I wanted to Play Gabbar: Amitabh Bachchan

It’s been 40 years since Sholay, possibly Bollywood’s biggest blockbuster, first hit the screens. Recounting memories from the cult classic, Amitabh Bachchan said, “We were scared that the film wouldn’t do too well. It was considered a flop soon after the release. Some people even suggested that the climax be changed as the audience wouldn’t have liked to see me die. Rameshji (Sippy), in fact, was preparing to reshoot the climax, but the film started picking up by then.” But there was a fair bit of re-shooting even then. “There was a rule at that time that you cannot show the characters taking the law into their hands. So we had to show Gabbar being arrested as opposed to Thakur (Sanjeev Kumar) killing him with the nails in his shoes.”
The megastar admits that he wasn’t very confident of bagging the role. Also, Jai wasn’t the role he was eyeing in the first place. “I thought I wouldn’t be cast in the film, so I went to Dharmendra’s house to tell him that I really wish to be part of the film. I actually wanted to play Gabbar, but casting Amjad was Salim-Javed’s idea. When we started shooting, I got along very well with Amjad and there was no rivalry whatsoever. He used to call me ‘Shorty’.”
Sholay offered Bollywood many firsts, believes Bachchan — it was the first time that two buddies were openly talking about their love lives, the first time British stuntmen conducted action sequences, the first time mixing was done in the UK, the first film to be shot in 70 mm, etc. It is also the first daku film to be shot in Bengaluru. Most films at the time were shot in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
“In those days, it was common for actors to get hurt during stunt scenes because of landing on cement floors. But for Sholay, we were trained to jump on cardboard boxes and mattresses for soft landing,” he said, elaborating on the action sequences.
Bachchan is aware of the film’s connect with the audience even today. “Just the other day, I met a few people who weren’t born when the film released, but have watched it 50 times since.”
He jokes that the film featured one more person from his family apart from his wife Jaya Bachchan — his daughter Shweta. “Jaya was pregnant with Shweta at the time of the shoot, so I always tell her that she has contributed to the film too.”
About the premiere, he said, “We wanted to watch the film in 70 mm but the print got stuck in customs, so we watched it in 35 mm. When the 70 mm print was finally released at 2 am, we watched the entire film again in the same theatre, sitting on the floor.”