7 p.m. tonight at The Cary
Since the demise of the late, lamented Galaxy Cinema, several theaters have stepped up to satisfy the significant local audience for South Asian films. None has taken a more interesting route than The Cary Theater (122 E. Chatham Street), a downtown gem that has been putting classic Bollywood on the big screen. Tonight, The Cary screens the legendary SHOLAY (“Embers), a 1975 film that many would not hesitate to call the greatest Hindi film of all time.
Modeled on spaghetti Westerns (indeed, sometimes called a “curry Western”) and echoing themes in Akira Kurasawa’s epic The Seven Samurai, Sholay’s influence has echoed down the generations. More than just a heroic quest, it’s also a buddy comedy, a romance and, of course, a musical—the very definition of a Masala film, that satisfying blend of warming spices.
Amitabh Bachchan and Dharmendra play two outlaws hired by a traumatized police officer (Sanjeev Kumar) to avenge the brutal murder of his family by Gabbar Singh (Amjad Khan), the most feared villain in Hindi film. Everything about Sholay, which initially ran in theaters for five solid years, attained classic status and quickly entered the pop culture mainstream: the music by R.D. Burman, the dialogue by Salim-Javed and the characters, who also include garrulous female horse cart driver Basanti (Hema Malini) and the wistful widow Radha (Jaya Bhaduri).
The music (which includes “Yeh Dosti,” a classic ode to male bonding, and “Mehbooba”, danced by Bollywood’s premiere vamp, Helen) and the dialogue were released on separate LP records. Indian fans memorized lines that have been quoted ever since, such as “Kitne aadmi the?” (“How many men were there?”), when Gabbar demands of his henchman an explanation for why they were out-skirmished by our heroes.
Sholay made Bachchan the nation’s idol, and he is still considered to be the greatest Hindi film star of all time (he carried the Olympic torch through London’s South Asian Southwark neighborhood before the London Games). His charisma burns up Sholay.
Tickets are $5. At 162 minutes, that works out to about 3 cents a minute—entertainment’s biggest bargain. One can only hope that the theater takes the traditional interval break for a trip to the rest room and snack bar. Often imitated but never equaled, this is Bollywood gold.