Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (Just Let It Go, Friends) is a 1983 black comedy directed by Kundan Shah and produced by the NFDC. It is a satire on bureaucracy, the media, the real estate business and the rampant corruption in our politics. It was the first satirical Hindi comedy that was not slapstick. The film has an ensemble cast including Naseeruddin Shah, Ravi Baswani, Om Puri, Pankaj Kapoor, Satish Shah, Satish Kaushik, Neena Gupta and Bhakti Barve.
The film won Shah the 1984 Indira Gandhi Award for Best Debut Film. Baswani won the 32nd Filmfare Best Comedian Award. Incidently, four important parallel films had a significant impact on the audience in 1983: Govind Nihalani’s Ardh Satya, Kundan Shah’s Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, Sai Parajape’s Katha and Shyam Benegal’s Mandi.
Binod Pradhan, who later on went on to do films like Parinda, 1942, A Love Story, Devdas, Munnabhai MBBS and Rang De Basanti, was the cinematographer. Ranjit Kapoor, brother of actor Annu Kapoor, who later wrote The Legend of Bhagat Singh and Lajja, co-wrote the story and dialogues with Satish Kaushik. Shah co-wrote the screenplay with Sudhir Mishra, and Vidhu Vinod Chopra was the lead production controller; the names of the lead characters – Vinod Chopra and Sudhir Mishra – were taken from them. Renu Saluja, a four-time National Awardee for Parinda (1989), Dharavi (1993), Sardar (1993) and Godmother (1999), edited the film.
In an interview, Shah said that the film was inspired by a real-life event narrated to him by two of his FTII batchmates who, for lack of work, ended up opening a photo studio in Hyderabad. Another inspiration is said to have been a 1966 English film, Blow Up, directed by Michelangelo Antonioni. In the film, a photographer believes he may have witnessed a murder and unwittingly takes photographs of the killing. Shah paid homage to Blow Up by naming the site of the murder in Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro Antonioni Park.
Shah applied for a loan of Rs 4 lakh to NFDC when he decided to make the film. The NFDC re-estimated the cost at Rs 6.85 lakh. However, the final cost surpassed even the re-estimated budget at a final cost of Rs 7.25 lakh. Sholay was made during the same period at a cost of almost Rs 2 crore. Shah employed his friends and alumni from FTII for the cast and crew in an attempt to keep the cost low – Naseeruddin Shah, for example was paid Rs 15,000, while Ravi Baswani was paid a mere Rs 6000. The crew was served a very basic diet, lauki and dal, and many slept on floor.
The script of the film stretched to 4 hours and produced 3 hours of footage, which was then edited by Saluja into a 132-minute film.
The film is humorous right from the opening scene – the two photographers are waiting for guests at the inauguration of their photo studio when a dog approaches them. Suddenly, it stops and pees on the road. The film’s dialogues are sharp and punchy, carrying a socio-political subtext. The dialogue ‘thoda khao thoda phenko (eat a little, throw away a little)’, between Naseeruddin Shah and Commissioner De'Malo while they eat the Switzerland cake is a comment on American consumerism.
This film is most remembered for its iconic ‘Draupadi' cheer haran’ sequence, which had the audience in splits and is still considered the best comic scene in a Hindi film in Indian cinema history. What adds to its brilliance is that it was largely improvised during shooting.
Another iconic moment is when an intoxicated Puri starts talking to the corpse of Satish Shah and gives him a lift by towing his car. One more is the amazing Mahabharata scene in the climax, where blind Dhritarashtra says ‘Ye sab kya ho raha hai? (What is happening?)’. The person playing Dushaasan was Vidhu Vinod Chopra, the film’s production controller. The actor initially hired to play the role demanded an increase in payment just before the scene was to be filmed. In response, an irritated Chopra put on the costume and make-up and took his place. This wasn’t the only time a production department member had to be pulled in to play a role. Production manager Deepak Qazir was pushed to do the now-epic gutter speech at the demise of Satish Shah’s character in the film. Once again, this was not planned.
It is said that Kapoor and Kaushik wrote lyrics for what was supposed to be the title track of the film, ‘Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, Jo Hota Hai Ho Jaane Do Yaaro’, to be filmed on Naseeruddin Shah and Baswani. Eventually, the song was dropped, but the mukhada was retained as the film’s title. The final product contained no songs.
Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro is one of the most improvised films in Indian cinema history. The action and dialogues in most of its scenes – including the famous time-bomb scene – were largely improvised.
Strange as it may seem today, the film was not an immediate success. It is said that the actors had to pay from their pocket to see the film’s premier show in Mumbai on 12 August, 1983. The film was re-released in November 2012 and received much critical appreciation, eventually becoming a cult classic.
As is the case with most great films, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro was not designed for eminence. A first-time filmmaker and his young team were merely trying to make a mad movie they believed in.
Though the tone of the film is comic, its undercurrent is heavy with anger and frustration. The last scene is a sad commentary on our system, which allows the corrupt to go scot-free and punishes those who try to expose the corrupt system – the whistleblowers.
Shah mentioned in an interview that, while finalizing the film, they realized that the film had become a nonstop comedy. So, for a break in the levity and to provide relief to the audience, they decided to add some serious moments. This was achieved by the addition of the song ‘Hum Honge Kamyaab’, adapted by the government from the American Civil Rights anthem, ‘We Shall Overcome’ during the Emergency, to infuse some gravity and emotion.
Another interesting aspect is the conspicuous display of the posters for Uski Roti, Maya Darpan, Chakra, Chiruthaand Gaman (all NFDC films) on the walls under the Kemps Corner flyover, under which Puri pulled off his drunkard scene, one of the most iconic in Hindi films.
The humor of Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro is timeless, enjoyable light-hearted moments served with a tinge of irony and anger. If you watch this film even today, it will put you in an effervescent mood – that too, without being slapstick.
O.P. Srivastava is a Mumbai based filmmaker & writer.