Sholay Redux 06 – The Screenplay and Narrative Structure.
Screenwriters Salim-Javed borrowing from a multiplicity of sources did not leave anything to chance. Their precise calculation in achieving the desired impact on the spectator’s mind is evident in the neat arithmetical arrangement of the events in Sholay.
Like Veeru comically chirps while on the water tank, “Is ishtory mein drama hai, emotion hai, tragedy hai”
To squeeze the entire gamut of human emotions into a pot boiler and yet maintain the coherence and tempo missing in ordinary masala films, meticulous planning was required. They departed from the familiar love triangle and instead drew on a more complex hexagon: two pairs of lovers instead of one, a vengeful Thakur and the ruthless Gabbar. Moments of levity were counter balanced by high tension drama and disruptive tragedy. The almost casual tone of the Ramesh Sippy’s direction conceals the careful organisation and attention to minute details.
Here’s an attempt to breakdown the narrative structure of a Bollywood classic.
THE SET UP
1. DEFINING THE NEED: Desperation and urgency of main character (Thakur) to find Jai & Veeru introduced. ACTION: Flashback to train robbery; character backgrounds revealed (orphans vis a vis landlord/police officer) along with the courage (outnumbered yet fighting) and benevolence (in saving injured Thakur). PLANTING of coin motif. – (17 mins)
2. Establishing EQUILIBRIUM of their infantile lives. MUSIC: Reaffirmation of friendship in the ‘Yeh Dosti’ song. Some academics who don’t know about male bonding have derived homo erotic connotations out of their physical display – pure nonsense. COMEDY: Extended relief with – Soorma Bhopali and Jailor scenes also informing audiences of the duos streetwise inventiveness. Trace completed and target identified. The first need of Thakur fulfilled. (19 mins)
3. Compression of time as their incarceration ends. DRAMA: Meeting with Thakur, familiarizing with the mission (Main Goal) and verbal mention of a worthy antagonist (topper of most wanted list). The baiting of the mercenaries with lure of money and Veeru’s complete reliance on Jai for making major decisions. The protagonists accede to call for adventure. (3 mins)
4. CROSSING THE THRESHOLD: Arrival in alien environment of Ramgarh, the Kurukshetra of our Mahabharat. ROMANCE: The tonga ride reveals Veeru’s flirtatious and Jai’s studied, witty nature. AUDIENCE IDENTIFICATION: with Basanti (Hema) and Veeru’s (Dharamendra) real off screen romance. Colouring heroes with human frailties: greed surfaces on spotting money in safe. SUSPENSE: As protagonists are challenged in a staged fight scene to prove their credentials. (10 mins)
5. CHARACTER WEAKNESS: The robbery attempt and the REVERSAL: Assuaging guilt by returning the keys. ROMANCE: Sprouting of second love track between the widowed Radha and Jai (again a real life couple, Jaya and Amitabh) with audience nodding their approval. (3 mins)
6. INTRODUCING SUB PLOTS: New characters Mausi and Imam sahab. RELIEF: Veeru giving shooting lessons; the buffoonery act. The rustic but astute Basanti catches on and takes the upper hand revealing her village belle integrity so common to the era’s films. Taking the Jai-Radha love story forward (8 mins).
7. SUSPENSE: First encounter with dacoits. Planting the odds which will escalate as the plot progresses (2:3). Victory and acceptance by the villagers. (4 mins)
8. SUSPENSE: Long anticipated entry of Gabbar; powerful impact. Execution of gang members in his durbar, glimpse into his deeply distrubed psychopathic nature. Asks “Holi kab hai?”, foreshadowing reprisal to audience on the edge of their seat. (6 mins)
9. MUSIC: Holi dance. As Veeru connects with Basanti, Jai wistfully looks at his mysterious, woman in white, Radha – the unattainable dream. (3 mins)
10. ACTION: Gabbar’s retaliatory attack on village. With many reversals in an extended sequence, it is a textbook example combining every cinematic weapon of direction; truly brilliant. Gabbar’s defeat and retreat. SUSPENSE: As the duo fights, Thakur is a mute spectator. Why? (10 mins)
11. EXPOSITORY FLASHBACK: The arrest and conviction of Gabbar, threatening Thakur and final escape. (4 mins)
12. TRAGEDY: Massacre of Thakur’s family and severing of his arms. The mystery over his intense hatred for Gabbar is finally known to the audience. (12 mins)
102 minutes into the film – a quick loo break, some stale popcorn and Fanta in hand (this is 1975), the audience cannot wait to return. By now, the hook has travelled deep in their gut.
