(‘Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro’ hit the screens in 1983. Blassy, 27, watched the film for the first time this year.)
I was quite nervous about watching Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro. The Kundan Shah-directorial seemed to have everything going for it. It had a stellar cast in Om Puri, Naseeruddin Shah, Neena Gupta, Pankaj Kapoor and Satish Kaushik – the golden gang from NSD. It had the likes of Vidhu Vinod Chopra and Sudhir Mishra on its credit rolls.
No one seemed to have a single bad thing to say about the film. So why was I afraid? Because how could a film be that good? It was being put on such a high pedestal when I was sure it didn’t age well.
This is 80s Bollywood we're talking about, a time when homophobia, racism, body shaming and other forms of discrimination were casually thrown around in the name of entertainment. Why should this film be any different?
"It's hilarious, wait till you see the Draupadi scene," a friend told me. I was reading a book on Draupadi when I watched this film. Incidentally, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro is said to be inspired from Blow-Up (1966), a film I have been struggling to finish for the last month or so. Full circle, I thought, wondering why the universe had sent this film to me at this point in my life.
The plot follows Vinod (Naseeruddin Shah) and Sudhir (Ravi Baswani), two quirky but sincere photographers who find themselves unwittingly entangled in a sinister corruption scandal. Rival industrialists Tarneja and Ahuja woo the Commissioner, D’Mello, for construction contracts. When he double-crosses Tarneja, he has him killed. Vinod and Sudhir find out and run to Shobha, the badass editor of the cheekily-named Khabardar magazine who is working in cohorts with Tarneja. In the end though, the bad guys get away. And Vinod and Sudhir, well, let’s just say they’ll never sing ‘Hum honge kaamyab’ the same way again.
The film opens with the launch of the shady-looking ‘Beauty Photo Studio’. "Wel-come" reads the banner, as Vinod and Sudhir wait for their guests. But the only one in sight is a little pup.
A startlingly young and surprisingly good-looking Naseeruddin Shah has my attention, but I can’t get over how much Baswani looks like Hrithik Roshan from his pre-Jaadu days in Koi Mil Gaya (2003).
I would later learn that Baswani died in 2010, two years before JBDY was restored and re-released. In the opening scene, where Vinod and Sudhir wait for their guests at the studio launch, Vinod laments, "Rs 2,500 Kundan Shah se liye hai". What a blast they must have had while shooting, I thought, as it hit me that several members of the star cast were no longer among us as I wrote this review.
When the duo realise their opening day is a disaster, one of them says "Oh shit". This is quite impressive to someone like me who lives under the tyranny of the Pahlaj Nihlani-led censor board.
Speaking of creepy men, Baswani’s character thinks women find unwanted advances endearing. This is exactly what I was worried about.
When a woman slaps Sudhir for being creepy, he says “Wrong number”. “Dial theek kiya karo,” Vinod says, giving me a line I know I will use for life.
I stare in disgust as he grabs and kisses Neena Gupta while she resists. WHAT? WHY? Before I can process the scene, the credits kick in. What is The Indian Express doing in this film's acknowledgements?
Sudhir goes back to being creepy right after the credits. Vinod tries to set him straight but my relief is short-lived, because Naseeruddin Shah BREAKS MY HEART and decides to get in on some of the sleaze a few scenes later. Before I know it, I'm cracking up at the Hema Malini gag. Why is this film so unpredictable?
'Good Always Wins Over Evil'
All the characters, except our protagonists, have hillarious introduction scenes. The slimy Tarneja (Pankaj Kapoor) uses unscrupulous means to attain his goals and he thinks he's above the law. I wonder why he sounds familiar (HAHA). If it weren't for the bizarre scene where he sprays perfume on an employee before talking to him, I'd say the character is based on someone we all know.
D'Mello (Satish Shah) is perfectly cast as the obnoxious Commissioner who has just returned from America. "I'm an honourable man," he says in his introduction scene, as he smoothly pockets a cigarette case Tarneja offers him, a prelude to the dramatic "Happy Birthday" scene that could easily fit into one of Munnabhai's ‘gandhigiri’ sequences. Is this what inspired Vidhu Vinod Chopra to make the franchise years later?
Its surreal to watch the late Om Puri play Tarneja’s rival, Ahuja, a well-meaning, but fiery-tempered alcoholic.
