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Sukanya Verma

What makes a perfect comedy?

January 22, 2004

Two enthusiastic youngsters set up a photo studio in Mumbai.

At the shop's opening, they wait for guests and potential customers with a catchy slogan: Is shaher ka sabse beautiful Beauty Studio ka 50 per cent malik Vinod/Sudhir aapka swagat karta hai (Vinod/Sudhir, owners of the most beautiful Beauty Studio in town welcome you), and a table full of samosas, ladoos, gulab jamuns and beer bottles.

Their excitement is shortlived. The appetising table is mercilessly vandalised.

But nothing, and I mean nothing, tramples the spirit of Sudhir Mishra (Ravi Baswani) and Vinod Chopra (Naseeruddin Shah). Idealistic as a Moral Science textbook, they believe Hum honge kamyaab ek din (We shall overcome some day).

A still from Jaane Bhi Do YaaronI am speaking of Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, a small NFDC film created by a bunch of enthusiasts with all that they had in terms of creativity and resources.

Made at a shoestring budget of roughly Rs 8-9 lakh, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron was no blockbuster, but it contributed to cinema, like any film ought to.

Somehow, I can't resist drawing a parallel with a line from the The Lord of The Rings - The Fellowship of The Ring by J R R Tolkein. In one of the chapters, elf queen Galadriel comforts hobbit Frodo Baggins by saying, "Even the smallest person can change the course of future".

In my opinion, that is precisely what Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron did. Irrespective of its commercial fate, it was a universal hit: it grew beyond the realms of art and commercial cinema and is unanimously loved by one and all.

What an achievement it is to appeal to all kinds of mindsets. Kundan Shah and his cast and crew managed to do just that.

Twenty-one years down the line, the opening credits alone make an interesting read. Look at the cast: Naseeruddin Shah (The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen) and Om Puri (East is East) are international stars now. Satish Kaushik (who also co-wrote the dialogues with Ranjit Kapoor) is a full-fledged masala filmmaker. Neena Gupta donned the director's mantle for small screen. Pankaj Kapur awaits the release of Maqbool, while his son Shahid storms Bollywood. Satish Shah is a leading comedian.

The crew is not far behind. Sudhir Mishra who assisted Kundan Shan on the film as well as co-wrote the story and screenplay is a director, though his recently released Chameli opened to mixed reactions. Vidhu Vinod Chopra was the production controller and appeared in a brief cameo as Dushaasan in Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron. Now an acclaimed director, Chopra notched a winner in Munnabhai MBBS, which he produced and co-wrote. Binod Pradhan and the late Renu Saluja handled the cinematography and editing.

Another bit of trivia is that the names of the lead characters -- Vinod Chopra and Sudhir Mishra -- were derived from the above-mentioned personalities.

Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron is a comedy unlike any. It is HUMOROUS. Yet you cannot ignore the underlining layer of sarcasm in the subject that mocks the existing corruption.

This is how it all begins: two photographers -- Vinod and Sudhir -- set out to make an honest living only to be manipulated by Shobha (Bhakti Barve), the shrewd and hypocrite editor of Khabardar newspaper.

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Her objective is to blackmail the power-hungry builder Tarneja (Pankaj Kapur). The ever-smiling Tarneja believes everything is fair in business: Business ka ek hi matlab hota hai. Doosre ka nuksaan aur apna fayda [In business, the only thing that matters is the other's loss and my gain].

Legalities mean nothing to him: "Kanoon aam aadmi ke liye hai. Tarneja ke liye nahi [The law is for commoners. Not for Tarneja]." He doesn't fancy the fourth estate either. In logon ko Bengal ki khadi ya Arab saagar mein dubon dena chahiye [The press should be dumped in Bay of Bengal or Arabian Sea], he scoffs.

Tarneja and his sidekicks -- Ashok (Satish Kaushik) and Priya (Neena Gupta) -- bribe the greedy Commissioner D'Mello (Satish Shah) with cash, estate and Swiss chocolate cake to get their tenders passed. Remember the "Thoda khao, thoda pheko. Maza aayega [Eat some, throw some. It's good fun]!" sequence?

There is another contender vying for D'Mello's attention: Ahuja (Om Puri). No less creepy than Tarneja, the perpetually drunk Ahuja baits the Commissioner with more money. The latter is more than willing to comply. Tarneja learns of this deceit and bumps off D'Mello.

Meanwhile, Vinod and Sudhir accidentally discover a picture that shows Tarneja murdering someone. The duo uncovers the dead body. It's D'Mello. But this is no ordinary dead body. This one's got a knack of getting away. In a hilarious encounter with an inebriated Ahuja, D'Mello finds his way into Ahuja's guesthouse.

