I watched Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro! FINALLY! After years and years of people telling me I should. Of course, I didn’t have a copy with subtitles available to me until just a year ago, but that’s still 12 months when I could have watched Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, and I did not.
First thing that really has to be said before we can move on-DANG! Naseerji was HOT!
Second thing that has to be said-he needed to be hot, because he was playing a latter-day Jai from Sholay, and there is a certain level that needs to be reached to make that plausible.
(yeah, Amitabh’s still the hottest)
With those two acknowledgements out of the way, what about the movie as a whole? So clever! So clever that I need to watch it a second time when I don’t have to worry about following the plot. To save you from suffering the same way I did, here is the plot: Naseerji and Ravi Baswani are young photographers who just opened a studio in the city and are desperate for customers. They agree to work with the local muckracking paper, partly for money, and also because Naseerji has a crush on the editor, Bhakti Bharve. Bhakti convinces them to start following around a local commissioner, Satish Shah, who is in the process of being bribed by two wealthy builders, Om Puri and Pankaj Kapoor. And then hijinks ensue.
Okay, I have to take a moment to talk about THAT CAST!!! Oh my gosh!!! I was just talking about how brilliant Student of the Year is as a star creation machine, but Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro is like a character actor creation machine! Except for Bhakti Bharve, who did mostly theater stuff until she died recently. But everyone else is one of the basic building blocks for the film industry. Even the voice over was done by Anupum Kehr, and the random second female lead was Neena Gupta, who solidified her place in film history ten years later when she sang a duet with Madhuri Dixit.
It’s not just onscreen either! Kundan Shah wrote the script and directed, he went on to do Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa and, less impressively, Kya Kehna (and also, really frankly embarrassingly, Dil Hai Tumhaara. Man, that was a bad movie!). Also behind scenes were Satish Kaushik, who went on to make Tere Naam, which I just talked about as one of the all time greatest movies I have seen, and Vidhu Vinod Chopra, who went on to be, well, Vidhu Vinod Chopra!
(Directed Parinda, produced 3 Idiots and PK and Munna Bhai films, Oscar nominee, blah blah blah. But I did not know until just now that he also made Kareeb, and therefore this super cute song!)
I wish I could credit Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro with finding all these people and developing their talent, but really it wasn’t the film, the people were developed already, and they found themselves, sort of. The cast and behind the scenes folks were all graduates of FTII, the Indian Institute of Film and Television in Pune. Where I have been! It was super cool, we got to see the standard sets and studio lot, and got a tour of the film lab, and the nice film lab guy gave me some old film to take home, which is now on display in my apartment.
So really, this film didn’t “discover” their talent, Anwar Jamal Kidwai did, the first head of FTII appointed in 1974 (before that it was a smaller school, and just FII (film, no television)). And look, the system worked! That first group of students came out fully trained, ready to work, and ready to make a difference. They had a combination of training and enthusiasm that is rare in Indian film, as usually by the time a first film is made by a director, or writer, or actor, they have already completed an arduous apprenticeship which has served to beat out, I don’t exactly want to say originality, but any sense of puckishness? Whimsy? Crazed fearlessness? I mean, look at Kundar Shah’s own later work. Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa is charming, and it builds a whole world, and it says something kind of interesting about what makes people good and noble. But it doesn’t have half the edge that Jaane Bhi does. And it throws in songs and a love story and all of those standard film things.
Really, for all its cynicism about the Indian government, this movie is a proof that the system works. All of these very talented youngsters got a free, and excellent, education, based purely on merit. And they leaped out of school, ready to change the world and confront tyranny, fearless. Which is also why the current protest at FTII is so important, because we need these kinds of talented, trained, and fearless voices in the world, and that will only happen if politics is removed from the selection and training process.
Moving on! The film itself! As I said, Naseerji and Ravi are just playing a new age Jai and Veeru. Naseerji is tall (which is mentioned often) and smart and the leader. Ravi is shorter, and funnier (well, funnier like you are more likely to laugh at him. Naseerji is definitely funny in this as well, just more in a “with, not at” kind of way), and the follower. Also, Naseerji wears Jai’s iconic all denim outfit. And then they both end the film in the same jail uniforms Jai and Veeru wore.
The tone of the film is similar too. It’s kind of like if the jail sequence in Sholay never ended. Or if Sholay was just the jail sequence, meeting Basanti, Basanti and Rahim Chachi, Basanti learning to shoot, Basanti at the temple, the Koi Haseena song, talking to Mausi about the engagement, soo-icide, and then the end of the movie. Hey, that sounds pretty good! I would watch that movie! A humorous conman and his straight man partner work together to escape jail, and then romance a village belle. Fun goodtimes! And a tight 80 minutes.
I guess that’s one of the really remarkable things about Jaane Bhi, how consistent the tone is. The brilliance of Sholay, of course, is that it was able to include an 80 minute comedy movie, a 40 minute tragic romance, and a 90 minute action movie, and balance them all perfectly. The brilliance of Jaane Bhi is that it is able to keep a high level of crazed hijinks going for an entire 2 hours plus, and never feel unbalanced.
Part of this is because underneath all the hijinks is some real power and anger and bitterness. Andaz Apna Apna is great, of course, but it is great because it is so determinedly light weight. It is dealing with nothing more serious than men and women in love and how silly they can act sometimes. But Jaane Bhi do Yaaro is great because it is so determinedly serious at it’s heart.
That’s the real reason our heroes are a new age Jai and Veeru. Like Jai and Veeru, they are men who are too big for the times in which they find themselves. They laugh so they don’t cry, and so do we in the audience. Jai and Veeru steal and trick and joke and also fight and sacrifice. Because they can do the things that society is too ashamed and too weak to do for itself, whether it is fighting bandits off a train or marrying a spicy girl like Basanti or defeating Gabbar Singh. Or defeating a corrupt combination of media, developers, and politicians.
In some ways, in fact, Jaane Bhi do Yaaro is even more serious than Sholay, because it is going after the enemies that Sholay couldn’t. Gabbar Singh isn’t a real person. I am sure there are dacoits in who terrorize villages, but I don’t think Sholay is making a point about how we need to fight dacoits. I think it is making a point about how we need to fight fear and tyranny and those who try to control us. It’s a movie about the Emergency, but it is also bigger than that, it is about any time a bully comes to power and the noble men who stand against him are cut down and their power taken away (Thakur losing his arms is a pretty obvious metaphor).
While Sholay was all in metaphors, a nice fairy tale about a bandit and an armless man and the noble heroes who came to save the village, Jaane Bhi do Yaaro isn’t afraid to go after who it really wants to go after. Every corrupt power in India of 1983 is taken down and destroyed through laughter. Because laughter is the most powerful weapon against the powerful, much more powerful than anger. When we are able to look at a bridge collapse, a murder, a bribe that destroys the honest media, and laugh at it, then we can treat it as a problem that can be solved, instead of an injustice we rail against but never change.
Which is why the funniest, and best, part of the film is when it deals with and destroys the greatest power in India, religion. The play sequence is justifiably famous, and it manages to start with the Mahabharat, move into the Mughal era, than back out again, and destroy every “sacred cow” along the way. By the end of it, even religion has lost its power, because we were able to laugh at it.
And after softening us up for the whole film, giving us some nice slapstick and satire to make the medicine go down, the end of it reveals the real message that was there all along, the cry for India to wake up and see the injustice and the destruction of the honest man: