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'We are not remaking Sholay...'

Sholay Brand equity seems to have come to Indian cinema. What else would you call a film that is titled Sholay and is being made by the production house which made the earlier blockbuster?

But the similarities end there. Sippy Films's sequel to Sholay -- which begins with a talent search next year -- would otherwise be a different film in every aspect, right from the director to the technicians.

Sholay, made 25 years ago, had a string of firsts to its credit: the first to be released on 70mm screen, audio cassettes with dialogues, highest number of prints. The film continues to have over 110 prints in circulation even today.

Sippy Films now wants to recreate the magic. G P Sippy, the patriarch of the family, has turned to his grandsons to give shape to his dream. The makers of the new Sholay claim to have approached Javed Akhtar -- who, along with Salim Khan, had scripted the earlier one -- and Ramesh Sippy, son of G P Sippy and director of the landmark film.

According to them, both the director and scriptwriter turned down the offer. Ramesh Sippy has reportedly told Sascha Sippy, his nephew and CEO of Sippy Films, that he made his Sholay 25 years back and that he didn't want to make another.

When contacted by rediff.com, Ramesh Sippy refused to comment on the matter. "I have not spoken to the media about this before and I donít intend to speak later. I will only say no comments on Sholay." We told him about Sascha Sippy's remarks, that they had approached him first. All he said was that was not the the case.

According to Javed Akhtar, nobody could recreate the magic of Sholay. "Imitating a success doesn't mean you can create success again," he said.

Javed Akhtar Several people who worked in the earlier film have since passed away. The Salim-Javed team itself split several years back. "The characters of Gabbar Singh, Thakur and Jay are immortal. The actors who played the first two characters (Amjad Khan and Sanjeev Kumar respectively) are no longer alive while Jay was killed in the film. So how can one recreate them?" asked Javed.

He added that the actors who are alive are too old to act in the new film. When reminded that this particular film would have a new star cast, he quipped, "God bless them. I know I donít want to be involved in this project at all."

Amidst all the controversies and pessimism, Sascha Sippy is one person confident of pulling it off. "I know Javedsaab has been going around town saying that nobody can make another Sholay, but that must be because he is not involved. This doesnít make me insecure at all. In fact, it drives me to work harder and make this film a success."

At the moment, Sippy Films only has the story. They are planning an international talent search between January and March. The shooting will begin around the end of 2000. Sippy Films, headed by the young Sascha, is gearing up for the big event which is going to be a two-year project.

Sascha Sippy in conversation with Sharmila Taliculam.

Could you elaborate on the talent search you have planned?

The way we are deciding the cast is very interesting. We would perhaps cast some of the old stars and a couple of current superstars. But the important roles will be decided through the talent search. Now why a talent search? Sippy films, for the last 50 years, has introduced the biggest and the best names in the industry. We are very proud to say that we have launched one new talent in every decade. We believe in identifying talent and bringing new blood into the industry. The best example of this is the chief executive officer of Sippy Films, that is me, who is 28 years old.

The next in command is a 21 year old. This is my second film, first as a producer. My cousin Shaan and my grandfather will also be the producers. We have been entrusted with the responsibility because we have got the ideas and the ability.

The ways of doing business are changing in Sippy Films. We are moving into a much more professional sphere as a company. It's got nothing to do with the rest of the industry. It's a very personal thing...

Is the story already in place?

Sascha Sippy (centre) with G P Sippy and Hema Malini The story is G P Sippy's -- he has been working on it for the past two years. He sat with me two years ago and said, 'Listen, 25 years back, I sat down with my sons and told them that we had a story idea -- Salim-Javed had written it and it was about war.' It was my grandfather who had come up with the name Sholay.

Everybody was against the name because B R Chopra had made a film called Shole which was distributed by Sippy Films. It was a big flop -- they had paid Rs 1 lakh and lost Rs 2 lakh. But my grandfather told them, 'We have got the story idea and we are going to make the biggest and the best movie. We are going to give it our all, we are going to put everything into it. Do you have the confidence?' And all of them had said yes.

My grandfather said the same things to me two years ago. Now tell me -- is anybody going to say no to that? His story is definitely in place. And at this point, it's only a story. It is not a screenplay or a script. It will be developed within the next year once the winners of the talent search have been announced. The search is not only for acting roles, but also for technical roles. If you have a dialogue to send, send it in and if you win, you'll get credit as an associate dialogue writer.

From there, the sky's the limit. I am proud to say that 98 per cent of the talent that has come out of Sippy Films have been very successful. There are only a couple of people who have not been so -- one is Sanjay Gupta and the other, Atul Agnihotri. Atul is a good actor, but luck hasn't been on his side.

Feroz Khan's first job in the industry was as G P Sippy's secretary. Way back, he used to get Rs 500 a month.

So, the whole idea of the search is to get new people in?

This is the last project my grandfather (who is 85) will be working on. He said, 'where have I looked around for talent? Bombay, Pune, a bit in Delhi. More people should have a say in something as special as Sholay -- which is more than just a film. It is part of our culture, everybody likes it and has an opinion about in, so why not let them express these?'

Sholay would not have been such a success but for the people who went again and again to watch it. Of course, the unit made its own contribution, but that is one part of the achievement. We, at Sippy Films, put everything together.

We are telling everybody under the sun to come and apply, we want to give everybody an opportunity. And it's a damn good opportunity. It's the last thing my grandfather wants to do. I happen to agree with him and that's why I am sitting here as a CEO and guiding this project.

That's why I've put the last two years of my life into it. It's a huge challenge and responsibility, but it's going to be very interesting and exciting. It's also going to be fun to see it unravel. I am dying to get to the office every morning. Even at home I am working all the time because this project involves America, England and various different countries.

