Every time a great film completes an anniversary, there is talk about how perhaps the film wouldn’t have been such a great success had it released in present times.
There is no doubt about the greatness of a Sholay (1975) or a Pyaasa(1957) or a Guide (1965) and even though they have only gotten better with time, there is still some debate if they would miss their mark had they released circa 2016.
A film such as Sholay, which released this week 41 years ago, has been blessed with timelessness and in spite of a new legion of believers taking to it every year, the question of the film’s timelessness is still argued.
So, what makes a timeless film timeless? Intriguingly enough it is a film’s ability to disregard the time it was made in that ultimately ends up being the biggest contributor to its timelessness.
One of the primary reasons why Sholay would, in all likelihood, strike a chord with the viewers even if it were released today, is because it rarely addressed the times it was made in (the 70s). Film critics argue that the singular factor that tends to rob a film of their timelessness is their focus on the time it came out.
Films such as Casablanca (1942), Citizen Kane(1941), Kagaz Ke Phool (1959), Mera Naam Joker (1970) and Silsila (1981) were topical and therefore perhaps even disposable to some extent. Yet they all went on to be considered ‘timeless.’
The reason for this, beyond a rediscovery, is also the presence of elements such as the theme’s universality, characters that highlight basic human traits and, most importantly, the ever-changing zeitgeist.
Sholay is blessed with all these and it also enjoys audiences’ affection across four decades thanks to director Ramesh Sippy, who filtered many great parts to create an even greater whole.
Sholay circumvents the curse of time because its elements cannot be trapped in the 1970s. For all its grit and edge, Sholay isn’t ‘real’ when compared to the other dacoit films especially Mera Gaon Mera Desh (1971), which came a few years before Sholay, and it’s antagonist Jabbar Singh (Vinod Khanna) has even said to have inspired Sholay’s Gabbar Singh (Amjad Khan).
It wasn’t escapist like the other films in the genre that followed such as Sultan Ahmed’s Ganga Ki Saugandh (1978) or Rajput (1982) or Ghulami (1985) that were more of throwbacks to the dacoit films of the 1960s. Yet Sholay achieved a far wider sense of universality thanks to its characters, both primary as well as ancillary, and were influenced by the situations.
Much like Sholay, the basic premise of a Guide and a Pyaasa will still work today as well because they attribute themselves to an idea bigger than what they apparently represent. Pyaasa released in the same year as Mother India(1957) and Naya Daur (1957) and even though it holds a mirror to the society of the era, it rises above the social issues associated with the Nehruvian idealism that forms an important part of its narrative.
Revisiting Pyaasa after six decades, Prof. Rachel Dwyer rightly notes that the film is a “celebration of the everyday beauty in the life of the ordinary person” and finds value in difficult times by making social realism and politics of the period subordinate.
The tragedy of the struggling poet Vijay (Guru Dutt), who becomes a sensation when people think he is dead and Sahir’s poetry – ‘Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaye’ and ‘Jinhe naaz hai Hind par’ – are as appropriate today as they would have been in 1957.
Similarly, Vijay Anand’s Guide is based on one of the most celebrated novels of its times, R.K. Narayan’s The Guide. It transcends the shackles of time and space by engaging itself with an overarching consciousness of timeless human values.
Raju (Dev Anand) stands up for Rosie (Waheeda Rehman) as she walks away from a loveless marriage with a much older man Marco (Kishore Sahu) and helps her fulfill her dream of being a renowned dancer. Rosie loves Raju and while he too loves her, he can’t help but love the good life that Rosie’s success brings and when her estranged husband tries to make amends fearing that she would leave him, Raju lies to Rosie and starts doubting her. Raju’s fallacy makes Guide timeless and by that virtue relevant even in this day and age.
The original ending of Sholay was supposed to feature Thakur (Sanjeev Kumar) killing Gabbar Singh but it was changed once the Censor put its foot down. The original climax penned by Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar now seems to enjoy a kind of historians’ fallacy where the fable of Thakur, an ex-policeman, taking the law into his own hands and killing Gabbar Singh is considered as the screenwriters’ reaction to the Emergency.
In Nasreen Munni Kabir’s book Talking Films, Javed Akhtar says that it took the duo a mere 18 days to write the screenplay of Deewar (1975) in one fervent outburst and credit the charged-up environment as the inspiration. But more than anything Sholay revisits the age-old tale of David and Goliath and that will always find acceptance irrespective of the era the audience views it.