Centenary Of Indian Cinema

Amitabh Bachchan’s ‘Sholay’ Was The First Film To Popularize 70 MM

Though India’s First 70mm film Around The World (1967) flopped and snipped the dreams of many top filmmakers to abandon their ambitious 70MM films, 7 years later, a young and dynamic filmmaker experimented again with 70MM technique!! He was none other than Ramesh Sippy, son of famous film producer G.P. Sippy, who after his two consecutive hit films Andaz (1971) and Seeta Aur Geeta (1972) announced India’s First Multi-Cast Film Sholay (1975).

Since Sholay had Bollywood’s top stars of the ’70s hence Ramesh Sippy decided to take a big plunge and experiment with 70MM format with a Stereophonic Sound system and Technique Color!!  Since Ramesh Sippy wanted to give Indian viewers the Hollywood experience of actual 70MM films like Mckenna’s Gold he decided to shot the film in the 70 MM format, unlike Pachhi who shot Around The World in 35 MM format and later blew it to 70 MM.

It may be noted to shot a 70mm film; a film director requires special cameras and a film-stock that is twice as wide as 35mm. Besides, even the cinema halls require special projectors. Thus shooting Sholay in 70mm required huge camera’s which was not only expensive but a tedious affair hence the film veteran Cinematographer Dwarka Divecha shot the film in the traditional 35 formats but used innovative technique to perfect it as a 70MM print.

It is reported Cinematographer Dwarka Divecha asked his assistant cameraman Kamlakar Rao, to do perfect marking on the film stock so the margins of the 70MM frame could be identified. Initially, Dwarka Divecha shot the first frame of Sholay and forwarded it to Ramesh Sippy‘s brother Ajit, who resided in London to test the 70 MM print. At, London, Ajit forwarded the frame to Paris at a professional 70 MM film lab which offered vital instructions to master the art of 70 MM shooting. Thus Sholay was shot in 70 MM entirely in India by trial and error!!

Since 70 mm films required a widescreen cinema hall hence Ramesh Sippy made just 4 prints in 70 MM and rest were made in 35 mm format. On August 15, 1975, Sholay was released at Mumbai’s Minerva cinema. Unfortunately on the day of the premiere the 70 MM prints got stuck at Mumbai airport custom department and reached cinema after the premiere was over. Fortunately, nobody realized the error. After the premiere, the unit of Sholay and other close relatives watched the 70 MM print and were bowled over by the experience.

The huge success of Sholay rejuvenated the craze for 70 MM and the floodgates of 70 MM movies were opened. Films like The Burning Train, Shaan, Razia Sultan, Saagar, Karma, etc. were made and did good business.

Down South India, the First films made in 70 MM are Padayottam (1982 – First Malayalam in 70MM); Maa Veeran (1986 – the first Tamil film in 70mm);  Simhasanam (1986 – the first Telugu film in 70mm), Sharavegada Saradara (1989 – the first Kannada film in 70mm).

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