Farooq Shaikh's 1986 comedy Peechha Karro never tries to overreach its universe of sheer silliness and inanity
Released 35 years ago, Pankaj Parashar's madcap comedy Peechha Karro used stupidity to a great effect, turned it almost sublime, and made screwball transcendental.
When the going gets tough, we turn to our favourite guilty pleasures. But when entertainment is concerned, is there even any guilt to what gives one pleasure? In our new series Pleasure Without Guilt, we look at pop offerings that have been dissed by the culture police but continue to endure as beacons of unadulterated pleasure.
It has been a struggle to find a suitable opener for this piece on Pankaj Parashar’s 1986 comedy Peechha Karro. And also, a good enough middle, and then an appropriate end. How to put in words the inexorable draw of the sense of absurdity that runs through this film? How to explain its strange hook or spell out why I need to get a fix of it every now and then?
I have kept turning to the film innumerable times — from the days of the rented VHS player in the '80s to the current streaming era (Peechha Karro is available on Amazon Prime Video) — while many around me have shrugged in disbelief, and looked askance at my incurable fetish. I am bound to keep watching it just as intently in the future even though I have by-hearted every dialogue, am familiar with every twist and turn, and am on first-name terms with every character, be it the Brigadier or Boss No 1 or 2, Hari Giridhara or Giri Haridhara, Roma, Vijay or Kandha Ram.
Peechha Karro has been endlessly delightful for me with its unapologetic, nonstop nonsense. In which film I would have chanced upon a delectably ditzy heroine dressed in a “Tokyo Disneyland” frock with Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse inscriptions and frilly ribbons in her hair? It’s a film that gave an actor like Farooq Shaikh more costume changes in its two-hour duration than in his entire roster of movies put together. A film in which it is entirely possible for a rose to grow on a peepal tree. Now please don’t ask how.
Call them campy or cheesy, the thing with guilty pleasure films, like Peechha Karro, is that in a world that takes itself too seriously and amid people who are madly in love with the face they see reflecting in the mirror in front of them, these films are refreshing in their lack of self-obsessiveness. In fact, far from exulting in their own selves, they revel in playing themselves down. Peechha Karro is ever ready to crack a joke at its own expense. It is a lark of a film, and abides by all the concomitant creative protocols. Its universe is that of sheer silliness and inanity, and it never tries to overreach that.
Two undercover agents — Hari and Giri (Ravi Baswani and Satish Shah) — are out to get a Brigadier (Amjad Khan) suspected of selling defence secrets to Boss No 1 (Anupam Kher). They blackmail Vijay (Farooq Shaikh), his future son-in-law, to spy on him and get them the evidence. It could well have been a regular spy thriller. But forget characters with depth, expansive locales or breathtaking action, the film is an assortment of random comic set-pieces, some of which are childish and puerile (a character called Choos Lee who is the son of Guth Lee), while others are bonkers in the best and most inspired way possible. And everyone is uniformly unhinged. Add to it the fact that the actors play their respective roles in the hammiest, most over-the-top way possible, and Peechha Karro is nothing short of a joy to behold. As a character says in the film: “Saare paagal ikatthe ho gaye ho" (All the kooky souls have gotten together).
The brilliant actors in the lead aside — Khan, Baswani, Shah or Shaikh — Parashar managed to assemble an entire who’s who of the comic world — Javed Khan, Viju Khote, Rajendra Nath, Rajesh Puri — all under one script, written by the wacky Rajesh Majumdar who happened to be the writer of Dada Kondke’s “double entendre” films. In Peechha Karro, however, he tells a wholesome story. But then only Majumdar could have come up with such elements as a codeword like “Kutte ko billi ka salaam” or its more smutty English translation, "The pussy salutes the dog."
On a quick telephonic interview, Parashar remembers having hit it off with Majumdar from the word go. “We were on the same wavelength, took to each other instinctively. We had a month to write it but no office. So we wrote the film in cheap Irani cafes and beachside shacks, and mostly at Lucky restaurant in Bandra. We would write a scene, and laugh out loudly,” he says.
Those were the times when you could joke about a Chinese invasion in Hindi films and run giddy with drug-laced chocolates. So they put all that in the script. They had a character swear by Ben Kingsley instead of Gandhi. Or an engineer hero with an undertaker father called Kandha Ram spouting such gems as "Krishna ne zindagi ke baare mein Arjun ko Ramayana mein kaha tha ki zindagi ek safar hai suhana, yahan kal kya ho kisne jaana," "Shakespeare ne Menaka ko kaha naach meri Bulbul ke paisa milega," and "Desh ki aabaadi ka kya hoga, jisko dekho jiye jaa raha hai. Kambakht koi marta hi nahin." Translations of these in English, am afraid, are injurious to enjoyment of any kind. So we shall let that pass.
Peechha Karro does not hide its penury; it wears its low budget on its sleeve. It was Parashar’s sophomore film sandwiched between the debut rom-com Ab Aayega Mazaa and the Goa-based crime caper Jalwa. “It was made in total gareebi. I barely had any earnings. There were not many projects on hand either,” he recollects. In fact, he had shot the pilot of the popular detective comedy Karamchand, and was waiting for a word on it. Eventually, that got okayed just as the shoot of Peechha Karro got wrapped up. He plunged immediately into the series which eventually came out much before the release of the film itself, and made him richer with six projects. “A lot of madness in Karamchand comes from Peechha Karro. I started out by making a detective series but couldn’t keep away from comedy,” says Parashar.
