On September 15 as part of my weekly lectures at Whistling Woods International, the subject of discussion was the unanimously proclaimed cult film of Kundan Shah, Jaane Bi Do Yaaron. Kundan’s debut work is a marvel of black humor and the best we have ever made or shall ever be able to make again, perhaps.
Just a few days back, on October 3 as I entered the precincts of Whistling Woods International there was a notice announcing a lecture by “Kundan Shah on Comedy”. My first instinct was to attend the lecture; my second was to go and meet him at least. I did neither. Today, I wonder if there will be a bigger regret that I shall have. Little did we all know that the master was 96 hours away from his last breath. One of Woody Allen’s greatest quote is, “I do not want to attain immortality through my work; I want to attain it by not dying”. However, even the most stubborn artists succumb only to illucidate the futility of life. So did Kundan. And all that we have left is the great legacy of his genius in the form of Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron. Kundan defied stereotypes in the film and turned them on their head. This seemed valid coming from a man whose persona was more that of a boring government clerk than a film maker.
Kundan made a few more films, some immensely forgettable like Dil Hai Tumhara and Hum Toh Mohabbat Karega and some nice ones like Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa and Kya Kehnaa, but all relatively pale in comparison to his phenomenal debut.
His foray into television with series like Nukkad, Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi and Waghle Ki Duniya was the most inspiring phase of Indian television. But JBDY was special. Made with a paltry budget of 6.4 lakhs, Kundan managed to get one of the finest ensembles ever and most of them went on to become some of India’s finest actors. On the technical side he had some of the best products from the Film and Institute of India, Pune of which he himself was an alumnus.
Kundan had impressed many including Naseeruddin Shah with his silent diploma film, Bonga a comic gangster caper, a genre hitherto unknown with Satish Shah as the main lead. But when he narrated Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, Naseer had no clue of what the script was all about but he had faith in Kundan for he had witnessed his brilliance in Bonga. Thus Naseer like some of the rest went more with their conviction in Kundan than his script. And after 35 years there ain’t a possible praise that has not been showered on this timeless classic.
While I can claim no acquaintance with Kundan, I can still say with pride that he took special classes for our batch of film direction at the Film and Television Institute of India way back in 1992 while he was on campus as the artist in residence for a batch junior to ours. “Let us see Bunuel”, said Kundan after we insisted that we too need to interact with him. He got the institute’s classroom theatre opened at night and regaled us with his understanding of the Spanish master, Luis Bunuel. Dach Night, a film of Bunuel was followed by Kundan enlightening us and ending with a drunken celebration of cinema wherein the master and the pupils both participated. It was an unforgettable one week with Kundan Shah for my batch-mates and me.
After that in Mumbai, Saeed Akhtar Mirza sent me to Kundan for he was looking for an assistant. Sad, I was once again late and missed the opportunity of working with Kundan on Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa. Post that I just met him twice briefly once at a Star TV party where he clearly looked out of place!! My last meeting with him left me sad. Here was the man who could have had the finest body of work but he sat in his simple, fading office with posters of some of his inconsequential films.
It can only happen in our 100 crore obsessed industry that it took the maker of Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron ten years to make his second film. This only shows the lopsided priorities of our movie industry that actually did not deserve someone as talented as Kundan Shah.
Khair Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron…