SMALL FILM, GIANT FOOTPRINT
Anyone who has ever watched Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro—and frankly, one doesn't know a soul who hasn't—has their favourite moment from the film. The easiest to recall are the 'thoda khao thoda phenko' scene at Commissioner D'Mello's Madh Island bungalow, the loony telephone episode at Tarneja's house, a drunk Ahuja mistaking DeMello's coffin for a car and 'towing' it away, and the Mahabharata climax where the entire cast gatecrashes a live performance with Dhritarashtra periodically intoning in sheer frustration, 'ye kya ho raha hai?' as emperor Akbar makes an inexplicable guest appearance.
Naseeruddin Shah and Ravi Baswani in a scene from the iconic film
Now there are two happy coincidences for Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro fans. NFDC, which is reviving its classics on DVD has recently brought out a new edition complete with an add-on disc about the making of the film and an interactive game, and Delhi-based journalist Jai Arjun Singh has written a witty, entertaining book in the film's 30th year, chronicling its fascinating journey from a nutty idea in Kundan Shah's head to an insane black comedy that has now achieved cult status as a nihilist classic or simply great social satire.
There may have been a third happenstance—the sequel Shah has been working on forever, but sadly what won't be, after Ravi Baswani's sudden demise last year. Just as well, for, as Singh records, the absolute freedom the director enjoyed to execute his vision and the goodwill and camaraderie during the shoot between everyone involved on the project is impossible to replicate. This was a time when films could be made for under Rs. 7 lakh—even granting that this was a low-budget NFDC production, that's still a pittance and again, making a similar film with stars and on a Rs 30 crore budget would obviously change the dynamics dramatically. In fact, in the DVD about the making, Shah admits as much, describing how many top-line stars want to work with him, but are unwilling to surrender to the lunacy he demands.
The hilarious Mahabharata climax featuring Satish Shah as a corpse standing in for Draupadi
Those were the days when Vinod Chopra and Sudhir Mishra worked as Shah's assistants—the protagonists were given their name. Renu Saluja, one of India's finest editors who is sadly no more, was involved in every aspect of the shoot and had the wherewithal to make a coherent film of the endless footage they'd shot—including scenes with young Anupam Kher as a 'Disco' killer which were dropped from the final edit. Naseeruddin Shah, the only star in the show, could make scant sense of the madness and was spotted banging his head on the wall during the telephone scene, but stood by his director all through and even offered to cut into his fees to bail him out. Needless to say, everyone got paid next to nothing and the entire unit lived through the shoot on a prayer.
The otherwise reticent director has spoken extensively to Singh about the making of the film and so have others, including writer Ranjit Kapoor and many of the actors who got their first big break with Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro. But every now and then—between describing his journey from being the son of a Gujarati business family to an unexpected selection at the FTII and even more unbelievably, getting funds from NFDC for his crazy concept to ultimately executing it in the most arbitrary fashion possible—he plays down the significance the film has assumed over the decades. "It's a sad state of affairs if Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro has become the be all and end all of a 'socially aware' film," he says. "There should have been many more like it. If this film is on such a pedestal, all it tells me is that Indian cinema hasn't achieved enough."
Poster of the film. IMAGE COURTESY PASSION FOR CINEMA