JAANE BHI DO YAARO: FOREVER IN RECALL!by Aparajita Krishna March 3 2023, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 16 mins, 51 secs
Aparajita Krishna unplugs the cult classic that has already consumed generations left behind and will continue to enthral, delight and make pensive, the generations of the future.
O Teri! Treat it as my exclamation too. As in Dhatteri! On 9th February 2023 I chanced upon the film O Teri (2014) on Star Gold. It appeared to be a remake/adaptation of the cult classic Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (1983). Checked the net. A review on Firstpost rightly gave it a reprimanding review. It said, “Luckily, this is not an official remake of Kundan Shah’s classic Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro. If it was, the makers of the original could have sued for defamation… Save yourself the agony of watching this masala-mix version of Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro. Just watch the original again.” I did precisely that. This supposed remake-upgradation of Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro to contemporary India is a bad-copy-cat.
Anyway, the article herein has nothing to do with O Teri. Long before cult films got abbreviations - DDLJ, KKHH kinds - there was JBDY! I am herein sharing a recap on JBDY the film, anecdotes, trivia and exclusive talks in my custody on the making of the timeless JBDY and on director Kundan Shah. JBDY may well have ended up being an albatross around it’s director’s neck. He would have found it most difficult to replicate that unplanned, unimagined cult-success.
On 7th October 2017, at near 70, director Kundan Shah took leave and departed from life. His very select and most noteworthy repertoire of film and television work continues to be led by his directorial debut, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, that had released on 12th August 1983.
A Hindi-language satirical black comedy, it was produced by the National Film Development Corporation, which to-date in India has the best catalogue of films. It was made on a budget of 8-9 lakhs. (Please help figure the updating of the figures in Rupee value in India 2023). Indian film corporations of recent past and in the present, with humongous budgets and facilities, have till now found it very difficult to creatively and box-office-wise collate a superior template of films. A mind-blowing 1000 crore and more worldwide gross collection by the film Pathaan notwithstanding.
Among the noted credits, the story and screenplay credit for the film went to Kundan Shah, Sudhir Mishra, the dialogues credit to Ranjit Kapoor and Satish Kaushik, cinematography to Binod Pradhan, editing to Renu Saluja, sound to K.S.Ravi, art-direction to Robin Das, music to Vanraj Bhatia.
It had an ensemble cast of Naseeruddin Shah, Ravi Baswani, Om Puri, Pankaj Kapoor, Satish Shah, Satish Kaushik, Bhakti Barve, Neena Gupta, Deepak Qazir, Ashok Banthia and others. The credit-roll tells us that Vidhu Vinod Chopra was in the cast playing the cameo of Dushasana in the famous staging of the Mahabharata scene in the climax of the movie. He was also the production controller. The production managers were Deepak Qazir, Imtiaz Bagdadi, Pavan Malhotra. Sudhir Mishra and Renu Saluja also figure as direction assistants.
All the names mentioned would in later years chart their own independent career-course and garner repute and fame.
For the uninitiated the premise and short summary of the story reads: Two professional still-photographers, Vinod Chopra and Sudhir Mishra (note the names), played by Naseeruddin Shah and Ravi Baswani respectively, open a photo studio in the Haji Ali area of Bombay. After a disastrous start they are given an assignment by the lady-editor Shobha Sen (Bhakti Barve) of Khabardar (Beware), a publication that exposes scandals of the rich, the privileged and the famous.
The duo starts its work in earnest and with much zeal. Their first assignment is to expose the dealings between an unscrupulous builder, Tarneja (Pankaj Kapoor), and the corrupt Municipal Commissioner D’Mello (Satish Shah). Their investigation leads them into finding that another builder, Ahuja (Om Puri), who is Tarneja’s business rival, is also involved in a deal of getting from D’Mello a contract to build four flyovers. The duo is to now create a rift between Tarneja and D’Mello. They successfully do so. While working on this assignment Vinod and Sudhir also decide to enter a photography contest that carries a prize money of Rs 5000/-. They click their way through all over Bombay.
