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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 August, 2004, 17:42 GMT 18:42 UK
Hindi classic pulls in the crowds

By Zubair Ahmed
BBC correspondent in Bombay

Full sign at Bombay cinema showing Sholay
Sholay has been playing to packed houses
A weekday matinee, but it's a full house nonetheless at Minerva, a leading cinema in India's entertainment capital Bombay (Mumbai).

But the big surprise is what the eager film-goers have gathered to see - a 29-year-old Hindi film called Sholay (Flames).

Sholay has become a classic, even in an industry that routinely churns out more than 800 films a year.

And appreciative Indians have been queuing all over Bombay ever since the film, loosely styled on Akira Kurosawa's The Seventh Samurai and Hollywood's The Magnificent Seven, was relaunched last week in digital format.


Sholay's success was initially explained as just that of another hit blockbuster.

Sholay is no longer just a film, it's an event
Author Anupama Chopra

But its dialogues have become part of India's colloquial shorthand. And the cast includes the legendary actor, Amitabh Bachchan.

Anupama Chopra, who wrote a book on the film, says it may be time to recognise Sholay as a phenomenon.

"After 29 years if tickets are being sold on the black market at Minerva in an age when one has the option of watching many new releases and 50 other films on TV you can imagine the film's lasting appeal," she told BBC News Online.

"It's timeless. Sholay is no longer just a film, it's an event."

Tickets in short supply

A substantial chunk of the audiences is made up of people who are not old enough to remember the film's 1975 release.

Ras Behari
Ras Behari will have to try again

Ras Bihari is one. He and his friends have been unlucky in their quest to see the film. He says Sholay's renewed popularity has come as a complete surprise.

"We didn't realise the show would be fully booked. But we can't afford to buy tickets on the black market. We have to come back another day."

But committed Sholay fan Anwar Khan says he is willing to do whatever it takes to see the film again.

"I have seen it 10 times, but not on a widescreen. So I had to see it today."


The new, improved Sholay has already drawn rave reviews from people who remember the original 1975 version.

There will never be another Sholay. Not in this life
Sushil Mehra
Minerva cinema hall

Many say the better sound quality and colour make the new version a more rewarding viewing experience.

Analysts say Sholay's lasting popularity is hardly surprising, considering its finely-judged mix of revenge, retribution and love.

Anupama Chopra says: "It's a unique coming together of talent and technique. Everyone was at the peak of their career and talent. And all of it came together."

Black market tickets
Tickets are fetching high prices on the black market

Sushil Mehra is well placed to offer a unique insight into Sholay's past and present success.

He runs the Minerva cinema hall and was in the same post when Sholay was first released 29 years ago.

Mr Mehra believes Sholay remains unbeatable because of the quality of the acting, filming and directing.

"There will never be another Sholay. Not in this life."

'New era'

But if Sholay is as good as all that, why the need to re-package it?

The film's distributor, Liaqat Gola, says he wanted to redefine film distribution, and that it would be fitting if a contemporary classic such as Sholay launched a new phase in Hindi cinema.

We aim to relaunch Shaan by the end of next month
Film distributor Liaqat Gola

"I wanted to do something new, start a new era in distribution. I got the idea from Hollywood, where some old classics have been revived. So I chose Sholay to start this era."

Mr Gola, who insists he is possibly Sholay's staunchest fan, claims to have seen the film a record 32 times.

"Each time I felt I saw something new. I never got bored," he says.

He says he knew Sholay's relaunch would be a great success, but refuses to divulge the film's takings this second time round.

All he will say is that the response is encouraging enough to take the digitally-remastered Sholay to other Indian cities.

True to his hopes, Sholay does seem to have started a new trend.

Mr Gola is already hard at work repackaging another 70s classic, called Shaan (Pride). "We aim to relaunch Shaan by the end of next month," he says.

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