India’s favourite film, Sholay, gets a new lease of life with the 3D version, which has just premiered in the UAE. The film’s custodian and the producer’s grandson, Sascha Sippy, talks to Shiva Kumar Thekkepat about his labour of love
India’s favourite film, Sholay, gets a new lease of life with the 3D version, which has premiered in the UAE.
‘We went to all this trouble as Sholay is an all-time classic… and a new version had to be perfect’
To hear him tell it, Sascha Sippy was destined to recreate in 3D the all-time popular award-winning Hindi film Sholay (meaning ‘embers’ in Hindi) – a revenge drama about a retired police officer who hires two small-time thieves to hunt down a dacoit, or outlaw, who shot and killed his family.
“I nearly died in a freak accident on the day of the film’s release, August 15, 1975,” says Sascha, 43. “I was four and a typical brat. Restless and fidgety while sitting in the front row of the balcony seats at the Minerva cinema in Mumbai, I got up and leaned to look at the crowds below... and toppled over! Luckily, a crew member from the film who was next to me reacted swiftly and grabbed me by my foot. For a few heart-stopping seconds there I was dangling over the railing, a whisker away from certain death.”
From that moment Sascha’s life has been inextricably entwined with the film that was to make a fortune for his extended family. It was directed by his uncle Ramesh Sippy, while his father Vijay Sippy and another uncle, Suresh, assisted in production.
Starring all the big names in Bollywood at the time – Amitabh Bachchan, Dharmendra, Sanjeev Kumar, Hema Malini, Jaya Bhaduri and Amjad Khan, among others – and with a script from the hit writers of the time – Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar – accolades for the movie mounted. In 1999, BBC India called it the ‘Film of the millennium’ while it also topped the poll for the all-time best Indian films conducted by the British Film Institute.
“I remember visiting the sets of the film several times during the two-and-a-half years it took to make. I was a kid but I still remember some of the fascinating scenes like the train robbery and Hema Malini’s dance sequence... The film left an indelible impression on me,’’ says Sascha, CEO of Sippy Films.
Having grown up on Sholay and recognising the tremendous entertainment value it still has, Sascha decided it needed to be reworked and presented to today’s generation. It’s easy to understand why; the film holds the record for being the first film to run for over 25 weeks in more than 100 cinemas in India; the first Indian film to gross Rs35 million (Dh2 million) and play continually for five years at one cinema – Minerva – and was the first full-length film shot in 70mm
in India. “I believe that
Sholay is the most popular film to come out of India,” Sascha says. “We wanted the next generation to see it, know the phenomenon the movie is.”
But remastering it in 3D was easier said than done. “Initially we thought it would take nine months to get it done,” says Sascha. “But it turned out to be a mammoth task because, for one, large parts of the negative that we had were damaged due to age and regular wear and tear so artists had to fill in the gaps and do the touch-ups on the negative by hand.’’
The next step was converting it to highdefinition and then to 3D through a complicated procedure that was done at Maya Digital Studios in Mumbai. “But when we synchronised the sound with the restored film, we found that it didn’t match. While the picture looked really crisp and new, the recording sounded old and tinny.’’
Not happy with the result, Sascha’s team decided to do the sound recording all over again. “We located the film’s original soundtrack but found it was a mixed print, meaning it did not have individual tracks for dialogue, music, sound effects, etc. It is impossible to rerecord without the individual tracks so we had to the send the original recording to a sound studio in London where the voices and music were separated into different tracks. We, however, decided to keep the original dialogue recorded by the actors intact and rerecord the music separately. This exercise took about six months.’’
The crew went to great lengths to ensure the completed project would be perfect. “For instance, when Hema Malini is dancing on broken glass in the Jab tak hain jaan... song sequence we had to rerecord that sound because the original quality was not good enough for 3D. And the only way to do that was by getting someone to walk on broken glass. And we got a stunt actor to do just that. That’s the extent of the authenticity we were striving for,’’ says Sascha.
The 3D conversion process alone took almost two years because every frame of the film had to be worked on to add depth and image layers. By the time Sholay 3D was ready for cinemas, it had taken three years.
“We went to all this trouble because Sholay is an all-time classic of Indian cinema, and a new version had to be perfect,’’ he says.
The consummate businessman, Sascha has a keen eye for commercial
off-shoots for the brand. “Apart from the 3D and the new sound, there’s a whole new area of interest for the new generation, and that’s where the Sholay franchise comes in,” he says. “We have a line in clothing with Sholay logos created by professionals.’’
There are also video games based on this franchise. “There is also a Sholay video game, available at app stores, where players must get the heroes of the film to defeat the baddies. They can move up to 12 levels, each more difficult than the previous,” says Sascha, whipping out his iPad to demonstrate. “You can make the characters shoot, punch, jump and kick!”
Sascha has more plans for the franchise. “We are developing Facebook games, and console games soon. We are also doing graphic novels, both online and offline, and comic books, which will be released next week. We have a deal with Cartoon Network to do an animated series called The Sholay Adventures, of course for children, which will take the franchise into a whole new area.
“We are also toying with the idea of making prequels and sequels of
Sholay. There are plenty of interesting stories to be told.”
For Sascha, Sholay defines his life. “Sholay means everything to me. I was two-and-a-half when Sholay’s filming began, and four when it was released and I must have spent almost all the two years on its sets.”
Sholay 3D was released on January 3 in India, but the reaction was not what Sascha had expected.
“What happened was that the Aamir Khan-starrer Dhoom 3 blocked all the cinemas,” explains Sascha. “We got a very limited release due to the unavailability of cinemas. But the same thing happened when
Sholay was first released in India in 1975. The first three weeks were pretty dismal, but collections picked up after that by word-of-mouth publicity and it went on to become a super hit.
“I also have a lot of faith in the overseas markets. I might even rerelease it in India.’’
He must be keeping his fingers crossed as the total cost of the remastering, including prints and publicity, was Rs20 million. But Sascha is not too worried about recovering the costs. “I think of it as a restoration project, if I had thought of it as a commercial venture I never would have put in all that money, worried about the return on investment. I think we’ll cover our costs by the time it is released globally.”
Sascha tells Friday that after Dubai, the film will be released in the US, the UK, South Africa and countries in the Far East. China, Korea and Russia will come later. Pakistan too, because it has never been released there.”
Now, if Sascha has his way, Sholay will be showing permanently in Dubai. “When the 3D version was screened at Meydan Imax, I was so impressed by the reaction that we plan to ‘house’ it there permanently!” he says. “They can do one screening every weekend on a regular basis, because there is an audience out there for it. People keep seeing it again and again, and seats are never empty.”
Sholay means everything to him, Sascha says
Dharmendra, Jagdeep and Amitabh Bachchan
all star in Sholay