CinemaScope: The Sholay connect: Johny Walker, Kishore Kumar and Ibne Safi

After around half a century of its release, when almost everything has already been written about the epic creation Sholay, this is an attempt to trace the similar references to one of its most famous scenes — the proposal of Veeru’s marriage with Basanti presented to Mausi by Jai.

As mentioned in Anupama Chopra’s book Sholay — The making of a classic, the scene was based on a real-life incident involving both Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar who wrote the film together creating history. Quoting the book, “Javed was in love with actress Honey Irani. They had first met on the sets of Seeta Aur Geeta.” Javed requested his co-writer to propose on his behalf to Honey’s family, and Salim did that while praising his friend in a manner similar to Jai. But as stated in the chapter, a few insertions, including the last line in the scene — ‘Khandaan ka pata chalte hi aapko khabar kar denge’ — was fiction.

Sholay got released in the second half of 1975, but interestingly an exactly similar scene was also seen in Dharm Dev Kashyap’s Dulhan Ek Raat Ki released in 1967. The film had Johny Walker playing the role of a good friend, taking up the task of disappointing a father and his daughter arriving with a decent marriage proposal for Dharmendra. The references given by Johny to the visiting family remain the same, related to race, drinks, mujra and more putting off the guests right away.

Incidentally, Johny Walker has another link with Sholay as one of his entertaining scenes in Bimal Roy’s Madhumati (1958) is also exactly similar to Soorma Bhopali’s famous sequence in the epic — where he keeps boasting about how he caught Jai and Veeru, with both standing right behind him. In Madhumati, Johny is doing the same talking about his master Dilip Kumar, when Dilip is also there standing behind him asking “Phir Kya Hua” repeatedly. The sequence begins and ends in an exactly similar manner as in Sholay.

Coming back to the ‘marriage proposal’, another identical scene was also there in Kalidas’s Half Ticket (1962), in which Kishore Kumar describes himself as an awful person to scare off the priest who had come to discuss a new marriage proposal for him with his father. The priest, mistaking Kishore as the gardener of the house, runs away after listening to the boy’s strange qualities of having only one eye, being a non-vegetarian, drunkard, addictive to mujra, race and stealing too, quite similar to the Sholay sequence.

But the story actually doesn’t end there as the same sequence can also be traced back to one of the detective novels of the iconic author Ibne Safi, who had a huge reader-base in both India and Pakistan in the 1950s. His Urdu books translated in both Hindi and English have also been published by reputed publishing houses in India. In addition, Javed Akhtar himself admitted to be an ardent fan of the author, mentioning both his famous characters and magazine Jasoosi Duniya in his conversation with Nasreen Munni Kabir in the book titled Talking Films.

The similar sequence can be found in Ibne Safi’s novel Khaufnaak Imaarat, published around 1955. The key character in the novel, Imran, accidently meets the school friend of his father in a night club and then in order to get rid of him begins revealing his own objectionable habits of gambling, drinking and regular visits to courtesans as there in Sholay. The similarity was also pointed out by author Yasir Abbasi in one of his Facebook posts.

However, the major difference between these sequences and Sholay is that where Kishore, Johny and Imran are doing this intentionally to get rid of proposals or people, Amitabh is doing this unintentionally or mischievously as a friend who is actually there to convince Mausi for Veeru. And, this distinctive angle no doubt turns the famous scene into a much more enjoyable one in comparison.

In fact, such was the popularity of various sequences of the cult film that different EP records were released of its dialogues and the one with this famous scene had the description written as, “The merry marriage proposal leading to the ‘sooside’ act”.

(The writer is a critic-columnist, an explorer of cinema and author of ‘Did You Know’ series on Hindi films also active at bobbytalkscinema.com)

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