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How Chashme Buddoor was Sai Paranjpye’s love letter to Delhi

The romcom-buddy film, which turned 40 this year, provides a comprehensive Dilli darshan, of what the city used to look like

Written by Tanushree Ghosh |
Updated: June 7, 2021 10:26:33 am
Sai Paranjpe, Farooq Sheikh and Saeed JaffreyDirector Sai Paranjpye, Farooq Sheikh and Saeed Jaffrey during the shoot (Source: Express Archive)

Forty years ago, while shooting the sequence where Saeed Jaffrey’s Lallan Mian beckons passers-by to his dinky little paan stall, “Amaa yaar, khao na, baitho, baatcheet karo (Come, my friend, eat this, talk to me)”, still photographer Aditya Arya, 61, who shot stills for three-fourth of the film — his first — remembers how someone actually took Jaffrey for a real paanwallah and tried buying paan from him. “That scene was shot in Nizamuddin,” he says.

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Jaffrey visited Old Delhi, to observe the “body language, mannerisms, language and its nuances” of at least 50-odd paan-kiosk owners, writes director Sai Paranjpye in her autobiography, A Patchwork of Quilt: A Collage of My Creative Life (2020, HarperCollins). The bachelor pad of the “three cronies” (Siddharth-Farooq Sheikh; Jomo-Ravi Baswani; Omi-Rakesh Bedi) was found in a Defence Colony barsaati, she writes. “The unit lived in that house,” Arya recalls.

deepti naval Aditya Arya’s photograph of Deepti Naval (Source: Aditya Arya Archive)

Paranjpye writes how after seeing her debut Sparsh (1980) at the Tashkent Film Festival, in her “fatherland” Russia, Gul Anand, noted Indian film distributor who’d just produced a comedy Khatta Meetha, 1978, asked her for a “pure fun, feel-good film with no social message”. Out came her popular “hilarious romp” teleplay Dhuan Dhuan (Doordarshan). Three gallivanting college students spend their time daydreaming in a barsaati. One day, from their terrace, they see a comely young girl sashaying down the road. A challenge is thrown: who’ll befriend the maiden? “Each cavalier returns to base, swaggering like a conquering champion, and spins a yarn, describing his improbable exploits. Each campaign is a miserable flop… They may as well write off the bimbo… The girl of their dreams vanishes in a cloud of (cigarette) smoke,” she writes. Anand loved it but wanted one idler to be “hero material: sensible, studious, helpful, hard-working”, whose love story should “blossom, not go up in smoke”.

The title was to change, too, much to Paranjpye’s initial chagrin. A chance hearing of the expression “Chashme buddoor (May the evil eye be kept away)” saved the day. People were already familiar with the Rajendra Kumar song Teri pyari pyari surat ko kisiki nazar na lage, chashme buddoor (Sasural, 1961). Her Marathi brethren gushed at her “lovely film Chashme Bahaddoor”, Paranjpye writes in jest.

While each character added to the comedy which “cut across age groups” — David Dhawan’s 2013 reprise remains trite — its funny bone is “the movie-crazy pal” Baswani. From his failed attempts at kick-starting the bike (the metaphorical black mare of the classical-based song Kali Ghodi Dwar Khadi) in a very Charlie Chaplin-like balletic way to a Hindi-film-song-dance-medley parody sequence — his flair would make him “the comic cement” of another film, Kundan Shah’s Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (1983), for which Arya did the stills too.

chashme buddoor Working stills on the film’s locations (Source: Express Archive)

Arya met Paranjpye through Baswani. When she was “hunting” for a house for the blind-school principal Anirudh Parmar, played delicately by Naseeruddin Shah in Sparsh, art in-charge Baswani took her to history student Arya’s home, whom he knew from his theatre-teaching days at St Stephen’s college, Delhi, where they worked on the production of Ballabhpur Ki Roop Katha. “For Principal Parmar’s house, we were loaned a picturesque fairy-tale bungalow, which belonged to one Prof. Arya. It had a lovely garden surrounding it,” she writes. That professor was Arya’s father, then Hindi and Sanskrit department head at the college.

