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What inspired Naseeruddin Shah to choose Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro?

The actor explained why he decided to work with Kundan Shah in the cult classic, which released this day 33 years ago.

Naseeruddin Shah with Ravi Baswani in Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro

Sonal Pandya

During the late 1970s, Naseeruddin Shah was mostly known for his roles in the parallel cinema of Shyam Benegal and Girish Karnad. He started to branch out a bit by acting in different types of films, from the Rajshri film Sunayana (1979) to Hum Paanch (1980), an adaptation of the Mahabharat produced by Boney Kapoor. One of the projects he picked up after these films was Kundan Shah’s Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (1983).

Even today, Naseeruddin admits his fondness for the film. At a masterclass conducted earlier this week in Mumbai, he talked about his reasons for choosing the project. He said, “I believed in Kundan [Shah] because he was one of the very few film institute [FTII] direction students [whose] diploma films I didn’t get a headache watching.

"Kundan made Bonga, which was quite insane. It was a comedy. Nobody in the film institute made their diploma film as a comedy, they all made statements of cosmic importance. They had to show all their abilities in their first movie. They had to prove that they are [Federico] Fellini, [Akira] Kurosawa and [Jean-Luc] Godard combined. Nobody thought of proving that he is Manmohan Desai, K Asif and Vijay Anand combined.”

Bonga, which gave Naseeruddin the faith to take up the film, was made seven years before Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro. It was a 22-minute diploma film starring Satish Shah and Rakesh Bedi. Om Puri and Suresh Oberoi also had small parts in it.

For the 29th anniversary of the film, the actors and director Kundan Shah had got together on The Front Row with Anupama Chopra. On the show, Naseeruddin mentioned how impactful the ending was for him when he read the script for the first time. He said, “I didn’t know whether I was finding it funny or not. I couldn’t judge. But then in the end, when it came about, I was hit in the pit of my stomach and I said, ‘Wow, what an absolutely great end.’ If only for this, it’s going to be a really memorable movie.”

Made on a modest budget of Rs7 lakh, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro wasn’t popular when it was released on 12 August 1983, but in the ensuing years it has gone on to become a cult classic. It also won the Indira Gandhi award for Best First Film of a Director at the National Film Awards.