I am very, very sad. He was such a simple person, with a simple soul, from a well-read background. We have lost someone who had great knowledge of cinema, and the maker of one of the cult classics of all time, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, which will be enjoyed by generations till eternity.
We couldn’t have ever imagined that a film with such a small budget (it was made for only Rs 7 lakh) would go on to have such a long shelf life. The kind of talent Kundan brought together — an ensemble cast featuring Naseeruddin Shah, Ravi Baswani, Om Puri, Satish Shah, Pankaj Kapur, Neena Gupta; he wrote the film with Sudhir Mishra, Ranjit Kapoor and me. I still remember the days spent at his house, writing the dialogues for the script he and Sudhir had written. Back in the1980s, his whole idea of what comedy was like, and what it could do, was so different from others at that time. His grasp of black humour was zabardast!
We had such a great time shooting the film. If the budget was low, the talent was high. Because of Kundan, each one of us associated with the film have a prized possession that we can be proud of for the rest of our lives. Things back then were so different. Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro was produced by the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) and their films always had a compact release, and never made much money. But our film was the first government-funded project which was released by a very prominent distributor, NC Sippy and his son Romu Sippy, who were better known as the producers of hit, commercial films. So, we felt that humari picture mein dum hai.
It didn’t immediately click at the box office but with the advent of satellite television, it gained a new lease of life. More people watched it and gradually, it became a cult classic. Can you imagine that the NFDC produced a film like that which talks about corruption in the bureaucracy! The kinds of things we addressed in Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro would not be passed by the CBFC today.
Everybody remembers the Mahabharata scene. It was the toughest scene to write, we had to take a break of 10 days, because we were unable to tackle it. Kundan told us to clear our heads and forget about everything else. So, I wandered around the Sunday market in Daryaganj (Delhi) and stumbled upon some comics. There was one of the Mahabharata, Laila-Majnu, and others. So I thought, why don’t we create a play with characters from all these comics in the film? I called Ranjit and we went to Kundan with the idea and he shot it in the next few days. It was great, everything was happening in that scene — bodies, dead and alive, characters from different contexts in one place. Everybody did such a great job but it was Kundan who held the comedic reins of that scene together. The film was a product of his conviction and I don’t think it can ever be remade.
Kundan retreated from filmmaking in the last decade. I think it’s because of the ways in which our films have changed. Today, everybody knows so much and everybody’s a critic. When Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro was being made, none of us questioned Kundan why he was making such a film. The pressure of delivering something was not there at all. Maybe he stopped enjoying making films, I can’t say for sure. But look at what he created and what he has left us with — Nukkad, Wagle Ki Duniya, Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, and Kya Kehna. May Kundan rest in peace, and I know he’ll never be forgotten.