FLAMES (Ramesh Sippy, 1975)

Exhilarating and intensely exciting for somewhat less than the first hour of its 188-minute length, Sholay, a Hindi action-adventure, with farcical slapstick comedy, romance and, of course, musical interludes besides, easily surpasses such smart-alecky Hollywood cousins as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (George Roy Hill, 1969) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg, 1981), neither of which, really, ever raises the pulse.
     It is a “curry western,” modeled after Italy’s “spaghetti westerns,” although its script, by Javed Akhtar and Salim Khan, seems most heavily influenced by Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954). In Sholay, though, there are two men, not seven, protecting the town of Ramgarh. These are our comical buddy-buddies, Jaidev and Veeru. They are thieves who are summoned by retired law officer Thakur Baldev Singh to protect the town, which is enduring bouts of assault from a league of bandits led by another Singh, Gabbar, who has wiped out Thakur’s family, except for a daughter-in-law, and divested Thakur of his principal means of defending himself and others. The mission he entrusts to Jai and Veeru is also, then, one of revenge by proxy.
     Gabbar Singh is a monster, but Thakur Baldev Singh is his mirror-image—a “monster” on the right side of the law. His alliance with Jai and Veeru represents a humble step toward humanity; Thakir takes other steps as well. Brace yourself, though: one of the loveable young thieving heroes dies.
     Unfortunately, Sholay, which Ramesh Sippy colorfully directed (other Sippys also are involved in the production), doesn’t retain its verve and charm. But at its best—in one outdoors scene, amidst all-round loud laughter, including the victims’, Gabbar rapidly executes three members of his own gang, ostensibly for cowardice—this is one of the most richly entertaining movies on Earth.

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