If Mother India is Bollywood's Gone with the Wind, then this is its The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. From a business perspective, it's also Bollywood's Star Wars, or perhaps Raiders of the Lost Ark: Just as those productions cemented the Summer Blockbuster as the economic engine of Hollywood from the mid-1970s for the next 40+ years, Sholay made the masala film the economic engine of Bollywood for pretty much the same period. Subject of a truly disastrous remake in 2007 under the name Aag (Flame).
This film provides examples of:
- An Arm and a Leg: Gabbar slices off Thakur's arms after wiping out the latter's entire family. But that doesen't stop Thakur from being the most imposing character of the film.
- Anti-Hero: Jai and Veeru are both Type V at worst, but they graduate into Type III or even Type II during their fight with Gabbar.
- Ax-Crazy: Gabbar Singh. See Faux Affably Evil below.
- Bad Boss: Gabbar Singh kills off three of his men when they fail to collect the "tribute" from the villagers in a twisted version of Russian Roulette.Gabbar: [pacing back and forth dragging a bandolier] How many men were there?Kaalia: [stammers] Two men, sir.
Gabbar: Hmm. Two men. [stops pacing and suddenly turns to them] YOU ASSHOLES! [calms down] They were two, and you three. Yet you returned... empty-handed? What did you think of? That I'll be happy? That I'll praise you, eh? DAMN YOU! [calms down, then turns to Samba] Hey Sambha, what's the reward for my capture?
Samba: A full 50,000.
Gabbar: You heard? A full 50,000. And this has been put on my head because even in far-flung villages, when a child cries in the middle of the night, their mother tells them "Son, go to sleep. Sleep or Gabbar Singh will arrive". And these three bastards, they've tarnished my name! You will be punished for this. Rest assured, you will! [goes to a henchman and asks for his pistol] How many bullets does this gun have? How many?!
Henchman: Six, sir.
Gabbar: Six. Six bullets. This gun has six bullets. Six bullets for three men. This is injustice! [fires three rounds in the air] It's fine. Now it's fine. Now three chambers have bullets, while the other three are empty. Then I'll roll it. [rolls the chamber] Now where are the bullets, where they aren't, I don't know. I don't know anything! This pistol now contains three lives, and three deaths. Let's see who gets what. [put the gun behind one of his mooks, and presses the trigger, but nothing happens] The bastard's spared. [does the same thing to another mook, but nothing happens] He too is spared. [points the gun at Kaalia] What will happen to you, Kaliya?
Kaalia: [stammering] Sir, I've been a faithful supporter of yours, sir.
Gabbar: Now, eat the bullet. [the gun clicks, but nothing happens] This is strange. [suddenly bursts laughing] These three got spared! These three... these bastards didn't get a bullet... [soon all of Gabbar's henchmen burst into laughter, including the three mooks] They... they got spared! [they continue laughing, until the three mooks turn to Gabbar, who abruptly kills them while the other henchmen stop laughing. He then looks around at them, sending a Death Glare.] He who is afraid is dead. [spits at the ground] When is Holi? When is it? When?
- Badass Boast: In the climax, Thakur tells Gabbar that one doesn't need their hands to crush a snake.Gabbar: [smugly] How do you plan to fight me, Thakur? I've cut off and discarded your arms.Thakur: One doesn't need their hands to crush a snake, but with their feet, Gabbar. My feet are more than enough to crush you.
- Belligerent Sexual Tension: Veeru and Basanti's relationship is made of this.
- Big Bad: Gabbar Singh.
- Big Damn Heroes: Jai arrives just as Basanti collapses from her dancing and Samba prepares to shoot Veeru.
- Bitter Sweet Ending: Gabbar gang is killed and he is captured, freeing the village from his tyranny and the Thakur avenges his family by crippling Gabbar. Basanti and Veeru end up together and leave the village, however, Jai is dead and Veeru is left heartbroken to lose his beloved friend and poor Radha is left alone again.
- Bowdlerise: The initial film had Thakur kill Gabbar. However, India's film censors ordered the makers to change the ending, and instead, an alternate ending shows police arriving just before Thakur can kill Gabbar.
- Bromance: The first song in the movie has Jai and Veeru sing about their undying love for each other and how they'll always stick together.
- Deadpan Snarker: Jai.
- Department of Redundancy Department: After Basanti has spent almost an entire paragraph without pausing for breath referring to herself in the third person several times, and then asks why Jai and Veeru haven't had the courtesy to ask her for her name:
- Jai: What is your name, Basanti?
- Surprisingly, Basanti, given that she's essentially the comic relief. Gabbar Singh captures her and Veeru and tells her that she must dance for him and as long as her feet move his Dragon Samba won't shoot Veeru. She does this. Then some of Gabbar's men start throwing glass bottles at her, which shatter at her feet. So she continues to dance over the broken glass, until finally collapsing right in front of Veeru.
- Thakur is this in the flashbacks. Even after a personal tragedy and losing his arms, won't stop him from getting his revenge.
- The Dreaded: Gabbar Singh.
- Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Thakur Baldev Singh is known mostly by his title "Thakur" rather than his actual name.
- Faux Affably Evil: Gabbar Singh will often toy with his victims for fun, all the while maintaining a grandiose veneer of affability. For instance, he'll loudly laugh along with the rest of his gang before spontaneously executing a group of them for screwing up their mission.
- Evil Laugh: Gabbar
- Genki Girl: Basanti
- Handicapped Badass: Thakur is made of this trope. Arguably the most physically imposing character in the film, despite the fact he has no arms. Especially played up in his final showdown with Gabbar, in which he kicks Gabbar's ass
- Heroic Sacrifice: Jai holds the bandits off while Basanti and Veeru escape to get help. He dies just as they come back with the cavalry.
- Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Amitabh (playing Jai) is over six feet tall, and Jaya (playing Radha), his real life wife and his onscreen Sholay love interest, is a rather petite woman.
- Ironic Echo: How Thakur lost his arms. After Gabbar escapes from prison, he kills off Thakur's family, forcing Thakur to get after him. However, he ends up getting captured, and Gabbar slices off both his arms.Gabbar: Give me those arms, Thakur.Thakur: No!Gabbar: Give me your arms, Thakur!
Thakur: Gabbar, give me your arms.Gabbar: Never!Thakur: Give them to ME!
- In the final showdown, Thakur repeats the same words to Gabbar when Thakur squishes his hand with his foot.
- It's Personal: Thakur holds a vendetta against Gabbar for murdering his entire family and chopping his hands off when Thakur arrested him for his banditry several years before the film's events.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Veeru and Jai. Especially Jai.
- Knight of Cerebus: Gabbar Singh. You know when he is on screen that something bad is about to happen.
- Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Gabbar Singh. Nearly everyone (except for Thakur, Jai and Veeru) run away and hide when he's around.
- One-Word Title: Sholay is only one word.
- Re-Cut: A director's cut of the film was released on a British VHS tape in 1990, as well as on one of the DVD releases. Oddly enough, it is in fullscreen, while the theatrical cut is on widescreen. The changes are the scenes where the imam's son is killed, Thakur's family is massacred, and a few other violent scenes which were previously taken out of the film by the Indian censor board, are included, as well as an alternate ending where Thakur kills Gabbar.
- Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Veeru goes on one of these after Gabbar's men kill Jai; he finishes off Gabbar's men and is about to kill Gabbar himself before Thakur stops him,so that Thakur can go on his own Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
- Romancing the Widow: Jai's love interest is Thakur's widowed daughter-in-law.
- Russian Roulette: A variation of it in the You Have Failed Me scene where Kaalia returns with 2 other mooks.
- The Sociopath: Gabbar Singh, to a T. Lack of Empathy? Check. Maintains a grand veneer of affability and only emitting shallow emotions? Check. Experiences extreme rage and is uplifted whether enemies or mooks are hurt? Check. Wouldn't care about killing women and children? Check. Willing to cross the Moral Event Horizon? Check.
- Sacrificial Lamb: Thakur's family and Ahmed.
- Sacrificial Lion: Jai.
- Those Two Guys: Jai and Veeru of course. To the point of becoming a part of Indian culture.
- You Have Failed Me: Gabbar Singh pulls this with three of his underlings: he takes a gun with six bullets, fires off three, and then spins the chambers and pulls the trigger at each man. Miraculously, all three escape alive. Until Gabbar shoots them anyways.
- You Killed My Father: Gabbar Singh murdered Thakur's entire family, which is what drives the film's plot.
- Would Hurt a Child: Part of the reason why Thakur holds an enormous grudge against Gabbar is that the dacoit murdered his entire family, including his grandson.