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Monday, November 29, 2021

Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro was 7-8 hours long, shown only in 4 theatres: Naseeruddin Shah called it the ‘stupidest’ film

On Kundan Shah's birth anniversary, we revisit his directorial debut Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro. In the 80s, the era of disco lights and flared pants, big hair and hamming, he made this little gem on a shoestring budget that spoke of poverty, corruption and a better world.

Written by Anvita Singh | New Delhi |
Updated: October 19, 2021 8:47:46 am
kundan shahHelmed by Kundan Shah, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro released in 1983. (Photo: Express Archive)

Whenever someone mentions the name of filmmaker Kundan Shah, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro is the first movie that immediately comes to mind. The movie and its maker share a bond akin to a person’s maiden romantic relationship — tumultuous, loving and deeply affecting. As Vidhu Vinod Chopra had once revealed, the original cut of Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron was 7-8 hours long. It took a lot out of Shah to make the movie happen. And when it finally did get released (August 12, 1983), it was screened only in four theatres! In fact, the budget for the movie was so meagre that even the cast were not handed out free tickets.

Close to four decades later, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro is now considered a cult classic. But that was not what it looked like for the team upon its release. It failed to make its mark as a commercial success.

It is hard to write something about a movie of Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro’s stature. Because there is hardly anything that has not been covered about it before. For some, it remains a well-made comedy, for many others it is one of the most ably made black comedy that remains relevant to this day. The feature, much like its maker, is a chameleon. Shah too, had begun his career with something offbeat like Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, but as time went on, he became more predictable and mainstream. His later releases like Hum to Mohabbat Karega and Kya Kehna is proof. Yes, Kya Kehna at the time seemed rebellious because it spoke of single parenting. But everything Kundan made in his second innings at the movies had a heavy dose of Bollywood-style melodrama attached to it. That was not the case with his initial projects, be it films or TV series.

In Shah’s well-woven world, anybody could be a ‘hero,’ even the so-called loser like Sunil (played by Shah Rukh Khan in Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa). His projects had a special small town flavour about it (read Nukkad and Wagle Ki Duniya) without compromising on the sharpness of the storytelling. In this day and age, it would be difficult to pull off a Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro. The film was a biting commentary on the society we live in. However, with heavy censorship in place now, and the people’s ability to quickly get offended would have proven to be a sore thorn in Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro’s feet. In fact, Shah himself felt the same as in 2015, the director had volunteered to return his National Award because he was unhappy with the state of affairs in the country. Safe to say, today, he would have been unhappier. A sequence like Mahabharata would have never seen the light of the day in which Naseeruddin Shah’s character is heard saying at one point, “Maine cheer haran ka idea drop kar diya hai (I no longer want to disrobe Draupadi)”.

It may come as a surprise to many, but while working on the movie, lead actor Naseeruddin Shah did not find the movie hilarious. “I never thought it would get completed. I didn’t find it funny while we were making it. I didn’t find anything funny. When I read the script, I did. But while performing, no. That possibly worked for the film because if you find yourself funny the audience is not going to find it funny,” the actor had said during a session on the film at India Film, moderated by Anand Tiwari.

In an interview to Jerry Pinto, actor Ravi Baswani who had done Chashme Baddoor before this film, had said, “I should have died after that film. I might have become the James Dean of India, a legend. Kya actor tha, they would have said, just two films and then he died….” Naseeruddin Shah had said in the interview that he ‘despaired of’ the film when it was being made. “I didn’t believe the film would work. I thought we were making the stupidest film ever. I remember once I told Kundan, ‘You’re thinking in animation!’,” he had said.

In the 80s, the era of disco lights and flared pants, big hair and hamming, Kundan Shah had made this little gem on a shoestring budget. A film which spoke of poverty, corruption and a better world. There was no hero. There was no blasts and a big escape. But there was a lot of comedy, that warm but aware humour that penetrated through the conscience of the movie and straight to its attentive audience.

You can watch Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro on YouTube.

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