Sholay producer G. P. Sippy passes away

G.P. Sippy, who passed away Tuesday night at 93, wore many hats and had many names. Dilip Kumar called him "General" and Dev Anand spoke of him as "our leader". But he would be most remembered as the author of a new Bollywood chapter - as producer of "Sholay".

Born into an aristocratic Sindhi family, Sippy began his professional career as a lawyer in the Sindh province of undivided India.
Before he was sucked in by the glamour of the tinsel town, Sippy was a builder in Mumbai for a while. He even had a deluxe hotel in London, which he later sold due to losses.

Sippy claimed to have pioneered the concept of co-operative housing in India. He said, after partition, when he lived in south Mumbai's posh Colaba as a migrant, he had taken over an unfinished building in the vicinity from its owner and completed it by forming a cooperative housing society, a trend that became popular afterwards.

He left the building construction business for films and produced his first venture, "Sazaa" in 1951.

Four years later, Sippy turned a director and made "Marine Drive". The same year, he followed it up with "Adil-E-Jehangir" in which he also played a brief role.

The Asha Parekh-Biswajeet musical starrer "Mere Sanam" released in 1965 was his first early major hit. It was followed by the 1968 musical hit "Brahmachari" starring Shammi Kapoor and Rajshri

The turning point in G.P. Sippy's production banner, Sippy Films, came when his son, Ramesh Sippy, debuted as director with "Andaz" in 1971 and made his second film "Seeta Aur Geeta" the next year.

He then planned his next film - "Sholay". The film was planned as a dacoit film and few could imagine the cult status that it would attain.

The title was initially spelt as "Shole" but B.R. Chopra had already booked it. The spelling was later changed to "Sholay" as per numerological advice.

Sippy once told this correspondent that when Salim-Javed were writing the script for the film, he declared he wanted the film's principal character - Gabbar Singh - to be a jeans-clad dacoit to give him a different image from that of the typical dacoits of Hindi films.

Gabbar Singh's role was first offered to Danny Denzongpa, who declined. Then it went to a rank newcomer Amjad Khan - the rest as they say is history.

Thirty-two years after the release of the film nearly 20 of its prints are still running in cinemas across India and drawing house-full crowds, a testimony to the film's success.

Unfortunately for Sippy Films and director Ramesh Sippy, none of their subsequent 10 films could repeat the success of "Sholay".

Sippy was not only a filmmaker but also a crusader, he not only wanted to make good films but also wanted to change the way films are made.

As president of the Film Federation of India (FFI), the film industry's apex body, he fearlessly fought with the government to secure tax concessions for the industry, like getting the excise duty waived on film positives.

Sippy was the first to raise the demand of 'industry' status to the films so that producers could avail of institutional finance for filmmaking, a demand that the government conceded much later.

He was the only person who headed all the important associations of producers, including the powerful Indian Motion Pictures Producers' Association (IMPPA), the Film Producers' Guild (FPG), All India Film Producers' Council (AIFPC) and Association of Motion Pictures & Television Programme Producers (AMPTPP).

"A dynamo has gone from our midst," director Vinod Pande, president of Film Directors Association (FDA), told IANS Wednesday.

"He was fearless and had tremendous self-confidence."

His leadership ventures extended even beyond Bollywood. After the collapse of the Janata Party in 1979, Sippy took the lead along with Dev Anand and Sanjeev Kumar to float an all-India political party called National Party.

The move, however, fizzled out as none of its leaders had any political ambitions.

Outside the Bollywood, Sippy attained success on the small screen as the producer of Doordarshan's immensely popular serial - "Buniyaad" - at a time when the Indian television industry was still in its nascent stage.

Incidentally, his son Ramesh Sippy directed "Sholay" and the serial "Buniyaad", both of which left a mark on both the two mediums.

By the time Ram Gopal Verma's version of "Sholay" was released early this year as a tribute to the original masterpiece, Sippy was unaware of it due to his failing health and loss of memory.

Despite success slipping him by and family tragedy in his later years (one of his sons, Vijay, who looked after Sippy Films' production and distribution businesses, committed suicide), he lived a happy and contended life.

Years ago, he had bequeathed his production banner to his grandson Sasha Sippy who he was confident, would keep the banner flag flying high.