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'Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron' is not just a movie but a rite of passage. The cult film's theatrical re-release almost 30 years later has brought back Kundan Shah's masterful satire to a new audience.
In film terminology, the abbreviation NG (aka Not Good) is used to indicate that the take/scene is unsatisfactory and improvements could be made to the same. "One too many scenes in Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron (JBDY) would get an NG, " states Kundan Shah, writer/director of the film.
This same NG quality has ensured that every conversation around Indian cult classics takes note of director Shah's 1983 late bloomer. This politically charged film that is equal part slapstick hilarity and clever humour eschewed a lot of rules of mainstream filmmaking in India. "For a 132-minute Hindi film to have 10 scenes before the interval and 13 scenes after is unheard of. The scenes are so long it is comparable to a silent movie, " says the filmmaker.
Unfolding in Mumbai, the film tracks the travails of two professional photographers who accidentally chance upon the murder of a corrupt municipal commissioner and soon get sucked into the unrepentant world of building mafia.
The film's theatrical re-release created a new benchmark. Bringing a niche film back to the theatres almost 30 years after its release is no small feat, not around these parts.
Earlier this year, following extensive digital restoration of films from the National Film Development Corporation of India (NFDC) archive, the film body in collaboration with Shemaroo, released in DVD format, several gems that time had fogged over. In doing so, it granted films such as JBDY and Govind Nihalani's Party (1984), Saeed Akhtar Mirza's Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro (1989), a shot at new audiences.
Orchestrated by NFDC and PVR Director's Rare, JBDY's re-release although eagerly anticipated by cinephiles has upset members of the film's illustrious cast, which includes the likes of Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri and Pankaj Kapoor. N Shah, who plays the lead along with the late Ravi Baswani, was the first to express his disenchantment with the low profile re-release undertaken by NFDC.
"I haven't been actively involved with the re-release and I haven't spoken with the rest of the cast either. I gather, however, that while there has been substantial buzz on the Internet, the NFDC could've done more to bring in new audiences. Not everyone is Internet savvy and chances are that the online lot is already cued into the film, " explains the 65-yearold filmmaker.
While last week the film was released in 11 cinemas - including Mumbai, Delhi, Allahabad, Kolkata, Bangalore, Surat and Chandigarh - a few days into the release, PVR announced that on popular demand the film would also be released in cinemas in Vadodara, Nagpur and Chennai.
But if you're thinking director's cut, additional footage, JBDY Redux and the like, then rest assured you'll be sorely disappointed because no footage outside of the film survives. Not everything's lost though. Bongo, a 20-minute short film made in 1976 and which provided an early template for JBDY is still around.
"It has the essence of JBDY. We're constantly remaking the same films. Guru Dutt, for instance, his pattern is easy to spot. He repeatedly played the tortured protagonist. He maintains this pattern in most of his films including classics like Pyaasa (1957) and Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam (1962), " says Shah.
While Shah has no intentions of remaking JBDY, he does admit to having already scripted a sequel. "It is completely different from JBDY and takes up the story when the protagonists get released from jail 30 years later. It is a political film much like its predecessor, " he reveals.
"There could easily be more films like JBDY but producers are simply not interested. The film would never have been released if it hadn't been for the NFDC. When it was time to look for a distributor I remember Gul Anand, who has produced films like Chashme Buddoor (1981), telling me that he would've thrown the film out of the window had he encountered it on paper, as in script form.
"Despite all his talk, Gul was very keen on distributing the film but eventually lost the bid to Romu Sippy who outquoted him by a few thousand rupees. There's a reason why I'm not working on several projects;we simply don't have forward thinking producers and distributors like the old fellows anymore. They supported films which were not products. People think I've retired but I have to agree with Godard when he said: I have not retired;I'm simply out of work, " he laughs.
Shah says, with little hesitation, that his technically low-fi film, made on a measly budget of rupees seven lakh, 'crossed all expectations'. He concludes, "As a filmmaker you have keep imagining about how great it would be if your film turned out a certain way;Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro turned out to be stuff of the imagination. "
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