Initially, 'Dharmendra' was keen to play the role of Thakur Baldev Singh. He eventually relented when the director informed him that Sanjeev Kumar would play Veeru if that happened, and would get the heroine. Sanjeev Kumar had just then proposed marriage to Hema Malini. Dharmendra was in love with her and quickly went back to the role of Veeru.
The film was shot extensively in Ramnagaram near Bangalore, India. There are huge rocks of granite in this town which formed the backdrop of Gabbar Singh's hideout. As a mark of respect, the people of Ramnagaram renamed a hamlet in the town as Sippynagar after the director of the movie, Ramesh Sippy.
Was about to be removed from cinemas because of low attendance figures, but attendance started rising and word-of-mouth made it Indian cinema's biggest hit (until Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995)) with some theaters playing the film for several years.
Jai and Veeru were named after Salim Khan's college friends, Veerandar Singh Bias, son of a jagirdar at Khajrana Kothi, Indore and Jai Singh Rao Kalevar, a Pindari warrior and vegetable farmer. Both have passed away.
Actor Mushtaq Merchant plays two roles in the film. The first role is as the train driver in famous train scene. The second role is when Jai Veeru steal a Parsi mans motorcycle. He plays the Parsi man.
Although it is universally agreed that Sambha has only one line of dialogue in Sholay, he does speak at least once more. When Ahmed is riding away from Ramgarh, Gabbar's goons are seen playing a game of cards. Sambha says, 'Chal be Junga, chidi ki rani hai' to which one of the other goons replies, 'Chidi ki rani toh thik hai Sambha, woh dekh chidi ka gulam aa raha hai.'
Initially a song called "Ke Chand Sa Koi Chehra" was recorded which is a qawwali, but the song was dropped from the movie owing to the length of the movie. One of the singers of the song was the lyricist Anand Bakshi while the others were Manna Dey, Kishore Kumar and Bhupendra.
The comic scene in which Bachchan meets Basanti's (Hema Malini) mausi with Veeru's marriage proposal was drawn from a conversation Khan had with Honey Irani's (Javed Akhtar's then to-be wife) mother. Honey, eventually, married Javed. It was, in part, influenced by the famous Half Ticket (1962) scene in which Kishore Kumar paints a terrible picture of his own self to scare off a pandit who arrives with a possible alliance for marriage.
This film was directly inspired by the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone, by Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (1954), Bandidos (1967) among others. Some critics at the time even began calling it a curry western.
Sholay's initial theatrical release was 10 years, where it played in a Mumbai theater. This record lasted until it was broken by Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995), which was still in its initial theatrical release as of 2007.
It was Salim, known to the younger audience as Salman Khan's father, who recommended Amitabh Bachchan for Jai's character. It was met with some opposition, but a trial of Zanjeer convinced them to cast Amitabh.
It was Javed Akhtar who had proposed Amjad Khan's name after having spotted him and his brother Imtiaz in the play Ai Mere Watan Ke Logo in 1963. Amjad had acted in a few films before but Sholay was his first major billing.
Salim Khan discloses how Jai's coin-flipping trick was directly adapted from the Gary Cooper-starring Garden of Evil. In that film, Gary Cooper and Richard Widmark draw cards to decide who will leave and who will stay behind to fight off the Apaches.
Danny Denzongpa, who was initially offered the role of Gabbar Singh, was busy shooting Dharmatma (1975) in Afhganistan. He could not accept the role, and the reluctant second choice 'Amjad Khan' got it instead.
Only four 70mm prints of Sholay were released initially: one for Delhi, one for Uttar Pradesh and two for Bombay-Maharashtra. The same 70mm print was screened at two cinema halls in Delhi, which had different show timings. It would be taken back and forth between the two halls in a car. It was exactly the same with India's first 70mm film, Around the World.
Salim-Javed sold two ideas to the producers Sippy's, Majboor and a four-line idea which later on went to become Sholay. Sholay was sold at a lesser price (Rs. 1.5 lakh) than the other Majboor (Rs 2 lakh). Majboor later was sold to producer Premji.
The original ending of Sholay showed Gabbar Singh being killed by Thakur. The Sensor Board required to re shoot it and also some action scenes also redone because Censor Board found them extremely violent.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
In the original ending, the Thakur killed Gabbar. The Indian Censor Board did not agree with this ending, saying that its vigilante aspect undermined the rule of law and could adversely influence naive young minds. So, a new ending was created that showed the police running in at the last moment, arresting Gabbar, and specifically telling the Thakur that only the law has the right to punish criminals. The original ending was restored in the 204-minute director's cut.