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Jaane nahi do yaaro!

Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro is Hindi cinema’s ultimate comedy film. Here, director Kundan Shah explains why he believes it is impossible to re-create that crazy magic again.

entertainment Updated: Feb 06, 2010 19:31 IST
Tavishi Paitandy Rastogi

JBDY

I am often asked why there have not been many more

Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron (JBDY)

in our country. Here’s the answer.



There was a scene in the

JBDY

script where the protagonists, Vinod and Sudhir, are asked to cover a clandestine operation of cement being sold in black in Tarneja’s warehouse. The duo successfully take the photos but unfortunately get locked inside for the night. It starts getting very spooky and frightful in that huge, dark, god-forsaken place. Though equally unnerved, Vinod pretends to be unaffected and diverts Sudhir’s paranoia by reading out an item from a newspaper in which was wrapped their dinner of

bhaji-pao

. The news concerns a gorilla which has escaped from a circus. As Vinod comically imitates a gorilla making funny gestures to alleviate Sudhir’s fears, we see, in the background, two large hairy legs coming towards them. After the scene exhausts the full comic potential of this encounter, it is topped by the revelation that the gorilla can speak Hindi! He describes his slavish confinement from birth in the circus and how he had always imagined a fabulous world of his spectators who came to see his act. But having witnessed the misery, the pain and the abject conditions of humanity, he has decided to go back to the circus. This absurd surreal scene was never shot as the film had exceeded a considerable length.



Another comic scene where Vinod and Ashok are talking to each other on the telephone in the same room had been scripted otherwise. The slapstick seen on the screen was just the body. During the conversation, Vinod pretends to be Margaret Thatcher who seeks Tarneja’s help to solve the problems stemming from the criticism of her policies of virginity test, etc. Later, he also pretends to be Ronald Reagan seeking Ashok’s help for a diplomatic bag leak about Diego Garcia. However, during the shooting, the satire was omitted leaving space only for slapstick.



Gul Anand, the producer of funny, quaint, off-beat romantic films such as

Chashme Baddoor

, was interested in distributing

JBDY

when it was complete. At the last minute, the deal went sour for some reason. However, what he said to me personally was very revealing. “See, I am going to buy your film, Kundan,” he said, “but if you had come with the script of this film to me to produce it, I would’ve thrown it out of the window. It’s so difficult… impossible… to see this film on paper.”



That is also the point I’m trying to make… the gorilla scene, the inane stupid telephonic conversations of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, other scenes already in the film such as Om Puri’s encounter with the coffin, etc., would’ve been impossible without the daring and vision of the producer: National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) and its Script Committee. What a risk and possible infamy if

JBDY

had gone wrong! That too with a first time director! Let’s face it. None of us expected the film to be a successful comedy leave aside its cult status. What then prompted everyone? The answer is simple: The challenge and the daring to fail.




A few years back a commercial film, Salaam-e-Ishq, with big stars was released. It touted a budget of Rs 30 crore and was an utter failure. It is my guess that if we put all the films which received loans or were produced by Film Finance Corporation (later rechristened as National Film Development Corporation), the figure running into hundreds, the total budget of all these films (not included is Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi) must not have been Rs 30 crore. And these include some of the films of masters such as Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Mani Kaul, Kumar Shahani… the list of luminaries is endless. Many were not released and many had questionable artistic value. But what you cannot deny is the honesty and the sincerity of a large number of these films. And they were made on shoestring budgets.

JBDY

was made within Rs 7 lakh. All these filmmakers, the cast and the crew starved making these films.



But then the viability bug hit us. NFDC budgets were curtailed. Why? Are the sculptures in our temples viable? Is Ajanta-Ellora viable? Are our educational institutions viable? Is running our judicial system viable? Why cinema then? Let a thousand flowers bloom. You will get more

JBDYs

and much more. But do you want only viable cinema? So-called commercial cinema where the rate of failure is over 95 per cent of films produced and at best what you get is the esoterism which has nothing to do with our lives. That’s what the I&B ministry has decided. Well, best of luck. You can have your viable cinema – the popcorn cinema – where some have a pretense of social concern or a message but all achieve, without fail, to make our audiences dumber and dumber. Whether we wish it or not, the job is a fait accompli. But what perplexes me at times – have we achieved this dumbness accidentally or by design?