Puri's scenes with the Commissioner's body are comedy gold. His timing keeps the scenes from falling flat. He's so young in this movie, it’s heart-breaking. Remind me to approach Farhan Akhtar in seven years from now to ask him to star in an Om Puri biopic. The resemblance is uncanny.
Bhakti Barve plays Shobha, a no-nonsense editor who has her eyes on the money. She yells at her assistant, fixes a broken printer and beats up two bad guys in her introduction scene alone. She’s probably a little kinky too, what with her telling Vinod that their relationship is only that of a master and her slave, all the while resting her heel on his chest. On display in her office is the world’s biggest ‘Editor’ sign, and a poster of Robert Frost's Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. My spidey-sense tells me this is a Nehru reference.
Also Read: 5 Inspiring Facts About Jawaharlal Nehru
Shobha may be a badass, but she ruins it a few minutes later as she pouts and seduces Vinod by telling him she needs his help because she's a woman. Sigh.
The women in this film are strange creatures. The gorgeous Neena Gupta is painful to watch in a role that only has her batting her lashes when she’s not trying to be funny.
To Laugh, or to Cry?
The film is peppered with jibes about society. While some are emotional, like Vinod's outburst after being harassed by a cop, others hit home, like the one that the journalist (played by Vidhu Vinod Chopra!) delivers while confronting Tarneja.
The commentary is powerful, and the gags are relentless.
Every time I try to find a flaw in the film, it smacks me in the face with something profound. For example, who in their right minds pours beer like this?
But the very next scene had me staring at the screen in awe. A blink-and-miss signboard bearing a purported quote from JRD Tata, about the dangers of mixing politics with business.
But that’s exactly what this film is. It goes from gag...
to a reality check...
to a gag...
to a reality check...
...and back. See what I mean? Relentless.
The film also sneaks in a reference to Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyo Aata Hai, a film that Kundan Shah wrote and Naseeruddin Shah starred in. How meta.
'Hum Honge Kamyaab'
D'Mello's murder is the plot point that neatly divides the 2 hour 11 minute film into two halves. The murder takes place in a park named after director Michelangelo Antonioni, a hat-tip to Blow-Up.
As he inaugurates the flyover named after D'Mello, Tarneja dedicates it to the people of the city. The poor will live under these bridges one day, he says. In a spectacular touch, posters of Uski Roti (1969) and Chirutha (1981) adorn the foundation pillars of the flyover. Both films are based on the hardships faced by the underprivileged; and like Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, come from the kitty of the National Film Development Corporation of India (NFDC).
In Tarneja’s observation about the poor, lies the heart of the film, as it serves to remind us that no amount of comedy will distract viewers from the underlying message. The poor are always the first to be crushed under the nexus of corruption, the tentacles of which extend well into the worlds of politics, corporations, and even the media. The film, nay a monkey, holds a mirror up to the world we live in today.
D'Mello's death and the collapse of a flyover sets in motion a Priyadarshan-esque chase sequence. The Commissioner's corpse makes for some rip-roaring scenes.
The chase sequence culminates in a theatre, where a play on the Mahabharata is underway. This is supposed to be the funniest scene from the film. If only things played out like this for Draupadi. Watch:
"Truth always triumphs," Tarneja says at the end of the caper, as the camera pans to a banner reading 'Satyamev Jayate' and 'Hum Honge Kaamyaab...’ plays in the background. With under a minute left for the film, I had no idea where this was going. Until the final scene that is. It made me laugh out loud, swear, applaud, and shake my head – in that order. The last minute of this film is my new favourite movie moment of all time. It makes up for all the flaws even.
I will always remember Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro with a wide grin, just like everyone else who has had the privilege of watching this gem of a film.
More Relevant Every Day
As the 'bad guys' discuss how the law is but a plaything in the hands of the wealthy, Tarneja says, "40 percent of Mumbai's population lives in slums". Today, 34 years after JBDY first hit the screen, that number has gone up to an estimated 55 percent, just in case you were wondering if this film is still relevant today. Besides, the world will always have Tarnejas, Ahujas and D'Mellos.
It is only as I write this review that I realise why the censor board certificate at the start of the film struck me as much as it did. It represented a simpler time, one where you could criticise the administration and get away with it. Sigh. They simply don't make films like these anymore, yaaro.