MASALA. That’s the word that springs to mind when I try to describe the first three books in the HarperCollins film series. Taken as a set, they contain all the elements of a good Bollywood film. There is drama; heroes and antiheroes; the cult of the ‘Maa’; a humour track that doesn’t always have much to do with the main plot; pathos; hard-to-believe connections between characters and events; and unstinting social commentary.
Jai Arjun Singh’s take on Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (JBDY) is the one that, in structure, most resembles a script. It is the story of how such a savagely brilliant, madcap film got made at all, survived the frightening mainstream cinema over the 1980s and 1990s, and acquired cult status in the new millennium. Singh begins at the beginning—with director Kundan Shah’s slow, unplanned drift into cinema, his lucky acceptance into the Film and Television Institute of India, a description of his student film Bonga, which won him the regard of his friends and contemporaries, including Naseeruddin Shah, Satish Kaushik, Vidhu Vinod Chopra and Renu Saluja, the editor who is credited with having given JBDY its final shape. Singh leads us next to the experiences of Shah’s friends and Shah’s anger at our dysfunctional civic systems, which soon became the basis of the first draft of a script.
In each chapter, the plot moves forward—government funds are miraculously offered, dialogues are written, actors are persuaded, locations are found, lives are risked on the very first day of shooting, meals are skipped because there is no money, precious footage is lost, the editor does her best, and finally, the film sees the light of day!
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