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25 years of Coolie No 1: Writer Rumy Jafry recalls his first film with Govinda and David Dhawan

The film brought Jafry a nomination for the Filmfare award for Best Screenplay, losing out narrowly to Aditya Chopra for Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge.

Keyur Seta

The pair of director David Dhawan and leading man Govinda was riding a popularity wave in the 1990s, delivering a seemingly never-ending run of laugh-riots that fans viewed over and over again. One of their most celebrated and successful films was Coolie No 1 (1995), which completes a quarter century today.

Apart from the director and the artistes, one major reason for Coolie No 1's stupendous success was its script. On the 25th anniversary of the film's release, Rumy Jafry, who wrote that script, revisited Coolie No 1 in an exclusive conversation with Cinestaan.com.

Jafry had actually started work on Saajan Chale Sasural (1996), another David Dhawan-Govinda comedy, first, but Coolie No 1 got completed and released ahead of it. “This was my first release with both David Dhawan and Govinda," the writer said. "So, along with it being important in my career, it is also emotionally close to me.”

It was Jafry’s work on Waqt Humara Hai (1993), starring Akshay Kumar and Suniel Shetty, that had brought him to the notice of editor-turned-director David Dhawan.

“Somebody narrated a few comedy scenes from that movie to him," Jafry recalled. "He said my humour is very good and we should work together. So, I had already developed a relation with David saheb by then. There were four or five occasions [before Coolie No 1] when we could have worked together, but it didn’t happen.”

Dhawan specializes in commercial entertainers. His brief for Jafry was simple. “He just said we need to make an entertaining film, that’s all! He said I should keep in mind that every scene needs to be entertaining. He doesn’t even include scenes that are not entertaining,” said Jafry.

Coolie No 1 was about a coolie Raju (Govinda) who is struggling to find a bride for himself. Meanwhile, matchmaker Shaadiram Gharjode (Sadashiv Amrapurkar) brings a prospective groom to the household of the wealthy Chaudhary Hoshiarchand (Kader Khan) for his daughter Malti (Karisma Kapoor).

Kader Khan, Govinda and Karisma Kapoor in Coolie No 1

Hoshiarchand insults Gharjode when he learns that the groom doesn't belong to a wealthy family. He wants a family far richer than his own for Malti. Humiliated, Gharjode decides to get even with Hoshiarchand and presents Raju as a wealthy businessman looking for a bride.

Jafry said having a star like Govinda in the film made things very easy for him. “He is such an incredible actor that he inspires you," he said. "When you know there is Govinda in the film, the scenes start coming into your mind by themselves. You know that whatever you write, he will do it, even better it.”

Kader Khan saheb was not just my 'ustad', he was my father figure: Govinda pays tribute

In the film, when Hoshiarchand spots Raju working as a porter, he claims the porter is his twin. The 'twin' speaks in a tone that is angry as well as funny. “It developed while we were having a discussion with Govinda,” said Jafry. “When he showed us that character’s way of talking, we thought it would be entertaining.”

Harish and Kanchan in Coolie No 1

Of course, along with Govinda, the late Kader Khan, too, made an equal contribution to the final result. Jafry said he developed the character of Chaudhary Hoshiarchand after a lot of thought. “Any father would want his daughter to go into a good household. But here he was too greedy,” the writer said. “When a person becomes greedy, he becomes blind. He is a 'hyper' person who speaks and walks fast. Such people take impulsive decisions out of greed. And Kaderbhai played it outstandingly.”

Jafry also said there are times when you have to add a special dollop of humour to characters that don’t have much to do with the main plot. He cited the example of Kader Khan’s character from his own Mujhse Shaadi Karogi (2004). “He is the house owner. He isn’t contributing to the story. So I turned it into a character with an unusual illness wherein one day he is blind, the next day he is mute, and so on,” he said.

Looking back, Jafry described his relationship with Dhawan in a hilarious way, just like his films. “You can imagine how deep our friendship is considering that we have worked on as many as 21 films together. I have spent more time with David Dhawan than I have with my family. And the same goes for him. I speak with him right after waking up 99% of the days,” he said, laughing.

Some of the other films on which Jafry and Dhawan collaborated are Judwaa (1997), Hero No 1 (1997), Bade Miyan Chhote Miyan (1998), Biwi No 1 (1999), Haseena Maan Jayegi (1999), Jodi No 1 (2001) and Mujhse Shaadi Karogi (2004).

Along with its box-office success and fan appreciation, there is another reason why Coolie No 1 is special for Rumy Jafry. During the Filmfare awards function in 1996, the filmmaker BR Ishara, a member of the jury, told him that the jury was divided between Coolie No 1 and Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995) for the Best Screenplay award.

Despite not winning the award, Jafry was happy for the film to have reached that stage. “The chairman gave his casting vote to Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. Ishara also said he liked my screenplay a lot in which a question is raised in a scene and then answered in the next scene and on it goes,” said Jafry.

The screenwriter is well aware of the popularity of Coolie No 1 even after 25 years. But even he was surprised by the extent of its popularity last week. “Madhur Bhandarkar sent me a video of mine and David Dhawan’s credits in the film. I was pleasantly surprised. He said he has started showing his daughter my films in the lockdown,” revealed Jafry.

Jafry has also written the remake of Coolie No 1, which has also been directed by David Dhawan, and stars Varun Dhawan, Sara Ali Khan, Paresh Rawal, Jaaved Jaaferi and Shikha Talsania.