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I’ve just seen my first Bollywood film – Sholay (Embers) by Director Ramesh Shippy. I thought I’d better start at the top, and this was the film to do it. ¬†Sholay was released in 1975 and after an initial poor turnout at the Box Office has come to be the most successful and famous Bollywood film ever. It tells the story of two crooks (played by Amitabh Bachchan and Dhamendra Deol) who are hired by an ex-policeman to capture a feared bandit who has been terrorising his village. The two crooks initially only do the job for the large reward but end up bonding with the villagers and even falling in love.

At 3 and a 1/2 hours long this is no picnic to sit through but the film manages to sustain interest thanks to a charismatic cast, great camera work (there are beautiful shots of the Indian countryside) and entertaining storyline. Not to mention the soundtrack by R. D. Burman – Imagine combining Ennio Morricone with John Barry, throw in some synthesizers by Giorgio Moroder and mix with the virtuosic playing of Indian musicians. In a word the music was amazing. This was made even better when the actors would break out into a fully choreographed song and dance routine that would put most musicals to shame.

The style of the film draws heavily on Westerns by film makers such as Leone and Peckinpah. The characters take on archetypal roles and are faced with profound challenges and tragedy. Like any good Western, the fight scenes were a real joy to watch – everything done on a grand scale, with great use of slow motion and daredevil stunts. At times I was even reminded of Tarantino such as when an armless man gets all kung-fu on a bandit with a pair of nail studded slippers. If you are skeptical of what Bollywood has to offer, Sholay is a great place to start.