We had no inkling that Soorma Bhopali would become so iconic: Ramesh Sippy
The veteran filmmaker says since he and the late actor had already worked together in Brahmachari -- before Sholay -- they had a great equation; lauds Jagdeep for the sheer flair that he brought to comedy
It was just a two-scene part but neither filmmaker Ramesh Sippy, nor late Jagdeep had an idea that Soorma Bhopali -- from the iconic hit, Sholay -- was going to become nothing less than a legendary character.
As Sippy puts it: “Honestly, it (the part) was only meant to be a comic diversion, something that used to be a norm those days, in a Hindi film. But we had no inkling about the kind of impact the character would have on the audience. With his unmatched sense of timing and gestures, he literally brought Soorma Bhopali to life, and made it one of the most loved characters ever.”
Though it was an extremely small role, late Jagdeep, who was a known face by then, readily agreed. Before Sholay, Sippy had worked with the comedian in the Shammi Kapoor-starrer 1968 hit, Brahmachari. “I was the executive producer of the film. When we were casting for Sholay, I immediately thought of him, as he was fantastic in Brahmachari. Plus, I knew he was well-versed with Bhopal and would bring out the flavour of Soorma Bhopali,” he says.
For Sippy, what made the late actor “absolutely wonderful” was his sheer range as an actor. “Comedy is a serious business but the kind of flair and ease he would bring in shows the kind of great actor he was. Once he got hold of a character, you didn’t have to tell him too much on the sets. And that’s wonderful about a really good actor,” says Sippy, adding that the veteran actor was “very unwell” for the past couple of years.
Interestingly, not many know that Soorma Bhopali was close to getting edited out of Sholay but destiny had other plans. As Sippy explains: “The film released amid the Emergency, and so, of course, there was some anxiety around. But since my film was nearly three-and-a-half hours long, the last show would get over around midnight, which wasn’t ideal for that period. Also, as everyone knows, Sholay was criticised on it’s initial release and declared a flop.”
Sippy recalls that amidst all those things, he was requested by film distributors to shorten the length of the film, and he took out the comedy scenes featuring Jagdeep and Asrani. “In those days, a film would usually release in B and C centres after having had a run in A centres. But when Sholay came out in and B and C centres (minus the comedy scenes), people complained a lot, so we had to put the edited portions back,” says the filmmaker.