13. RESURRECTION: Conscience restored, our heroes return the money but Thakur extracts the pledge to hand over Gabbar alive. PLANTING of Jai’s promise. (4 mins)
14. MUSIC: Easing the audience into the story again. Helen’s cheesecake performance has everyone dancing in the aisles – ‘Mehbooba oh Mehbooba’ the mother of item numbers. COUNTER ATTACK: Gabbar survives but Jai is wounded. Radha’s concern, this time more overt and bolder as she runs down the stairs but checks herself just in time as Thakur comprehends. (5 mins)
15. COMEDY: The temple scene. MUSIC: Finally Veeru’s perseverance pays off as he wins Basanti’s consent. COMEDY: The ambiguous marriage proposal taken to Mausi and the amusing suicide attempt on rejection. Extended relief before the heartbreak. (20 mins)
16. TRAGEDY: Brutal off screen killing of the gentle, innocent Ahmed (Sachin). DRAMA: Gabbar’s letter read out at a shocked village congregation. SUSPENSE: Apt retaliation in guise of surrender by our heroes, challenging Gabbar for a final showdown. (12 mins)
17. EXPOSITION: In a flashback, Ramlal, Thakur’s man Friday narrates to Jai, the blithe spirited nature of Radha before the massacre. Jai’s resolve to marry the young widow now concrete. (4 mins)
18. TRANSITION: After the mission is over our heroes decide, to get married and settle down in Ramgarh thus quitting their petty criminal lives and embracing change. EMOTIONAL RELIEF: The progressive Thakur visits Radha’s father to consult him on Radha’s remarriage. They concur and Thakur promises to send Jai to visit in a few days. Complete audience EMPATHY rides with Radha who want to see her rehabilitated. (4 mins)
19. ACTION: Climax begins. Basanti is chased and captured as Veeru is lured into the trap and strung out like Thakur, years earlier. (5 mins)
20. SONG: To provide an essential time lapse for Veeru and Basanti’s absence to be felt in the village for launching a rescue act. Enhancing Gabbar’s sadism as he makes her dance on broken glass ensuring the audience applauds when Gabbar gets what’s coming to him. Acid test passed by Basanti. (4 mins)
21. RELIEF AND ACTION: Jai ensures a safe exit for them from Gabbar’s den but they are soon outnumbered and take cover with a bridge separating good and evil. SACRIFICE: The coin motif PAY OFF (see 1) as Jai sends Veeru to safety in the guise of getting ammo, putting up lone stand. ANTI-CLIMAX : Jai’s death, sad version of Yeh Dosti song and not a dry eye in the house. (14 mins)
22. RETRIBUTION: Like a red flagged angry bull, Veeru decimates everything on his way to Gabbar. On the verge of killing Gabbar, Thakur asks for the PAY OFF to the promise made by Jai (4 mins, see 12).
23. FINAL SHOWDOWN: The primary plot of Sholay is the pursuit of Thakur’s vendetta and we reach the logical conclusion. The final need of Thakur fulfilled. INSINUATION: Gabbar scoffs at Thakur’s ability to fights, mocking him. The audience confused too; should have let Veeru kill him.
REVELATION: Years of Thakur’s preparation to engage Gabbar in a mano-a-mano duel leaves the audience breathless as his legs are revealed to be his weapon of choice. In the original ending, Gabbar gets a deservedly gruesome death by Thakur. The insistence of censors to change it robs the audience a cathartic relief. They applaud all the same. (5 mins)
24: CLOSURE: Jai’s funeral as fate shuts the window of hope on Radha. The equilibrium Jai induced in Veeru is disturbed, the loss irreparable. Thakur invites him to stay but he has to move on. SURPRISE: Basanti waits in the train. They embrace, now she will bring stability in Veeru’s nomadic life. The equilibrium, though not the same as the beginning, is restored. (4 mins).
In 3 hours and ten minutes, we reach THE END with just enough time to leave the cinema hall and queue up at the box office for the next show.