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Home >Mint-lounge >Features >Photo Essay: Revisiting Sholay’s Ramgarh

It was in August, 40 years ago, that Ramesh Sippy’s action drama, Sholay, first hit the screens. It’s still part of our collective imagination, the scenes and dialogue fresh in memory. So much so that even today, locals from the Karnataka village where it was shot refer to their area as “Sippy Nagar".

Ramanagara, near Bengaluru, is where the Sholay team, under the supervision of its art director, the late Ram Yedekar, created an entire village, Ramgarh—complete with homes, streets, temples, a mosque and marketplace. This is where the revenge, romance and comedy blockbuster, starring Dharmendra, Amitabh Bachchan, Sanjeev Kumar, Hema Malini, Jaya Bachchan and Amjad Khan, played out in the rugged outdoors. Locals say it took close to a year for the set to come up.

Shivalingahaiya, now 78, worked as a junior artiste, a member of the iconic villain Gabbar’s gang. He says he was in the frame, holding a gun, when Gabbar (Khan) spouted the famous dialogue, “Kitne aadmi the (how many men were there)?"

“I worked with the team for three years, at 15-20 for a night or day shift," he says.

Puttahaiya, 60, did casual labour, holding up umbrellas for the actors or working as a security guard on the set. He says he too was paid 15-20 per day.

“I used to bunk school to see the film shooting," remembers Rudrahaiya, 48. He was in class III at the time. Thimaiya, a flower seller, was 12. He remembers visiting the set for food. “It was very clear from the producer and director that whoever came to see the shoot or work for the movie from the village would be given food," he says.

For art directors, the film, which ran for five years without a break at a theatre in Mumbai, remains a benchmark.

Creating an authentic look for a film may be relatively easy today but the weather, other imponderables, and lengthy fight sequences would have made Sholay a difficult film to shoot, says Rajnish Hedao, art director of films like Guzaarish and 3 Idiots and production designer of Bajrangi Bhaijaan, PK, Kick and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani.

Back then, production design was considered a part of art direction. Yet Sholay’s production design and art direction both stand out even today. “For example, there was one railway track near the location in Karnataka for trains to keep coming and going, where they shot with a foreign crew for 18 days. Today, any film crew would have three-four tracks available.

“Then, there was the architecture of Thakur’s haveli and the village temple, or the fact that Dharmendra shot the famous drunken sequence on top of a water tank when it could have been any other building," says Hedao.

The challenge lies in being true to the location. “You can’t underdo or overdo it," says Ranjit Singh, production designer of the recently released Masaan. “Every place has its own culture and it has to be depicted precisely. For example, along with our tight budget and time constraints for Masaan, we also had to keep in mind small details like the grammar and spellings on hoardings and posters that we showed in a Hindi-speaking terrain like Varanasi."

Echoing Hedao, Singh says Sholay stands out for its art direction and sets. “First among them is the jail where Jai (Amitabh Bachchan) and Veeru (Dharmendra) are housed, which, as photographs of the period show, seems completely authentic with its bricks and walls. As does the steam engine on which the famous fight sequence in the beginning is shot," he says.

“Today, we put in a year of pre-production, when most things are done on a desktop," says Hedao. Technology like VFX can even create a real-looking sky, eliminating the need to shoot outdoors. “But from what I’ve heard from Ramesh Sippy," he adds, “they spent close to two and a half years on research and location scouting and more on preparing for the actual shoot."

The best part of the art direction of Sholay, says Hedao, is that it all fits in. “Nothing stands out for me. And that’s the mark of good art design. Everything seems to complement the story and characters, bring out and enhance the director’s vision on celluloid, something that all art directors strive for."

The legend lives on.

The area where the song, Holi Ke Din, was picturized.

Shivalingahaiya, a Ramanagara local, at the spot where the famous ‘Kitne aadmi the’ dialogue by Gabbar was picturized (inset). Shivalingahaiya says he was a part of this scene.

The 400-year-old tree in Kettohalli, Bengaluru Urban, where the song Yeh Dosti Hum Nahi was picturized.

The path through the village. This is where the local imam in the film discovered that his only son had been killed by dacoits and sent back on horseback.

One of the temples in the film.

Hemant Mishra contributed to this story.

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