Vikas Jha, who now is the head of Google’s Research initiative in USA, was amongst the first cinema buffs that had seen JAANE BHI DO YAARO in 1983 and had prodded us, the class of 1983 in the Central School at Tagore Garden, New Delhi, and all of us were zapped after seeing the film. Jury may be out whether the intention was such when Kundan Shah had made the film, but for youngsters like us who were at the cusp of launching into a career, it was a welcome reference point to strive out to fight against the system. Ideology perhaps, blood was young, but now that the film is re-releasing through initiative of PVR’s Director’s Rare and NFDC, it indeed is an opportune time to go down memory lane with this cult film, and there is no better way to do it than through the book written on JAANE BHI DO YAARO by Jai Arjun Singh, a film critic.
As Jai Arjun Singh has put in the book, indeed to strait-jacket JAANE BHI DO YAARO into a category is a futile exercise, as there is scarcely anything one can compare it to. JBDY cannot be classified into a category as it was accessible but provocative, durable and real in a deeper sense. It evoked laughter and continues to evoke laughter whenever it has been telecast, and indeed Doordarshan played a stellar role in making it a cult film by repeatedly telecasting it, beneath the laughter that it invoked, there is an element of cold fury, feeling of nihilism.
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One scene that has stuck for all the fans of JBDY is Thoda Kaho Thoda Phenko, which now when we have grown old dawns as a stark commentary or rather indictment of the consumerist culture, but in those days i.e. early eighties the scene encapsulated aspirations about the ability to eat chocolate cake (indeed it was aspirational for most of us during those days) and the fun of throwing things at people.
Another dialogue of the film which has become prophetic and underlines the inability of the administration to provide houses to the poor migrants in metropolitan cities is associated with the inauguration of the flyover where Om Puri, the smarmy builder claims – aage jaake is flyover ke neeche log ghar banayenge– scores of poor people have made space beneath flyovers there permanent abodes.
We still continue to languish in our attempt to provide safe drinking water to our residents in cities, what to talk of being able to do so in the villages. Kundan Shah had prophetically commented upon it in JBDY. Character of John De Mello informs Tarneja that America is a very advanced country where gutter ‘ka paanee aur peene ka paanee alag hota hai‘. Every year when it rains gutter water is found mixed with drinking water but nobody bothers and things carry on.
As a film JBDY could succeed, as observed by Jai Arjun Singh , was owing to the fact that Kundan Shah had the innate ability to pick up hard realities, heighten them to the point that they became absurd- the gutter ka paanee scene, or the dialogue of – log is flyover ke neeche ghar banayenge,, or the absurd statement of Commissioner Sirvastava- ek din ke liye shahar ke sabhee gatar band kar denge– points out to the fact that separated from reality are the systems that are supposed to work or rather defining contours of limiting the absurdities that continue to manifest in one form or the other to this day.
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From the point of view of star cast JBDY could tick owing to the fact that the actors worked together rather than competing against each other so there is not a single node of disharmony that is evident in the film. Incidentally the script of JBDY was registered with the Films Writers Association on All Fools Day, i.e. 01 April 1981, it was not intentional but turned out to the prophetic making fool of the manner in which the systems work in our country. Incidentally, the film was supposed to begin shooting on 01 April 1982, but had to be postponed as Naseeruddin Shah and Ratna Pathak decided to marry on 01 April 1982.
JBDY could not, however, have seen the light of the day if National Film Development Corporation would not have financed it. It was the time when Sarkar was maaee baap,, and a letter head of NFDC opened many windows for Kundan Shah to venture into areas which otherwise would not have been possible to shoot at be it the shooting at buildings under construction, or shooting at Marine Lines, railway station, the magic wand of NFDC did the trick. Through the book one also comes to know the absurdities of taxations associated with cinema. If a film was of the length 2 hour 24 minutes it fell under a different tax slab, while a film above this time frame fell under a different tax slab. JBDY was cut to have duration of 2 hour 24 minutes, though the film when it had completed had running time above 5 hours. JBDY is also a tribute to the editing abilities of one of the finest editors of cinema Renu Saluja, who edited the film in such a manner that it has become a case study of editing for the future editors who want to make their career in editing.
JBDY was the film that was made without egos being involved. So Vinod Chopra and Sudhir Mishra were assistant directors for JBDY, while Kundan Shah had been assistant director to Vinod Chopra for his first feature film. As a matter of fact, Kundan Shah, Renu Saluja, Vinod Chopra, Satish Shah and Om Puri were together at FTI Pune and so they knew each other very well and therefore this magic perhaps could happen. Such was the bonhomie associated with film making for JBDY that when Kundan Shah used to shout- taking, 15 voices used to reply back in chorus-giving. As Kundan Shah has himself commented in the book- what it pointed to was the unimaginative freedom without any responsibility- which was central to making a film of this kind.
JBDY acquired cult status as it was a story that underlined the trials and tribulations of common man against the system, a fact which again is gaining momentum in the present times. There is a dialogue in the film- 80 crore Ke bharat kee bhagyarekha 10000 se kam ameer logo ke haath mein hai– a dialogue that was pertinent 28 years ago, but more so apt and pithy in the present times.
The cult status the film has acquired has prompted Kundan Shah to make a sequel of JBDY, but one of his lead players Ravi Vaswani is no more, and he would have to find a replacement. His handicap would be more manifest as finding a replacement for Renu Saluja indeed is going to be a tough ask. But one only hopes that for the sake of cinema his erstwhile associates, be it Vinod Chopra or Sudhir Mishra along with Satish Shah and Naseeruddin Shah would come back together on the occasion of the re-release of film to take a vow to give the present generation the state of drift that the country is into.