Director Kundan Shah’s Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, an exceptionally entertaining satire, is a near perfect film. Its genre of black comedy was a rarity of the era. Despite that, the movie had clear relatable and engaging points that led to its cult status.
The film features a talented ensemble that includes Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, Ravi Baswani, Pankaj Kapur, Satish Shah, Neena Gupta and Satish Kaushik. A strong script backs their class acts, in this biting satire on corruption.
The story begins with professional photographers Vinod (Naseeruddin Shah) and Sudhir (Ravi Baswani) inaugurating their photo studio. They are simple folks, aiming only to earn an honest living.
Beginning with a lukewarm first day, their business picks some momentum when Shobha (Bhakti Barve) the editor of a newspaper Khabardar approaches them. She is working on a story to expose the corrupt nexus between the city’s top bureaucrat D’ Mello (Satish Shah) and rich builders Taneja (Pankaj Kapur) and his rival Ahuja (Om Puri). Shobha hires Vinod and Sudhir to assist her as photographers, in completing the story and her investigation.
Taneja and Ahuja often compete with each other in getting government infrastructure contracts by bribing the Municipal Commissioner D’ Mello. They then build sub-standard structures, making substantial profits in the process. One such lucrative contract is the building of flyovers at prominent locations in the city that is the bone of contention between the two businessmen.
Commissioner D’ Mello suddenly dies, supposedly from an illness. Taneja dedicates a bridge he has built to his memory. However, the bridge collapses shortly thereafter leading to an investigation into the cause. This brings Taneja and his shady dealings under the scanner.
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During the same time, Vinod and Sudhir, decide to supplement their income by entering into a photography competition. While looking for interesting photographs in a park, they accidentally capture a murder on film. When they develop the photograph further, the murderer is revealed to be Taneja.
They continue investigating, and eventually discover the body of the victim-commissioner D’ Mello. They team up with Shobha to make Taneja pay for his crime. But soon realize that she has her own agenda. Intent on punishing the guilty, Vinod and Sudhir take matters in their own hands. They want to take D’ Mello’s body to the authorities and hold the culprits accountable. But others want to retrieve the body to serve their own purposes.
What follows is a cat and mouse chase leading to the final climax, and one of the most iconic onscreen scenes – the Mahabharata play.
This is how the final drama unfolds. Vinod and Sudhir’s efforts to hide D’ Mello’s body from everyone else, leads them to a theatre, where the gambling scene between Pandavas and Kauravas from the Mahabharata, is being enacted.
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In a hilarious comedy of errors D’ Mello’s dead body ends up on stage, draped in Draupadi’s saree. All the players try to get the body off stage discretely. Their desperate attempts, put a whole new comically absurd spin on the play. This is by far one of the funniest moments of the film.
Eventually the real actors call the cops, and Vinod and Sudhir think they are saved. But it is not over till it’s over. The story continues for one final twist. It is this ironic end that is actually behind the name of the film – Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro that literally translates into ‘let it go, friends’.
You have laughed, but in a corner of your mind lurks the uncomfortable thought – this could well be true. And maybe if it happens to you, you will have to let it go. That’s what the film is about.
The story is at times dark and layered, at times pure comedy. But at no point does it stray away from its heart – a sharp satire on corruption.
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Many films with great actors sometimes fail; let down by a shoddy script. Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro has no such flaws. The story and screenplay is by Sudhir Mishra and Kundan Shah, who have been meticulous and diligent. Everyday reality, restrained satire and smart comedy are intelligently blended in the narrative.
The performances are impeccable. As Vinod and Sudhir, Naseeruddin Shah and the late Ravi Baswani deliver relatable and unforgettable performances as the quintessential common men of the world. You can see the shift in them – from being starry-eyed believers, to crusaders fighting the good fight, to eventual cynics. At all times, you can connect with their good-hearted vulnerability.
Satish Shah as the unabashed unethical bureaucrat is in his elements. Pankaj Kapur and Om Puri play the at-war businessmen to perfection. Neena Gupta and Satish Kaushik also lend great comic support.
This is also Kundan Shah’s directorial debut. Despite this being his first film his attention to details is evident all through. This is seen in the skilled pacing of the action, smart comic sub-plots and in the overall build up of the story leading up to the crisp climax. It is not surprising that he went on to win the national award for the film.
The theme is something people can identify with. It is not the everyday harassment by small players for petty gains. It is about the much deeper, much worse culture of quid pro quo stemming from the collusion of unethical players. These selfish acts committed for personal gains create a web of deceit and inept governance that only benefits individuals. There is little thought left for public good.
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At its very core, the film is a realistic portrayal of such rampant corruption. But it is not prescriptive. It does not offer a solution.
Yet, it does not despair. It just tells the story of the way things are, and stays clear of banalities and being preachy. It is entertainment – pure and simple.
This film proved the high quality of Indian cinematic excellence when superfluous embellishments were let go.
Cinema is serious business. Satire is not every one’s cup of tea. But the entertainment quotient of this film is so high that it is really a source of common joy.
Despite a serious subject as its central theme, the intelligent comedy in the movie is effortless and enjoyable with each watch.
An anytime, any day kind of film. Highly recommended!
By Aastha Madhur
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A self-confessed addict of overanalyzing all things onscreen. Prone to tangential thinking. An avid reader she especially loves Dickens, LOTR, and her Kindle. She is currently working on her second romance novel.