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Mr Ulta Pulta
Jaspal Bhatti, 57, died in a car crash this week. His colleague at Doordarshan looks back with affection at the years he spent working with the talented, irreverent but always gentle, comedian.
Once, Jaspal Bhatti and I were sitting in the Doordarshan canteen waiting to be served just before a recording. The waiter simply refused to look our way no matter how hard we tried to get his attention. Finally, Bhatti walked up to him and very politely invited him to our table for a chat. He then told the flabbergasted man: "Hamein koi jaldi nahin hai. Aaram se aana. Raat ko andhera ho jayega toh bhi ham yahin baithe rahenge. Koi baat nahin. Bas woh upar wale pareshan honge ke yeh log hain kahan (We are in no hurry, take your time, take all night if you wish. We aren't hassled, but the guys upstairs waiting for the cameras to roll might be). "
Another time, when he was left to wait for a shot in the baking heat of the studio lights, he said to the cameraman: "Yaar mera naam Bhatti hai par kahin aur baitha do (My name maybe bhatti (furnace) but please let me sit someplace else). "
That was what was so wonderful about Bhatti's wit - it left the target stumped but didn't cause any hurt. I could read it in the waiter's expression: did this man just pull my leg? Or am I imagining it?
The subtlety with which he tore apart the bureaucracy and political system was priceless. He was ahead of his times - no one talked disparagingly of the establishment in those days. For him, no cow was too sacred. Once DD called a meeting asking him to tone down his criticism. By then he had become so popular he could cut loose and make his own short films.
The '80s were years when the winds of change were sweeping through Doordarshan. Colour was coming in and there was an effort to offer more entertainment. We were part of this wonderful world on Sansad Marg in which there ensued a highly entertaining battle of egos between Doordarshan and AIR: was the dosa in the DD canteen better than the samosa at AIR? Was the DD reception more plush? Was it better to be old and musty or young and wannabe? For ten years we scripted the much-loved New Year's Eve programme for DD together. He did Ulta Pulta and some capsules for the morning programme I was handling.
I first met him when he came by for the first hasya kavi sammelan I called in Delhi. I was impressed with the cracks he made about the poets. There was a poet Ismail Azhar who wrote hikli nazm - limericks "spoken" by someone with a stammer. Bhatti did a wonderful impression of the poem and it struck me that he had hemarkable powers of observation. This was his strength - to watch, absorb and then reproduce all the ludicrousness around him with intelligence.
In those days, humour meant a lot of grimacing and throwing around of hands. He did none of that. He played himself even when he played others. His sets and costumes were minimal. A stethoscope around his neck and he was a doctor. He'd emerge from a manhole and become a PWD worker. He created entire worlds with his scripts, words were the most important thing in his humour.
His humour was a layered thing - it climbed a ladder, it uncoiled in different directions, led from one thing to another. Take this sketch: He is the middle-class man who tells his wife to tip the rubbish into the nasty landlord's courtyard, the wife says she is busy washing vessels. He says give me those and serve me dinner so I can fling the leftovers down. . . the landlord threatens to put him in jail for teasing his wife and he says, "Fine, I have seven days' paid leave anyway" and the wife says: "Great, so I can go to maika for a week. . . " His humour was inspired by the foibles of the ordinary man, the jealousies and the petty corruption, the carping between relatives, the squabbles between neighbours.
Somehow at the end of several episodes, the man would end up in jail. Of course his films were funny, but there was an underlying sadness. Like Chaplin.
Hospitals, medical bills, electricity offices, income-tax offices, these were his favourite hunting grounds. Something few people know is that he started out as a cartoonist. On a long interview with him for Akashwani, I asked him how his creative process worked. How do you make those cartoons? He replied: "Cartoon mujhe banate hain. Raat ko mujhe sapne main aake kehte hain 'Bana ja, mujhe bana ja' aur ban jate hain. (I don't make the cartoons, they make me. They wake me up at night and say 'make us, make us' and I make them). " Dreams were a great inspiration for him. As soon as he woke up he would put his dreams down on paper or discuss them with his wife Savita or partner Vivek Shauq.
Bhatti was a reformist. But his tool was humour, understated humour. That was why he was so loved, he made fun of the most serious situation but with intelligence and maturity. He was incomparable.
As told to Malini Nair
'HE WAS A FUN MAN, OFF AND ON SCREEN'
The film Power Cut was important for Jaspal Bhatti in many ways. Released this Friday, it was the launchpad for his son, Jasraj Bhatti, 26, who plays the role of a businessman looking to set up a power plant. The movie drew on Bhatti's stint as an executive engineer at the Punjab State Electricity Board. Bhatti was also returning to movies after a gap of 14 years;his last screen venture was Mahaul Theek Hai.
"Power Cut is about the dismal power situation in Punjab and also the hunger for political power. If ministers spent as much time addressing the power crisis in Punjab as in politicking, there would be fewer problems in the state, " says Zafar Khan, who plays the made lead in the film.
Shooting for the film started in February this year and was completed by March. The film was to hit the screens in July but the death of Bhatti's father and his brother-in-law delayed its release. In the film Bhatti plays a marasi, a traditional jester. The film also stars Bhatti's wife, Savita, and Prem Chopra.
Khan remembers Bhatti as fun man, both off screen and on. "He believed in enjoying himself. If he had to explain something to us on the sets, he would do it in a lighter vein. If he criticised the government, it was always done hanste hansaate, " says Khan.
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