Movie Review: Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro

When I was in school, we had to study a short story by Khushwant Singh titled, Portrait of a Lady. I love how it opens with the following lines:

My grandmother, like everybody’s grandmother, was an old woman. She had been old and wrinkled for the twenty years that I had known her. People said that she had once been young and pretty and had even had a husband, but that was hard to believe. My grandfather’s portrait hung above the mantelpiece in the drawing room. He wore a big turban and loose-fitting clothes. His long, white beard covered the best part of his chest and he looked at least a hundred years old. He did not look the sort of person who would have a wife or children. He looked as if he could only have lots and lots of grandchildren. As for my grandmother being young and pretty, the thought was almost revolting. She often told us of the games she used to play as a child. That seemed quite absurd and undignified on her part and we treated it like the fables of the Prophets she used to tell us.

Similarly, I sometimes find it hard to wrap my head around the fact that my parents and grandparents used to be young once upon a time. Even if I were to picture them as kids, I can only do so in black and white. I can’t imagine them growing up in a world that had colours in it. Watching movies like Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro has a somewhat similar effect on me. I find it almost preposterous to think that oldies like Naseeruddin Shah and Neena Gupta were also once young and full of life. For me, it’s hard to shake off the image of Naseeruddin Shah playing the role of the old drunkard from Iqbal.

The movie is over the top, outlandish, improbable but somehow, it still works! It’s a brilliant satirical take on corruption in Indian society. Although the movie was released almost four decades ago, it is still as (if not more) relevant today as it was back then.

There is one scene in the movie that really captures the essence of the movie. In the scene, a new bridge is being inaugurated by Tarneja, a corrupt builder, played by Pankaj Kapoor. During the inauguration, he says, ‘Yeh pul sirf ek pul nahi hai. Yeh laakhon logon ka sapna hai. Aur kai gareeb log ek din is pul ke neeche apna ghar basaayenge.‘ (This bridge is not just a bridge. For lakhs of people, it’s a dream come true. And one day, many poor people will build their homes under this bridge.)

At the inauguration, another guest goes on to say this about the late Municipal Commissioner after whom the bridge is being named, ‘Unhone ek hi morche pe itne mahaan kaam kiya. Aur woh morcha hai… GUTTER! D’Mello saab aksar kaha karte the – Kisi desh ki pehchaan agar kisi cheez se hoti hai, toh woh hai GUTTER. Woh gutter ke liye jeeye, aur gutter ke liye mare. Marte marte, unke aakhri shabd thhe GUTTER. Hum unke yaad mein ek din ke liye sheher ke saare gutter band kardenge. Isliye aap logon se praarthana hai ki aap log peene ka paani ek din pehle bhar ke rakhe.’ I have no words to describe the brilliance of this one scene, the effect of which is heightened by the thunderous applause that this announcement is met with.

There is yet another dialogue that had me chuckling. The character Ahuja (played by Om Puri) says this about his business rival, ‘Hum cement mein raith milaate hai. Woh toh raith mein cement milaata hai. Pul toh tootega hi!’ (I mix sand into cement. He mixes cement into sand. It’s no wonder that the bridge collapsed!)

In my opinion, there’s also something magical about seeing the old Bombay in these old movies. I find it fascinating to see sights that I am familiar with in a somewhat different era and setting. It evokes a weird sense of loss for what once was. (I recently saw Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyoon Aata Hai, another movie set in Bombay, to which there is a tongue-in-cheek reference in this movie.)

Another aspect of the movie that really caught my attention was how the two principal characters are extremely hesitant to travel without a ticket on a local train. This, after a drunk policeman waylays them in the middle of the night and relieves them of all the money in their pockets! This stands out in stark contrast to how the editor of a newspaper famous for exposing corruption is willing to accept hush money.

In conclusion, if you’re in the mood for a dark satire with over the top antics and some rib-tickling dialogues, you really should watch the movie. You won’t regret it one bit. I could literally have gone on and on about some of the dialogues from JBDY, but then that would kill all the fun for you!

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