If you haven’t, see it now!

In 1983, an amazing film released in cinemas in India: Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (JBDY). It was produced by the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC), a government body responsible for financing some of the best films of the ‘parallel cinema movement’ of the Seventies and Eighties. It was also the debut film of director Kundan Shah, an alumnus of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune

A brilliant and biting satire on corruption in business, politics, the bureaucracy and the media, it had an ensemble cast of outstanding actors such as Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, Satish Kaushik, Satish Shah, Neena Gupta, Pankaj Kapur and Ravi Baswani.

JBDY is also one of the craziest and funniest films ever made; arguably the best-ever comedy in Hindi. Over the years it has become a cult film, and acquired a fanatically devoted following.

We couldn’t resist a Q&A with Kundan Shah, on how JBDY was made, his favourite scenes etc. Excerpts:

How did the idea of the film come up?
Two of my FTII friends, Mr Ravi Ojha and Mr Rajendra Shaw, though struggling to make motivational and short films in Hyderabad, had ended up opening a photo studio. Ravi had come over for some work to Mumbai and we had spent a night together talking of struggle and more struggle in our lives with no ray of hope on the horizon. We spent the whole night laughing when he narrated all the misadventures they had gone through after opening the studio. Next morning, I woke up and felt inspired to use this as a starting point for a new script, abandoning the one I was working on at that time and which later became Loveria, produced by ABCL but which never got released. I was also the secretary of our building society and we had a major problem of gutter water leaking directly into our water tank. As cement was rationed in those days of Antulay’s corrupt regime, I put all my frustrations in getting the rationed cement into the script. Most of the stories such as bridge collapse were actual events which happened during those times.

You had some of the best talents in the film...
All the actors were extremely talented. But like me, they were all strugglers except for Naseeruddin Shah who was a big name in parallel cinema. You must remember that the film was made outside of the regular film industry, dominated that time by Manmohan Desais and Prakash Mehras. We were just doing our job. None of us ever imagined that the film would get a release!

Were the scenes completely scripted or was there a lot of improvisation?
The scenes had major contributions while writing dialogues, for which the credit must go to Mr Ranjit Kapoor and Mr Satish Kaushik. Being veterans of theatre and with acting in their blood, many dialogues were written while they actually performed the scenes physically.

Did you ever think it would become such a cult film?
Never. What the film achieved was beyond the wildest euphoric dream of anyone in the cast and crew. No one, not even (Charlie) Chaplin or (Buster) Keaton or God can predict a cult in the making. It happens.

Why don’t you release a ‘director’s cut’ DVD with the edited scenes?
The first tight rough cut was three hours and fifteen minutes. And one third of the film had yet to be shot! Besides, all NFDC films could not be longer than two hours and 25 minutes, as any length beyond this would invite higher excise duty per print. So we had a 48-hour session with the crew and our friends on how to bring down the length. This was a debut film for Anupam Kher where he played a disco killer but his whole scene was chopped off. I don’t remember anymore how much humour was sacrificed but… As for a director’s cut, all the edited out material is lost forever.

Today a lot of niche films are made for multiplexes. You still think a script like JBDY would not find a financier?
All producers talk about it but many feel it is a one in a million kind of a chance. Besides, which producer has the ability to see a film like this on paper? Maybe if a star backs a project, it may be possible but my experience is that all of them without exception are highly illiterate.

What are the bits in the film that are your favourites?
Undoubtedly, Om Puri’s coffin scene. It had such potential that what we achieved is in single digits. The Mahabharat scene was shot at random with the end first and then the middle and then the beginning and so none of us realised the cumulative effect of gag building on gag. The film made a strong statement against the system... You’re forgetting that it was not only backed but produced by NFDC, a government of India undertaking. We had all the freedom in the world… more than James Bond’s 007 license to kill.

Was the making of the film as much fun as the film?
The stories of JBDY in the making are full of nightmares. As Om Puri said in his autobiography, it is probably the poorest unit he has ever worked with. But the film would have never been complete without the tremendous fighting spirit of some in the cast and the crew. Many of us had decided that either we kill this film or let it kill us.