Ravi Baswani on Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron - A 2003 interview
Mayank Shekhar interviewed actor Ravi Baswani - who passed away few days back- in 2003 when the cult classic had just finished 20 years in public memory.india Updated: Jul 30, 2010 12:55 IST
These are obsessive-compulsives for whom lame one-liners, Thoda khao thoda pheko, See aaiye or Abe Shant, Gadadhar Bheem, Shant can instantly evoke random laughs, anytime, anywhere, never mind the context.
And whose good friends include two naive photojournalists Sudhir and Vinod, out to change the world through Khabardaar -- a gorgeous editor’s personal agenda newspaper.
Meeting Ravi Baswani at his tiny apartment in the wilds of Andheri West, we realise, little has changed about the affable Sudhir Mishra from Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, but for the bushy moustache and grey hair, and more than a slight hint of a paunch.
Gently ask him to say a word or two about the film, you can tell, his youth immediately froths to the surface, and he just cannot stop talking. "It’s embarrassing when you meet people who’ve seen the movie so many times," he says, making those trademarked, concocted facial expressions, something that in fact landed him the dream role in perhaps Hindi cinema’s only true black comedy.
After Chashme Baddoor (1981; another fabulous mid-class comedy), Baswani says, he had directed and acted in a play at Prithvi, where Sudhir Mishra (the assistant director on Jaane Bhi...) approached him to get in touch with Kundan Shah (the director). He didn’t know it then that a character named after Mishra himself would find him a soft spot in popular culture forever.
“When Kundan narrated the script to me for two hours, he asked me to choose the role I wanted to play. I immediately said, the dead body! He already had Satish Shah in mind for that part. I took up Sudhir then."
Baswani was cast alongside Naseeruddin Shah, an established art-house hero by then: "My roommate Alok Nath was doing a play with Naseer at the time, and he would fumble with his lines, conscious of acting with him. But I didn’t let any such feelings get in my way."
The rest of the cast in Jaane Bhi... -- shot in 45 days flat -- were mostly rookies from Delhi’s theatre circles, masters in the art of improvised acting: "We were all goons for theatre actors, having a lot of fun, shooting round-the-clock. Kundan would instruct, ‘taking’ (after a shot), and we’d yell back, ‘giving, giving..."
Hearing Baswani’s funny moments from the shoot, we realise a film on the making of Jaane Bhi... itself would be no less a hit. The circus behind the camera quite equalled the madness before it.
He fondly recalls one of the most popular comic sequences in Indian movie history: the Mahabharat scene, of course, “My co-actor Vinod (director Vidhu Vinod Chopra, the production manager in the film) was chasing me across the set; next shot, I find myself chasing him (with a sword). End of the scene: I manage to dig my sword into Vinod’s backside and have his kutcha (underwear) hanging to the tip.
“Another time, I get woken up at two at night because Naseer is literally banging his head against the wall, refusing to do a scene that he insists, is ‘plain stupid’. We spend hours and finally coax him into it."
This is the bit where Taneja and Vinod talk to each other on the phone, in the same room!
Not one scene, if you look objectively, makes logical sense in Jaane Bhi.... For instance, Baswani asks, “How do you justify two postmen visiting D’Mello’s (the commissioner’s) house? Well, we did that by making one of the postmen blind!” The actor is full of such nuggets. But a book can wait.
That we never quite saw Baswani in a memorable role after Jaane Bhi…, it’s easy to figure, is cinema’s loss alone. The problem, he says, is if a Saeed Mirza or a Shyam Benegal were to offer him a role, they’d still want to pay him Rs 5,000.
And the roles offered (by others) are indifferent. “Television gave me the opportunity to do good work and make a living," he says, quoting names of some of Bollywood’s finest directors and how they eventually lost their innocence.
Baswani himself nurses ambitions of making a "great film" some day. Of his film acting career, he says, "I wish I’d died after Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro and Chashm-e-Baddoor. I would’ve become the James Dean of Bollywood!"
(Baswani passed away on July 27 in Shimla while shooting for a film that would have been his directorial debut.)