After a series of confusions, goof-ups and eye-openers, Vinod and Sudhir resolve to take the dead body and hand it over to the police. But D'Mello is chased relentlessly in burkhas and Mahabharata costumes by Tarneja, Ahuja and Shobhaji, followed by a grand finale amidst the Mahabharata play.

Just recollecting these classic one-liners is enough to tickle the funny bone:
* Shaant gadadhari Bheem
* Nahi,
Draupadi jaisi Sati nari ko dekhkar maine cheer haran ka idea drop
kar diya hai. Jai ho, aisi Sati nari ki jai ho.
* Yeh sab kya ho raha hai?
* Bhaiya, yeh aap keh rahein hai?
(drastic change of tone)
Abbe sale, kehde cheer harne ko.
Draupadi tere akele ki nahi hai. Hum sab shareholder
* Magar bade bhai ke vachchan ki aagya ka palan karna hi padega
Ahuja: Kyun?
Abbe natak main aisa likha hai.
Ahuja: Palan to humne kabhi apne baap ki aagya ka nahi kiya. Tu cheez kya hai?
* Dhanush tod diya. Teen rupaye ka nuksaan kar diya. Main nahi karta natak watak. Bhaad mein jao tum sab.
* Nalayak, adharmi, durachari, vamachari, bhrasthachari, bol sorry! Apne sasur ko nahi pehchante? Main hoon Draupadi ka baap, Dhrupad.
* This is too much. Yeh Akbar kahan se aa gaya?
A still from Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron
Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron didn't end on happy or hopeful note. But it worked.
 The entire film was a non-stop laughathon.

Here's a recap:
--Tarneja, Ashok and Priya locked in D'Mello's bathroom (Ashok, Ashok switch dhoondo. Sir yeh meri naak hai).
--The 'time' bomb failing to blast on 'time' (Sir, bomb phat gaya!).
-- Vinod and Sudhir looking for the dead body in Antonioni park (Vinod, chal ghar chalte hain!).
-- Commissioner Shrivastava's 'gutter' speech in the memory of the deceased D'mello. (Kisi desh ki unati ki pehchan agar kisi cheez se hoti hai toh woh hai gutter. Woh gutter ke liye jiye. Aur gutter ke liye mare. Marte hue unke aakhri shabd the gutter).
-- Ashok and Vinod's hush-hush telephonic conversation (Code kya hai? Albert Pinto ko gussa kyun aata hai?).
-- Ahuja trying to make conversation with the dead D'Mello.
-- The Mahabharata disaster.

There was not a single song in the film. But Vanraj Bhatia's fine background score moved in perfect rhythm with the film's swift pace. The zingy beats reflected the duo's adventure; the gentle violin suggested a hint of possible romance between Vinod and Shobhaji.

Another interesting aspect of the film was Mumbai, a city full of colourful personalities with diverse morals and ethics. Tarneja, Ahuja, Ashok, Priya, D'Mello and Shobhaji represented these vivid colours through their diverse characters. The middle class man who just wants his daily bread (read banana in JBDY's case) through honest means and possesses an undying respect for life was aptly portrayed by Vinod and Sudhir.

Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron had a dream cast. The acting was spontaneous and the comic timing was perfect. Shah and Baswani shared an amazing tuning. Pankaj Kapur's unapologetic dishonesty balanced Satish Kaushik's clumsiness. Bhakti Barve's ice maiden act was convincing.

But Om Puri's flawless performance deserves special mention. Also, Satish Shah made one hell of a dead body.

Kundan Shah's debut film became the Sholay of his career. Like Ramesh Sippy, Shah could never better Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron. His Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa had the old touch but it wasn't the same.

Two decades after its release, JBDY is still topical. The corruption persists. The common man still gets taken for a ride.

Here's a wild thought: what if the film were to be remade with the same technical team but different actors?

Here's my pick:
Vinod Chopra: Rahul Bose. (Sensible yet vulnerable)
Sudhir Mishra: Saif Ali Khan (Spontaneous)
Shobha: Nandita Das (Can convey smugness appropriately)
Tarneja: Amitabh Bachchan (A comic villain, that's one role I'd love to see Big B in).
Ahuja: Anil Kapoor (Versatile)
D'mello: Govinda (For his comic timing)
Ashok: Rajpal Yadav (For his earnestness)
Priya: Kareena Kapoor (To add a touch of glamour)

What do you think? Who would your cast be?

Let me know!

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Feel free to share your experiences with stars and your views on films! I will try and incorporate it in this column. And do let me know about films you would like to discuss.
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