The making of Peechha Karro is as mad a story as the film itself. Amjad Khan confessed not being able to understand what they were trying to do in the film but went ahead nonetheless for his love for the team. Shaikh agreed because of his love for biryani; it was being shot in Hyderabad. “He was a foodie, and every day, we would try out new eating places,” says Parashar.
Satish Shah and Parashar had studied together at Film & Television Institute of India, and Baswani had worked with him in Ab Aayega Mazaa. Kher was part of the National School of Drama team — that also included Satish Kaushik and Neena Gupta — that had come to FTII for six months to get in front of the camera. “Every day, he [Kher] would bring me tea at 7 AM, no one was casting him, he wanted an offer from me,” laughs Parashar. Eventually, when he did join the cast, Kher came to the sets with the paraphernalia befitting a star —his own spotboy and makeup man. “The team was mad as hell. We all fed on each other’s energy,” says Parashar.
With limited money and resources at their disposal, the entire film was shot in and around Hotel Rock Castle in Hyderabad. “The catacombs and the den were created around it. The hotel lobby was turned into the hospital for one scene,” says Parashar. They carried on, driven by the passion for cinema.
The love for cinema also reflects in how the film itself plays with popular culture of the times — referencing films like Chhota Chetan, Shiva, Sholay, and icons like Bruce Lee. The music (Sameer-Anand Milind), the choreography, and the song-n-dance sequences are tongue-in-cheek homage to the kitschy South productions of the day, usually starring Jeetendra, Sridevi, Jayaprada et al, with Shaikh striking odd poses and shaking his hips amid flowers and balloons, in the mountains and by the beach, sporting the pristine white shoes and trousers (though dirtied, deliberately so, around the knee) associated with the Jumping Jack. In fact, look closely, and there is a method in the madness, a lot to unpack from a supposedly mad comedy that Peechha Karro is. The sound and fury do signify something. There is a coherent structure to the seeming outrageousness.
Tale the conversation between Shaikh and Khan, where Shaikh is wearing a grey wig and pretending to be his own father. The entire long scene was done in one shot, says Parashar. “In fact, that day, the cinematographer was in splits each time they’d begin doing the scene. He had to be sent out of the sets. I sat on the camera for the sequence,” says Parashar.
Everything in the film is in an endless loop — same people, doing same things cyclically. Bumbling detectives hiding in postboxes and behind bushes which are then assumed by a by-passer hawaldar to be haunted by some violent ghost; there is a taxi driver who is constantly instructed to chase someone but can never get it right; there is a father unwittingly getting dressed down to kachchaa-baniyan (undergarments) and asking for towel, and then there is his neighbour Rastogi with an ailing wife who keeps talking about her: "Kal jaaye, aaj jaaye, abhi chali jaaye" (She might pass away tomorrow, today or right away).
Things come to a head in a wedding at Hotel Parklane, followed by mysterious happenings in its room 328 — specially in a cupboard. Vijay’s zameer (conscience) gives him a lesson in patriotism — “Agar desh bachega, toh Kashmir bachega aur tum saikron honeymoon mein jaa sakoge (If the country is saved, Kashmir will be saved, and only then can you go on many honeymoons). “Honeymoon jaaye par desh na jaaye (You can let go off the honeymoon, not the nation)”, he is told.
The action eventually converges at a khufiya adda (secret den) of Boss No 1, which is far from concealed. It could well be a public garden or a picnic spot for families. In the rambunctious climax, practically everyone is tied with ropes, and everyone manages to break loose. In fact, the father-son relationship, the finale, and the villain Crime Master Gogo in Andaz Apna Apna, owe a lot to Peechha Karro just as Peechha Karro has a lot to thank Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro for.
Parashar tells me that the film began its run at the box office on a lukewarm note but was well into getting the audience love by Tuesday. Andaz Apna Apna and Peechha Karro, along with Badshah, belong to a haloed group that used stupidity to a great effect, turned it almost sublime, and made screwball transcendental. Desi Austin Powers of sorts that preceded the international man of mystery. But while the other two have gathered a fair share of adulation over time, Peechha Karro’s unique celebration of inanity has faded away. The 35-year-old film is truly the kind you can have a blast with. Perhaps time to light the comic fire again.
Read more from the Pleasure Without Guilt series here.
Namrata Joshi is a journalist, National Award-winning film critic, and a fledgling festival programmer.
Even when I was as young as five years old, I could sing word for word several of Lata Mangeshkar, Mohammad Rafi, Kishore Kumar, RD Burman, and Asha Bhosle songs. I didn’t know what they meant, which movies they were from, or who acted in them, but I knew them by heart.
The wholesome, unadulterated joy of watching cinema in fragments — where parts are often greater than their sum
I am now unembarrassed about my propensity to watch and re-watch specific scenes, especially the ones with great background score. Being able to take pleasure in the small moment is, I find, as important and valid as anything else.
To see a couple of privileged folk, frantically trying to scramble their way to safety, their faces whiter than their original white after what they have just seen. It is oddly satisfying to see how it ends for them, because I know it will.