Comedy is indeed a communal embrace – or, as Raju Hirani’s Munnabhai would put it, a “jaadu ki jhappi” – that Bollywood has produced at the best and worst of times. When Hindi cinema is among the most inspired, it can become a lot of fun for both the audience and the directors and staff involved in the production.
When you think about movies like Half Ticket, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, or Andaz Apna Apna, you have to wonder if indeed the actors and crew had just as much pleasure making them as we had watching them. But, in very many situations, we know that perhaps the sets were not all fun and games. Anyone who knows Kishore Kumar would attest to his vaudevillian talent. That is undeniable.
Half Ticket’s lovable delinquent, on the other hand, was a tough and quirky character who made a fuss when his money didn’t arrive. There are several accounts of his stinginess. According to one popular and strange anecdote, a producer only paid him half of what he was owed. So, Kishoreda arrived on stage with half of his head shaved and half of his moustache intact! The moral to this story is that he is entertaining to watch on TV but not so much to work with.
Take, for example, the madhouse of brilliance that was Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro in 1983. Never before really has a talented group of heavyweights been assembled. However, Shah debunked the movie’s off-screen legends by describing the production as “a horrible nightmare.”
JBDY’s creative craziness has been unrepeatable inside the decades thereafter, eliciting a sigh of disdain from the late Kundan Shah, the ringmaster of the JBDY circus. “All that tells me is that Hindi cinema hasn’t done much,” he said Jai Arjun Singh, author of a book on JBDY, “if THIS movie is being hailed as the supreme satire in Hindi cinema.” We had to wait years for Shah’s insane satire to be recognised as a cult classic, as a work of art that is as significant as it is insane.