For 10-odd days, “they took over our house. My room became Naseer and friends’ adda. It got a little messy as thousands would try to barge into the house, bouncers had to keep the crowds away. Naseer was relatively unknown. Shabana Azmi was the big draw,” says Arya. He recalls how “Rajpal saab (then St Stephen’s principal WS Rajpal) was pretty clueless about art and cinema”. One day, he came to see the shoot and “asked Naseer, ‘young man, that’s good, everybody does theatre, but what do you do for a living?’ It was the most embarrassing thing for everyone. Naseer just smiled at him in his usual style.”

If “Naseer was constantly reading, improvising, and studying people,” says Arya, “Farooq was the coolest man I’ve ever met. Laidback, down to earth, humble, really nice.” “Farooq was disciplined to a fault. Never touched cigarettes or liquor,” writes Paranjpye. To show a “chain-smoking hero” she’d to “cut the shots as soon as he raised the cigarette to his lips”.

Sheikh’s fellow IPTA (Indian People’s Theatre Association)-mate Rakesh Bedi recalls how in the middle of the shoot, where his Omi sported a thin-line talwar-cut moustache, he had to complete his shooting for a Jeetendra-starrer film (Apna Bana Lo, 1982) in Bombay, where his character was clean-shaven. When Bedi returned, before each shoot, he’d go to the washroom and draw a line with pencil a few inches above his lips. This went on for four days, unnoticed. One day, while wiping his face, half of it got erased. He didn’t realise until Sheikh, standing a few feet away, couldn’t control his laughter. Of course, when the “hot-headed taskmaster” Paranjpye saw, she flipped.

“Sai was too intense, she would explode at times and be very nice at other. I, barely in my 20s, was apprehensive about the shots I clicked,” recalls Arya, founder of camera museum Museo Camera in Gurugram. His job was “fun and unique”, he just had to “observe everything in the form of stills”. Three kinds of still photography happens, he says: “when, incognito, you are shooting alongside the cameraman, to capture the scene being shot. Second, when an already shot scene is reenacted for the photographer, typically that’s what happens. And, third, you capture candid shots of people at work on the sets.” Among his black-and-white candids in Chashme Buddoor is one that appears in the colour movie itself, on Siddharth’s wall, competing with Jomo’s pin-up girls. It is of “Chamko girl” Deepti Naval’s Neha, who goes door-to-door selling Chamko detergent powder.

Aditya Arya’s photo of Ravi Kiran Shastri, from the production and make-up department, with Sai Paranjpye at the Defence Colony barsaati, the bachelor pad of the three pals, during the shooting.

Arya took a “strong dislike to filmi culture” in Mumbai and returned to Delhi to shoot the 1982 Asian Games. “Delhi was like a village before that. The first flyovers were built then, hotels like Kanishka (now Shangri-La’s Eros Hotel, opposite Le Meridien) came up, the colour TV came in,” he says. Chashme Buddoor, shot right before, “will remain a visual-history lesson of what Delhi used to look like,” he adds.

“Delhi is a character in Chashme Buddoor. I’ve not seen Delhi so participative in a film. Films may have been shot there, but without naming the places or going overboard in showing the locations, the beautifully picturised city became an integral part of the narrative,” says Bedi, 66, a former Dilliwallah.

It “lay bare its soul, providing a comprehensive Dilli darshan to its audience,” writes Paranjpye. Talkatora Garden’s hilltop cafeteria where the lead pair’s romance blooms, to Omi’s dream sequence on Badkhal Lake (in Faridabad), the climax on Tughlaqabad Fort’s slopes, the three friends serenading on the bike in “shady avenues, the majestic India Gate, the ruins of Purana Qila, the other broken-down relics dotted across the panorama, the colourful bazaars of ancient ghettos. Someone once said, ‘Your Chashme Buddoor is an ad film for Delhi.’ Wrong! Chashme Buddoor is my love letter to the city,” she writes.

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