Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (JBDY) laughed away the gloom and provided comedic relief at a time when corruption, intolerance and frayed tempers were at their pear. There is a sharp zaniness about JBDY which serves as a scathing antidote to the growing sense of collective dismay that the nation faced as extremism and inflation hit the nation hurling it towards damnation.
May we regard Kundan Shah's JBDY as the funniest Hindi film ever made. I am not too sure. There was a sense of deep somberness behind the giggles and guffaws. The plot about two out-of- work photographers named. Vinod Chopra (Naseeruddin Shah) and Sudhir Mishra (Ravi Baswani) has episodes of acute hilarity and interludes of absolute anarchy. You know from the Faustian and Shakespearean fervor and frenetic pacing, that there was an abundance of improvisation on the sets. You also realize after watching the film's newly restored edition that it was made on a shoe-string budget which afforded meager finesse, and practically no re-takes. Nothing can restore the frugality, austerity and begging-blow crisis that the film had to face.
The actors have to survive by their instincts which could only take the narration this far and no further. Frequently, the gags run out of steam and you can see the actors groping in a creative darkness to emerge with flashes of genuine inspiration. There are too many references and cross-references to politicians and scams.
The nexus between politics and journalism is brought out through Shobha Sen (Bhakti Bharve), a hard-nosed newspaper editor who uses the two heroes to expose the builder Tarneja (Pankaj Kapoor) and his murky collaboration with a municipal officer named D'Mello (Satish Shah). D'Mello soon ends up as a corpse in a traveling coffin that leaves us chortling heartily or coughing uneasily, depending on how far we are willing to accept the outlandish and the outrageous that the film throws forward.
The sequence where a time bomb is planted by Tarneja and his meteoric assistant (Satish Kaushik) under the chairs of Bhakti Bharve, Naseer and Baswani, or the episode where Naseer and Kaushik speak on the phone to each other in the same room. The slapstick humor makes you laugh in sheer embarrassment.
In JBDY everyone is out to have fun, and the brunt of the joke is the system that fosters and encourages corruption at every level. With a dominant male star cast, even the women Bhakto Barve and Neena Gupta acquire some of the masculine behavior.
Bharve "had-nosed journalist" act is astonishingly unladylike for those times, although she uses her charms to outwit her male adversaries and manipulates Vinod Chopra (Naseer). In the end when Suddhir and Vinod are framed for scams which they has set out expose, Shobha Sen walks away from the duo leaving them to face the music.
Among its many pioneering achievements which includes passing off comedy as political satire-is the use of the inspirational song 'Hum Honge Kaamyaab', a desi rendering of We shall Overcome a protest song conceived for the African American Civil Right Movement. It went on to acquire a renewed popularity through its ironic usage in the film.
To this day, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron remains a crazy film, filed with madcap situations straight out of comedies from the silent era with a corpse rolling down Mumbai's highways and time bombs planted to kill the good. The message is loud and clear: facer can fight a moral-political fascism.
Characters talk incessantly either about corruption or about being corrupt. We can see that the downslide in the moral values in Indian politics and bureaucracy had already begun. Amitabh Bachchan's anti-establishment film Andha Kanoon rubbed shoulders with Govinda Nihakani's Ardh Satya during the same year that Kundan Shah's comedy film made an impact.
The angry brand of heroism was being favored. Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron is also an angry film. But the wrath of the common man is here seen in a lighter vein. Laughter is used as the medicine to fight injustice.
In the end, the confusion on stage where the film's characters mingle with the characters from the Mahabharat to panic and anarchy served as a metaphor for the tangle that the country found itself in months before Mrs. Gandhi was killed.
Kundan Shah Speaks
"I don't know how Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro happened. It was shot in the spirit of a home video. We were all young, excited and penniless. The script was so crazy that Romu Sippy who has produced some really important comedies like Chupke Chupke, Gol Maal, Khubsoorat and Khatta Meetha and who was supposed to producer Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, said to me that my script was absolutely crazy. I doubt I'd be able to sell the idea even today to any producer. Hats off to NFDC for believing in my script. And the way Naseeruddin Shah and Ravi Baswani caught the mood of the film, was just the incentive the film needed. None of us did the film to get rich or famous. We believed in it.
There is a script I have about a prostitute and politics. It is in the same league as JBDY. It'd be the story of a prostitute on the run who lands up in a town where by-elections are on and ends up becoming the Chief Minister. I feel today one can attempt such a subject independent of market forces.
Every creative artiste attempts one of them in various moods and permutations. In comedy, when you make your first film you put in as many gags as possible. With time you make sure the gags diminish. Finally, there should be comedy without laughter. Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu made transcendental cinema. He made comedies that reduced the laughter.
JBDY is definitely a hard act to repeat. Once the script had been approved by the NFDC all we had to do was make sure we delivered the film within the budget. There was no creative interference and there was absolute freedom from audiences; expectations because during those says NFDC films were never leased in theatres. We were liberated from expectation. If another JBDY is exacted from me, then I have that spirit of anarchy. We need a free market. We shot JBDY in 16 mm. Today, it can be shot on the digital format and on a very basic budget and technique."