In 1983 a film called Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro released. I wasn’t old enough to be taken to a cinema hall and my parents thought it fit to avoid the film themselves. I don’t blame them. Looking at the poster and the cast of characters it isn’t a film any moviegoer would want to spend money on.
The film was made on a small budget with an ensemble of small-time actors from Hindi cinema, that while widely acknowledged as character actors now, has since never assembled for one film. Naseeruddin Shah, Pankaj Kapur, Ravi Baswani, Bhakti Barve, Satish Kaushik, Satish Shah, Om Puri played the lead characters with Sudhir Mishra and Kundan Shah the stars behind the camera.
For lack of a star, the film’s poster featured Naseeruddin Shah, Bhakti Barve, Ravi Vaswani and Om Puri, looking like he had an action-filled role to play in the film. It’s hardly a surprise most theatre goers chose to spend their money elsewhere.
The film faded quickly from theatres and went to the national broadcaster Doordarshan, thanks to its producer being the National Film Development Corporation. It then aired like many films on Doordarshan over and over again. It would air unannounced in the morning, afternoon and night of random days and you needed either divine intervention or good luck to catch it.
I caught it in my teens, a result of my mother’s recommendation on what to watch on the television. I ended up seeing it from mid-way. I then saw it again, and again. Every time I saw it I realised there was something I had missed the previous time. A dialogue, a hidden meaning, a pun or some madcap thing inserted there just because the makers of the film thought it would be fun to do it.
It was also the first cult film I had seen. The beauty of a cult film is that you don’t know who else has seen it and when you find them, you have something to talk about instantly. Some, like me, with too much time on their hands would watch it any chance they got. We gradually realised we knew all the dialogues, at least the funny ones.
From asking if cakes were from Switzerland, to sitting at meals and saying “Thoda khao, thoda phenko, bahut mazaa aayega“, and the immortal “Beta Duryodhan, yeh kya ho raha hai!”; the film gave us dialogues to use at various points in life which allowed us to smirk while using them.
It was easy to understand why a generation that never saw Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro in the theatres accepted it with such joy. You constantly read about the real life Tarnejas and Ahujas (the construction magnates played by Pankaj Kapur and Om Puri) who broke the law but never paid for it. You learnt gradually of unrequited love, being used and corruption that had pervaded every section of our society, and when you did there was always something in the film that had already spoken to you about it.
The film isn’t a guide to life, no film unfortunately is, but it is a wonderful handibook on how the Indian system has functioned since 1983. Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro gave Indian cinema one of its funniest films and wittiest takes on Indian society yet. The film made you laugh out loud throughout and yet when you were done watching the film, you never found yourself smiling.
This weekend it releases again on the big screen, almost 30 years since it released on film screens. For anyone who’s a fan of the film, there’s no bigger film releasing this year.