culture

In corporate culture, “Sholay” would not have been made because the budget more than doubled during the shoot. No corporate would have backed it. But yes, things are changing as we have seen in “Bhaag Milkha Bhaag”, a corporate production house has put big money not just on an unconventional subject but also on Farhan Akhtar, who is not really a superstar.


Neetu Singh was considered for “Shakti” “She was more of a commercial film girl at that time and we thought Smita Patil, coming from other cinema, parallel cinema as we call it, might give it a different colour.

Amitabh Bachchan was cast for “Sholay” before the release of “Zanjeer” Salim Javed recommended his name. “I had seen him in “Anand” and “Bombay to Goa”. I wanted an actor and not another star as I was making a big film and already had too many stars. It is another matter that he went on to become the biggest star.”



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