While developing the negatives the duo chance upon frames of a man shooting someone. The enlargement of the photo reveals the killer to be Tarneja. They visit the crime scene and, in the park, behind a bush they find the dead body of D’Mello. But before the duo can lay their hands on the body it disappears. All they manage is to retrieve one from a pair of gold-cufflinks. Later they attend the inauguration function of a bridge dedicated to the memory of late D’Mello, supposed to have died of a terminal disease. There they discover the other cufflink. At night they dig up the site and unearth a coffin containing the dead body of D’Mello. They take several clicks of the corpse and wheel it with them in the hope of exposing Tarneja in a big journalistic expose.
Editor Shobha is informed. However, the body disappears. The duo does not take Shobha into confidence on this disappearance. She starts blackmailing Tarneja. He invites her, Vinod and Sudhir for dinner and plants a time-bomb to kill them. The bomb explodes only after the three guests have left. The local news informs that the bridge just built and inaugurated has collapsed. The police suspect Vinod and Sudhir. The duo eventually learns of Shobha’s blackmailing, tell her the truth of the missing-corpse, and leave. They now discover that the missing body in the coffin is actually with Ahuja who is always in an inebriated condition.
Another act begins. They manage to steal the corpse but not before most of the characters have already got involved willy-nilly, or, intentionally in the scenario, which is ridden with comic mix-ups. When finally, the police arrive, the duo of Sudhir and Vinod present their evidence. Tarneja threatens Ahuja and Shobha of exposing them too. In a twist to the tale, they all come to an agreement, wherein the system manages to pin the crime of the bridge-collapse onto Sudhir and Vinod. In the finale scene, after an lapse of time, the duo is seen released, coming out of jail in their prison clothes. They turn to the camera and make a symbolic cut-throat gesture, signifying the death of justice and truth.
I have shared the summary to also recap how wonderful and topical the gist reads even in words. Kundan Shah won the 1984 Indira Gandhi Award for Best Debut Film of a Director. The film won for Ravi Baswani the Filmfare Best Comedian Award.
In the year 1984 Indira Gandhi was assassinated and the Indian National Congress, thereafter, under Rajiv Gandhi won the general elections with a thumping majority. No one back then interfered or rather threatened the showing of the film, which was essentially a satirical critique of the political-socio-economic Indian system.
Trivia-tale says that the names of the lead characters as Vinod Chopra and Sudhir Mishra came from real-life directors who were the namesakes.
To also be noted that as per internet information the film was inspired by the English language film Blow-Up directed by Michelangelo Antonioni. In it, a photographer believes he may have witnessed a murder and unwittingly takes photographs of the killing. The filmmakers of JBDY paid homage to Blow-Up by naming the park in which the murder occurs as ‘Antonioni Park.’
The cinematography of the film was done by Binod Pradhan who would in later years add most noted films to his repertoire. Renu Saluja, the editor, who in her lifetime itself became a reference point in her calling, had shaped and edited this film. It is said that she was present throughout the shooting and was completely in-sync with the film’s making pre-edit too. Film-lore has it that the film in its first cut was over three hours in length and the Mahabharata scene ran over thirty minutes. The film at the edit had to be cut down by over an hour. Renu Saluja brought the film to the desired length and gave it a pace, rhythm. The director’s work had an edit-partner who helped shape his vision in the post-production.
Over the years JBDY keeps getting bigger and garnering more and more of the cult-status. A digitally restored print was released on November 2, 2012 at select theatres. The media lapped it up.
Now to come to the present. Herein are some talks also featuring the film in a very valued recall of associates and friends.
On January 28, 2023 a book written by auteur filmmaker Saeed Mirza (with illustrated designs by Nachiket Patwardhan, published by Tulika Books) reminiscing friend-colleague-comrade-filmmaker-writer Kundan Shah (19th October 1947 to 7th October 2017) got released in Mumbai. I KNOW THE PSYCHOLOGY OF RATS. It was as houseful an event as the film Pathaan shows running. The title of the book is from a real-life conversation between Saeed and Kundan.
An excerpt of Saeed Mirza’s own words on the back-cover, "Why am I writing this book? Is it because my time is running out? Perhaps that is true. It is becoming more and more difficult to remember the conversations, camaraderie, intellectual debates and dialectical upheavals with a friend. Then I think, ‘Will all of this make sense to my readers?’ I don’t know. But I have to present this wonderful, crazy, vulnerable friend of mine to the world because he deserves it - and because I firmly believe he had not ‘lost’ it…..”