How has the response to this announcement been?

The response so far has been phenomenal. Everybody, except a couple of people, has been so encouraging. But then everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion. The more people doubt your abilities, the more challenging it becomes for me. The stakes go up. It's serious fun.

You realise the hype this film would generate, the expectations people will have from you?

Yes, I do realise the high expectations we have to meet. However, what everybody must also realise is that we are not making Sholay again. We are making another movie 25 years later. The social and cultural fabric of India has changed vastly.

Amjad Khan in Sholay Sholay was so successful because it touched our hearts and minds. It portrayed different kinds of relationships in a beautiful way. Every conceivable emotion was there. Fear, love, passion, anxiety, you name it. The characters were so real that people actually believed that this group of bandits existed around the area of Ramgarh, which is now called Sippy Nagar.

What kind of work are you putting into it?

In Sholay, there was unquestionable dedication from Ramesh Sippy, Hema Malini, Dharmendra, the entire unit. That is what we will recreate again. The platform that Sholay II is being given is the same as the former. The same inputs are going into it, the same details, if not more. We are working closely with the textiles companies to manufacture and design new clothes for the film. It's not a game for us, it's very serious.

Yet, we are making a completely different film. You are not going to see another Gabbar Singh. You cannot. China Gate proved that. Can you make another Zeus, another Krishna? I am not equating Gabbar Singh with God, but in terms of legend, he is one, and you canít duplicate a legend.

Are you sure of making it a success when the trend is no longer for action films?

I donít think that today's trend is only towards love stories. Look at Vaastav, it's the only film that is running today. Hum Saath-Saath Hain is not doing well. The collections were down in the second week itself. I don't believe that the era of action films is gone. Then how could Satya have done such phenomenal business?

I have learnt the hard way. I produced Hamesha with Kajol and Saif Ali Khan. Nobody went to see either of them even though Kajol was number one at that time. So what made Satya click? It's the script. Taal had good production values, but it did not do as well as it should have in India. Titanic ran for 25 weeks in English and Hindi simultaneously. People went to see a blonde guy and a red-haired girl. It was the story that was important.

Sholay was inspired by a Western story? What about this film? Is there a western inspiration here as well?

Sholay I cannot comment on the storyline of Sholay because I was a child then. Some parts may have been inspired by Seven Samurai. I havenít seen Seven Samurai, you will get the right feedback from Salim-Javed or Ramesh Sippy. When I look at Sholay today, I feel it's the most Indian film. Every relationship is portrayed in a very Indian manner. How can there be Western ideas? I donít see the connection. I haven't seen a western love story portrayed the way Jaya-Amitabh's was done in Sholay. I am not denying the inspiration, but I really cannot see it.

When you say there will be an international search, does that mean the story will be set in modern day?

The talent search is not to look for Europeans or Americans, but Indians. Yeah, Sholay was set in 1975 and Sholay II would be set today. It's a film for today, not 25 years back.

What are your memories of Sholay?

My memories of Sholay are fabulous. We shot quite a bit in Khandala. Just being there on the sets with Dharmendra, Hema Malini, Jaya Bachchan was thrilling. I remember, we children used to go to the stars with our autograph books and ask them to sign on it. I being a brat, I would make them sign six or eight times.

The most memorable experience was the premier of the film when I almost lost my life. I was jumping up and down in the theatre and leaning to look down. The next thing I knew I was holding on to the railing with my legs dangling in air. I had toppled over the railing. The production manager Suresh Desai grabbed on time and pulled me back.

Who among the old-timers are being retained in the film?

I wonít say who are the old people I am retaining in the film. But Ramesh Sippy won't be directing it, nor Salim-Javed writing it. Ramesh Sippy doesnít want to direct Sholay because he feels he has already done it once.

Ramesh Sippy He was the hottest young director then. That's why a Rs two-and-a-half crore project was entrusted to him. He had his finger on the pulse. I am not saying that he doesnít have it today. He is one of the most talented directors even today. He is my uncle and I love and respect him. He is extremely capable, but does he want to do it? Would he think he would be harming his own reputation? Would he want to take the risk? I donít think he would, because what people should realise is that this is 25 years later. It's a different movie. Obviously itís related to the first in some ways -- which I wonít disclose now -- but still, itís a different film.

When will this sequel be released?

It ought to be out by September 2001. We will announce the winners of the star search by the end of August 2000. Then we go on a 'Sholay world tour' for two months and come back in November. I will give everyone some time to get back to their routine and relax before I start shooting. The entire project will take two years. The first Sholay was shot in a very short span. To me, that is the key.

How did you expect people to react when you announced this film?

Honestly speaking, I expected everyone to say that I wouldnít be able to do it. But I was determined and made the announcement knowing it was going to be an uphill task. But it hasnít been that difficult at all. Everybody has responded so well, it is so encouraging. Ninety per cent of the people are really thrilled.

Did you ask Javed Akhtar to write the script?

We had mentioned it to him, but he didnít say anything then. I like to work with people I can talk to and relate to. I adore Javedsaab and respect him tremendously, and itís a pity that I wonít be working with him on this. But I always look at the positive side -- and in this case, the positive aspect is that I am going to get a completely fresh perspective.

The story is in place, it has to be fleshed into a script. When Javedsaab says these things (that there could not be another Sholay), it is not discouraging at all. It is even more encouraging. I agree when he says that you cannot remake Sholay. But people donít understand that we are not remaking it. It's a different film. I know I keep harping on this, but that is what it is. Obviously I canít say much else now.

EARLIER REPORT:
Sholay II: A millennium gift from the Sippys

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