It was only a few days ahead of my 14th birthday, I still remember, that I had my first brush with satire on screen. The medium was a Keltron television that arrived with much fanfare into our living room. The Asian Games of 1982 had come and gone more than a couple of years ago. Televisions became a fad in India during the Asian Games, and later on turned out to be an easier access to entertainment for my tiny village in southern Tamil Nadu. Movie screens, that showed only Tamil and Malayalam films, were a bit far off from home, and it demanded a lot of planning by the parents to take us to one of them.
The Hindi films that were shown on television every Sunday was my only means of watching them. It was the Keltron television set that informed me that the Hindi filmdom had entertainers of the likes of Rajendra Kumar, Madhubala, and Sanjeev Kumar to Sashi Kapoor, Mumtaz and Dev Anand. Many superheroes and glam dolls had brought with them a magnetic aura that lured me to watch more Hindi flicks. This culminated in the wait for the Sunday evening to arrive, so that a three-hour session of entertainment, complete with scenic locales, song and dance and out-of-the-world fight sequences, would unfold before me. It was during those days that I stood in awe in front of a small screen which played out magical tales of heroism and fascinating cinematic extravaganza.
And one such Sunday, the movie Doordarshan aired happened to be one which had absolutely no stars in it. Neither of the names that scrolled on screen were familiar. I had been waiting for a bit of Bachchan heroics, or a session of Rajesh Khanna-ish romantic saga with those mellifluously crooned songs that would stay in my lips for the rest of the week. But then, this was different. There wasn’t Bachchan, Khanna or Amjad Khan or even a Johny Walker who would send me to bed laughing aloud.
This film, the titles said, was co-written and directed by a man called Kundan Shah, and had actors like Naseerudin Shah, Om Puri, Ravi Baswani, Neena Gupta, who I had never known in any of my filmy Sundays! The film title, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, however, sounded funny. From among the seriously spelt Mother Indias, Deewars, Silsilas, and the Sholays, this title stood out as a sore thumb. But then, the name had in itself something that made me watch it. And, then, a whole new world of Hindi movie viewing was thrown open in front of me.
As Naseer, Om and Baswani ran riot across the screen, Kundan Shah stood before me as a titan. Here was one man who could spur you to think even as you rolled on the floor laughing aloud. The stuff this movie was made of had never been experienced by the kid in me who was ready to sail on from school to college. Even as the Malayalam movie greats had charmed the film buff in me big time, the revelation that a film made in an alien language could keep you mesmerised occurred me to me then.
Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro was indeed a revelation. The film that told me that dark satires can stay fresh even after so many years of its making. The way Kundan Shah took on the corrupt world of politics, media, bureaucracy and more has never been attempted since. The actors who played various characters still stay adored in the sanctorum of my heart, though no one, not even one among them, had regaled me with superhuman actions or effervescent song and dance episodes.
Kundan lived on within me, extracting more love from me, every time he came up with more films and small screen ventures like Nukkad and Wagle ki Duniya. The news space in the web has started screaming out to the world that Kundan Shah is no more, after he succumbed to a heart attack this morning.
Kundan Shah, to me, can never die. As director Vikram Bhatt wrote on Twitter, “Kundan Shah, the man who gave us the unforgettable Jaane bhi do yaaro leaves us. He is gone… He lives on…” Every time, I chance upon the news of his death, something prompts me to go back and watch Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro yet again. Kundan lives on, making me smile, and laugh and do some serious thinking on the affairs of the world around me.