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Sholay, through the eyes of Salim Khan

By Shaikh Ayaz
Last updated on: August 06, 2015 18:07 IST
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'We got more money for Majboor than Sholay. Rs 2 lakh and Rs 1.5 lakh respectively.'

In our special Sholay series, Salim Khan recalls his memories of Ramesh Sippy's film.

Dharmendra and Amjad Khan in SholayGrowing up in the dusty town of Indore, Madhya Pradesh, Salim Khan never imagined he would end up being a writer and a superstar writer, at that.

At first, he dreamed of being a cricketer, then a pilot.

Eventually, he landed in Mumbai to act.

After starring in over 20 films, he called it quits.

"If I had acted any longer than I did, I am sure Dilip Kumar and Marlon Brando would have been out of business," he jokes.

It was screenwriting that would truly establish his reputation. He turned to writing, because as he puts it, "I thought if I knew two per cent about scripts, the second best didn't even know one per cent. I had a lot of material to be a good writer."

With Javed Akhtar as an ally, Salim Khan penned Zanjeer, Deewar, Trishul, Don and Mr India.

But Sholay made Salim-Javed immortal.

The Sippys didn't want Amitabh as Jai

Amitabh Bachchan in Sholay


The idea for Sholay, in all honesty, stemmed from Salim Khan's fascination with Westerns, especially The Magnificent Seven, The Five Man Army, Once Upon a Time in the West and (though it is not a Western, but set during World War II) The Dirty Dozen.

Salim-Javed fixed up a meeting with the Sippys after a long wait and narrated two ideas -- one was Majboor, which they later sold to producer Premji.

The other was a four-line idea for a film which would eventually become Sholay.

"We got more money for Majboor than Sholay," says Khan, "Rs 2 lakh and Rs 1.5 lakh (Rs 200,000 and Rs 150,000) respectively."

"The casting of Sholay was more or less finished even before the release of Zanjeer," he adds.

Salim recommended Amitabh Bachchan for Jai's character. "When we recommended him to the Sippys, it was met with some opposition," he reveals. "We then held a trial of Zanjeer and convinced them to cast Amitabh because we felt he was perfect for that role."

Thakur Baldev Singh is Salim Khan's father-in-law's name

Sanjeev Kumar in Sholay


Salim-Javed had a lot of confidence in Sholay, or Angaaray, as it was titled earlier.

"We knew we were writing something special, but we couldn't point out exactly how big this would be. The kind of money that was spent on that train sequence alone, I think an entire film or two would have been made in that budget," Khan recalls.

When the trade magazines declared the film a monumental flop, Salim-Javed released an advertisement in Screen weekly to set the record straight. "We mentioned that Sholay would make Rs 1 crore (Rs 10 million) in every territory but it surpassed our expectations. It made a lot more than that."

Much of Sholay's inspiration came from Khan's friends and incidents that happened to him.

Jai and Veeru were named after Khan's college friends, Veerandar Singh Bias, son of a jagirdar at Khajrana Kothi, Indore, and Jai Singh Rao Kalevar, a Pindari warrior and vegetable farmer. Both men passed away.

Thakur Baldev Singh (Sanjeev Kumar's Thakur) is his father-in-law's name (wife Salma's father).

'I don't believe in originality'

Javed Akhtar and Salim Khan


Danny Denzongpa was considered for Gabbar Singh. Even Sanjeev Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan expressed a keen interest in playing the iconic dacoit.

Javed Akhtar proposed Amjad Khan's name after having spotted him and his brother Imtiaz in a play, Ai Mere Watan Ke Logo, way back in 1963.

While writing his films, Salim Khan relied on screen classics that he had seen as a young man.

A James Dean admirer, he says with a laugh, "During my younger days, I had this misconception that I was James Dean. Bohot galat faimi thi."

Influenced as he was by movies like The Big Country, Written on the Wind and Garden of Evil, Jai's coin-flipping trick was adapted from the Gary Cooper starrer, Garden of Evil.

In that film, Gary Cooper and Richard Widmark draw cards to decide who will leave and who will stay behind to fight off the Apaches.

"I had a good memory and would draw from my movie-watching experiences. I don't believe in the idea of originality. Nothing is original," Salim Khan says.

The mausi scene was inspired from Half Ticket

Amitabh's Jai talks to Basanti's mausi


The comic scene in which Jai meets Basanti's (Hema Malini) mausi with Veeru's marriage proposal was drawn from a conversation Khan had with Honey Irani's (Javed Akhtar's then to-be wife) mother.

It was, in part, influenced by the famous Half Ticket scene in which Kishore Kumar paints a terrible picture of his own self to scare off a pandit who arrives with a possible alliance for marriage.


This interview was first published on on February 28, 2012.

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Shaikh Ayaz Mumbai