Back in the 1970-80s a revolution happened in music which was promptly imported to Indian shores.
Yes, disco music got into the system of many an Indian human, manifesting in slick body movements on the dance floor. This was body music, a signal to the limbs but not really for the soul.
Not to stay far away from this new sensation, Bollywood filmmakers jumped on the disco wagon. Bellbottomed heroes swaggered on the floor while the music directors copied copiously from Western disco bands.
Meanwhile, in 1976, a young actor strode into a film career through Mrinal Sen’s Mrigya. He went on to win the National Award for Best Actor for that film. His name was Mithun Chakraborty and,boy,could he dance!.
His effortless gyrations and nimble footwork blasted him into stardom. So, there was this tall actor doing Disco Station and imitating the God, Michael Jackson, or smoothly eating up the floor like John Travolta.
He mixed disco with desi. He could act too.
The producers and directors loved him. The cinemagoers were amazed. A new Bollywood bonanza began. However, somewhere there were these conscious filmmakers who chose to stay with realistic cinema.
In the 1940s-1950s, a group of Bengali filmmakers wanted to counter commercial cinema with realism and naturalism. Thus began a new movement which came to be known as Parallel Cinema.
Great moviemakers like Satayajit Ray and Ritwick Ghatak spearheaded the movement.
Both commercial and parallel cinema had enough space to exist but as time went by this space began to shrink. With the disco revolution ebbing away in the 1980s, and romantic films edging in, parallel cinema was kept alive by Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Basu Chatterji Shyam Benegal and Govind Nihalani among others.
The bell-bottomed protagonists with huge collars and heels to match began to give some way to the jeans and kurta generation. It must be said though that the average cinemagoer found parallel cinema slow and ponderous. The long stares and huge period of inaction were a strain for some, who had now got used loud beats and pounding feet.
However, the old Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) gang – Naseeruddin Shah, Smita Patil, Om Puri, Shabana Azmi and Farooque Shaikh to name a few – played their part in promoting parallel cinema.
Their method acting put meat into roles, however small.
Then a man with horn-rimmed glasses and most unlike a filmmaker decided to make a movie in the early 1980s. Kundan Shah put to life a film called Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (JBDY).This was a screwball comedy which swerved like the wind from plot to sub-plot with the end result a refreshing satire on the state of Indian politics.
He had picked up almost all the stars of parallel cinema then. There was Naseeruddin Shah, Satish Shah, Pankaj Kapoor, Ravi Baswani, Om Puri, Neena Gupta and Satish Kaushik among others. It did not make much impact on release. But subsequent years saw the film achieving cult status. It has now become a timeless classic.
It still draws viewers whenever it appears on TV or the big screen. And it stayed true to the plot until the end, without seeking an easy way out. The two struggling photographers had no fairy tale ending. They end up where they began – poor and jobless.
In-between, Kundan Shah takes a dig at politicians who use any means to achieve their goal and the media which only looks to cash in if there is a chance, conscience and ethics be damned. It gave a sort of new direction to parallel cinema. Serious topics could be handled with sarcasm and parodied.
Kundan Shah’s message through JBDY is still relevant in present day India. With JBDY, Kundan Shah achieved rare heights which he never ever could again.
It was a masterpiece. Rest in Peace, Mr Shah.
#All views expressed in this article are those of the author.