The session aptly began with the screening of some scenes from Jane Bhi Do Yaaro. It again brought the house down with splitting laughter from all the bellies present. The book release followed with Saeed thanking the colleagues present for… cut… Sudhir Mishra - “Saeed cut the crap about thanking all of us and let’s get on with the book.” More laughter. The book-launch programme was blissfully most un-programmed, extempore, lively, conversational, celebratory and anecdotal. Kundan Shah’s earthly absence emerged to be very present. Saeed Mirza’s book is of two comrades in life, world-view and work. It is personal, social, cinematic and political.
It now seems like a dreamworld (the times spent together). Kundan was so bizarre in the way he saw things. He saw the world very deeply in quaintest of ways and in quaintest of situations. Kundan saw the same situation we all were seeing very differently. There is also a story in the book about a deeply passionate Indian and citizen. The book is about citizen Kundan also. It is a deeply political book. Broad strokes of history, politics. Kundan Shah had initially left India for England. I was making Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyoon Aata Hai when Kundan Shah decided to return back to India. In England he faced racism, but he used his time there to read a lot of literature. He came back and assisted me. Kundan was in every department. An incredible assistant. Kundan taught me to use the assets, homes of friends to shoot films. Even to shoot on the roads without permission. JBDY is absurd, funny, but deeply political. That was Kundan’s journey to understand the world we inherited. I called him an anarchic nerd. Kundan’s was the finest diploma film of our times at the FTII. I remember he once telling an actor who became a big star, ‘Tum meri film ki aisi-taisi matt karna.’ In Mohan Joshi Hazir Ho, I played with three forms thanks to Kundan’s JBDY. We never had the budgets for the films we made, but we made. Kundan made failure honourable.
When Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro was being shot we all thought, including the actors, that it was all shit. You had to decipher the kindness in Kundan’s shouting. Kundan read every script of mine and ripped it apart, but with much affection. I recall him telling me, “There is grace in nonsense”.
We were at the FTII. Funniest thing I remember is that once after Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro I met Kundan and he said, ‘Ketan I saw you in a dream. You were trying to steal my film.’ JBDY and Mirch Masala were being made at the same time. I asked him ‘What were you doing in your dream?’ He said ‘I was trying to buy your film.’
VIJAY KRISHNA ACHARYA
There was Kundan school of film and technology. When I first met him Kundan remarked, ‘Jab koi bolta hai mujhe assist karna hai, mujhe pata chal jaata hai ki uska koi lafda hai.’ Kundan showed grace in nonsense. He used to say, ‘Mujhe losers bahut achche lagte hain.’
It is to be specially noted, in India 2023 and for posterity, that director Kundan Shah’s debut feature film, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, was produced by NFDC, a Congress government backed film body, that backed a film talking about corruption in the bureaucracy. It is said that a young Kundan Shah after approaching the NFDC with the first draft of the script had subsequently in self-doubt, and under suggestions, revised the draft of the script. He went to veteran film writer Akhtar Mirza who was on the NFDC committee. ‘We’ve changed the script slightly to make it better’. The senior Mirza listened to Kundan’s changes and gave him a life-lesson. He remarked, “Your script is like snow, so it’s floating. If you put all this logic into it, it will become ice and sink.” Kundan Shah now went back to his original script and threw out the revised logic.
The film that released on 12th August 1983 went on to become a cult comedy and a satire classic. Executed in the delectable Commedia dell’arte fashion it had a most energetic script, ensemble acting and brilliant direction. It combined a perfect mix of parody, irony, social satire, black humour, slapstick, surrealism and it made a political-protest statement. While the budget was very low, of Rs 7 lakhs, the talent in every discipline was very high.
I am now also sharing the talks I have in my custody with some people closely associated with JBDY. They are very relevant and anecdotal. The talks are of and around 2006-2007-2008.
Om Puri had shared with me for an assignment his special recalls on JBDY. His character in the film, the drunkard Ahuja, became a roaring success.
The role of Ahuja had actually gone to Vinod Nagpal, who is a wonderful actor from Delhi. For some reason he could not do it. Thanks to that it came to me.
(Veteran theatre and film actor Vinod Nagpal would inform me in 2006, “In Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro the role, which Om Puri got, it was written for me. I was at that time meant to do another film with Mani Kaul. I preferred Mani Kaul to Kundan Shah. Which was a mistake. That film was ‘Dhrupad.’ It was a documentary. I was the narrator in that”).
I remember the first shot/scene of mine was taken here at Alibagh. I reached in the morning and Kundan said (Om mimics Kundan), “Your shot is in the evening. Go check your costume etc. What is going to be your get-up?”
All I was told about Ahuja was that he was a Punjabi, and he was never sober. I decided to have a moustache. He was a Punjabi perpetually drunk. He has his hip flask and he will wear goggles. What was nice about JBDY was that the entire team were NSD juniors, seniors etc. Kundan Shah used to allow a lot of improvisations.
The Mahabharat sequence was a laugh-riot. A series of mishaps kept happening in the scripted and improvised scene. It had a dead body and the live characters from different contexts pop up.
Sometimes Kundan used to get very bugged because we used to go overboard. I remember in the Mahabharata scene I wore goggles and the costume was a period costume (royal robes).
Om as Kundan: What is this, Yaar? This is too much. Come on Om, what are these bloody goggles?
Om to Kundan: Kundan relax yaar, I will explain.
Om as Kundan (irritated): What explain yaar. No, no. Remove the goggles.
Om to Kundan: Listen we are chasing, hiding etc. Any character who comes backstage we knock him off. We make him faint and wear the person’s clothes. This is the situation na?
Om as a hassled Kundan: Yes, it is this, so?
Om to Kundan: I forgot to take off the goggles. So, it makes sense.
Om as Kundan (frustrated): Ok yaar, wear it, wear it, forget it, chalo let’s start.
(Om laughing) The scene had so much of improvisations. A character challenges me, ‘Uske pehle tumhe mera dhanush todhna hoga’ (Before that you will have to break my bow). He takes and breaks it (the property bow/dhanush), ‘Ye le todh diya’ (Ok. There I have broken it). ‘Isske pehle tumhe mera sir todna hoga’ (Before that you will have to break/knock off my head). ‘Ye le’, dhum (knock on the head).
Then the car sequence, in which Ahuja thinks the coffin carrying Satish Shah’s body is a car, I improvised about calling it a sports car and asked where the stepney was. Ridiculous! All improvisations. Great fun. Kundan gave the basic premise, the basic script. I think it is one of the best films. I don’t call it a comedy. I think it is a serious comedy, satire, because it made social comment. The builder exposure, municipality exposure, nexus etc. It was a brilliant script.
It was me who recommended Om Puri’s name. They were not ready to accept. In their mind Om’s serious image loomed large. I told them to watch the play ‘Bichhoo’. Then after watching him in the play ‘Bichhoo’ Kundan Shah cast him in Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro. Om asked me for some tips. I told him, ‘You have done the play Bichhoo. Take that note. The more seriously you play it the better it will be.’ He played it seriously and in my estimation the performance closest to me in the film is his as Ahuja. I am talking as a writer. The way I had conceived it, he seriously delivered it. In the performance of the other actors in the film somewhere there is a note or two of effort showing, or wrong timing. But in his performance the timing is absolutely correct. If he had not done the play Bichhoo, this performance in the film would not have shaped such. There Moliere (playwright) helped.
An aspect that most people, cine-goers and even film-industry folks, may not know is that the dubbing (voice-recording) for Bhakti Barve’s character Shobha Sen was done by actor Anita Kanwar. It was a fabulous dubbing that actually enhanced the performance. I got this fact recently re-ascertained with Bakula Shah, Kundan Shah’s wife.
To end this tribute article on JBDY let me again quote Saeed Mirza. "I was the one who stopped Kundan from remaking Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro. He immediately agreed.”
That speaks for the integrity and sincerity of filmmakers like them.
The later years, 2000 to 2014, saw a challenged writer-filmmaker Kundan Shah trying to creatively cope, negotiate with a changed world and world-views as it were. His films that followed were distant from the best in his repertoire.
To my generation and hopefully to future-gen, JBDY will continue to embody (pun intended) a genre for timeless reference.