By Quaid Najmi
Mumbai, Oct 4 (IANS) Bollywood's legendary dacoit Gabbar Singh, his sidekicks Kaalia and Sambha will once again battle Jay and Veeru in a new movie "Aakhri Gabbar", billed as a comedy thriller. Only, this time round all the characters will be played by dwarfs between three-to-four feet tall and would ride donkeys instead of horses!
Even Dhanno, the beloved immortal mare owned by Basanti, will be a short, female donkey who runs only after firecrackers are lit behind her...as also her innocent mausi, who stands tall at just 3.2 feet!
"Without doubt, 'Sholay' rules the Indian cinema audiences' psyche even 35 years after its release. There have been several attempts to remake it in different forms, but none could really capture the charm and essence of the original. I hope my venture - which is NOT a remake - will break the jinx," said producer and co-director Riyaz Shaikh, a marquee decorator based in Navi Mumbai.
Shaikh (5.5 feet tall) hit upon the idea for making a movie came quite accidentally. A couple of year ago, he ran into an old classmate of his, a little person in Mumbai.
"He lamented how they were short-changed in Bollywood, both in terms of roles and money, and that his career was not really going places. He asked me to help out. It got me thinking and with the help of Pyarelal (of the famous music-director duo, Laxmikant-Pyarelal), I started working on the project," Shaikh told IANS here Sunday.
He said that just as "Umrao Jaan" was radically different from "Pakeezah" though both were based on the common theme of courtesans, the new "Sholay" would also be drastically different.
"I started by changing the complete image of the entire star cast - instead of tall, hefty persons of the original movie, I decided to use only dwarfs for all the characters," he smiled.
But implementing the idea proved to be a nightmare as so many little people were not available in Mumbai. So, Shaikh cast a net all over India - through media advertisements.
Naturally, he was flooded with applications from the remotest corners of the country - to cut a long story short, he got more than the 75 characters he needed for "Aakhri Gabbar" all between 3-4 feet in height but loaded with talent, as a sneak preview of the 150-minute laugh riot proved.
Co-director Ram Yadav said that 90 percent of the movie is ready and now a couple of climax scenes and the famous 'Mehbooba, Mehbooba...' cabaret number will be shot as "Dilruba, Dilruba..." in the forests of Panvel in Raigad next week.
"But, here the dancer will not be a dwarf, since they dacoits travel to a different village where they encounter a cute 5-footer Nakshita of Rajasthan who entertains them with wine and music," said Yadav, who has two more films - a Hindi and a Marathi - under his directorial baton.
The prime roles in "Aakhri Gabbar" shall be played by Zaheer Shaikh of Akola, Maharashtra (Gabbar Singh), Ajay Navik of Gujarat (paying Amitabh Bachchan's character Jay), Irfan Sheikh of Uttar Pradesh (playing Dharmendra's role Veeru).
Gabbar's chief victim will be Salim Shaikh of Bangalore (playing the armless Thakur - Sanjeev Kumar) and his sidekicks-in-chief would be Shivaji Ingle of Thane (Kaalia), Khalil Sheikh of Mumbai (Sambha).
The ghostly widow Sandhya Gaekwad of Ratnagiri will play the character of Jaya Bhaduri while the non-stop nonsense chatterbox Basanti's charater (Hema Malini) will be assayed by Aashiya Rangrez from Mumbai.
Producer Shaikh also managed to get a 60-year woman to play the role of Basanti's mausi in "Sholay".
"However, in my movie, mausi (Aminabi Shaikh of Mumbai) is more advanced. She wears sunglasses and also smokes a cigar and is more worldly-wise than the original character," grinned Shaikh.
Working on a shoe-string budget, Shaikh shot the film in Rajasthan and Raigad (Maharashtra)
"Since 'Sholay' had a pan-India appeal, I wanted to make 'Aakhri Gabbar' with talented, but virtually unknown, artists drawn from all over the country. I hope the people appreciate my experiment," he said.
Incidentally, prior to this, the first ever attempt to make a movie with most characters as dwarfs was a Malayalam venture, "Albhuthadweep" in 2005, which featured more than three dozen actors.
(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at [email protected])