Bollywood remembers the legendary filmmaker Yash Chopra, and the comedian Jaspal Bhatti who popularized satire as a form of social protest. The fraternity feels, “This year we’ve suffered severe losses.”
The man who made us laugh on India’s national television long before laughter reached the ‘Indian Comedy Circus’ and who popularized satire as a form of social protest without bringing politics into the picture, is no more.
Jaspal Bhatti’s ‘Ulta Pulta’ and ‘Flop Show’ in the the 1980s and 90s re-wrote the rules of television entertainment.
Jaspal was funny without being vulgar, richly humorous without being risqué. He was a stand-up comedian long before the concept of standup comedy reached India.
Bollywood was a sporadic diversion for Bhatti. He came to Hindi cinema pretty late in the legendary lyricist Majrooh Sultanpuri’s son Andalib’s directorial debut ‘Jaanam Samjha Karo’ in 1999 where Jaspal played Salman Khan’s secretary. Bhatti’s poker-faced wit utterly bereft of toilet humour, brought the house down.
Somehow Bhatti was not comfortable in Bollywood.
Sagary Bellary who is the last Bollywood director to have worked with Bhatti corroborates the comic virtuoso’s discomfort with Hindi cinema. Says Bellary, “I was really keen to have Jaspal Bhattiji in my film ‘Hum Tum Aur Shabana’. I offered him the role of a host of ceremonies at a beauty pageant. He was kind enough to accept my offer and came to Mumbai all the way from Delhi to shoot. But Jaspalji would forget his lines. He had great difficulty memorizing them. There were takes after takes and I was losing precious raw stock when I could ill afford it. But you know what? It was all worth it finally! Because the man had not lost his touch at all. He brought so much warmth wit and masti into his brief role.”
Bellary shot for just one day with Bhatti. “But it was etched forever in my mind. He was such a trouper. There were delays galore. But he sat patiently in his van. Not once did he complain. And when we shot he compensated for his forgetting his lines with some delightful improvisations. That’s where his antecedents as a television and stage performer came in. I think he was far more important to the comedy genre on television than in cinema. Bollywood didn’t really recognize his talents. But he was brilliant as Kader Khan’s friend in ‘Aa Ab Laut Chalen’. I think I was one of the few lucky filmmakers who got to work with him.”
Boney Kapoor who cast Jaspal Bhatti in two of his productions is shocked to hear of his death. “What are you saying. Jaspal is no more? When did this happen? I first came to know him when I cast him in the serial ‘Malini Aiyer’ where my wife Sridevi played the title role. What I found refreshing about Jaspal was that unlike many other comic actors he wasn’t trying to be funny all the time. Once the camera was off he was a sober suave gentleman and a good conversationalist. I really enjoyed working with him.”
To Boney goes the dubious credit of casting Bhatti as Amitabh Bachchan. Laughs Boney, “Yes, Jaspal did a spoof on Amitji’s ‘Mohabbatein’ role of the rigid principled school principal in my film ‘Koi Mere Dil Se Pooche’. Bhatti had done Amitji’s role and Rajpal Yadav did Shah Rukh Khan’s part. After that I cast Jaspal in ‘Shakti: The Power’. I needed as much comic relief as possible because this film was extremely grim and brutal. Jaspal brought in the required lightness in the heavy theme.”
Divya Dutta who hosted a comedy show with Jaspal Bhatti on television met the comic virtuoso’s wife Savita just a week ago. “She told me Bhatti sends a big hi to me. I was so pleased to hear he was doing well. And now this, all of a sudden! Yashji (Chopra) and Bhatti two of the finest people I worked with, gone within a week. Bhatti co-judged a show with me. I grew up watching his ‘Ulta Pulta’ on Doordarshan. My mom and I would be in splits with the humour. I loved his wit on television. And he was equally humorous in real life too.”
Divya remembers Bhatti as being very correct in his behaviour. “He wanted to do everything the right way. He was a very intelligent and well-read person. And I had the pleasure of being at the receiving-end of his funny one-liners.”
Veteran actor Kader Khan who played Jaspal Bhatti’s best friend in the Rishi Kapoor directed ‘Aa Ab Laut Chalen’, recalls the ‘Ulta Pulta’ comic actor with warmth and affection.
“We played best friends in the film. He was a Sikh from India. I was a Pathan from Pakistan. Funnily my name was Sardar Khan and his name was Iqbal. We came together as characters representing Indo-Pak unity co-existing in New York.”
Kader Khan remembers how wary he was of Bhatti since he came from television. “I thought my friend would be played by Asrani or someone like him from our industry. When I saw it was Jaspal Bhatti I was initially disappointed. But my reservations melted by lunch time on the first day. Main unka ho gaya (I became close to him). In no time we were chatting and we got along like a house on fire. He was a soft spoken person. And he worked with great conviction. If I made a suggestion he immediately accepted it. Bahut lajaawab aadmi they. Mujhe to bahut shock lagaa. Ek aur saathi chala gaya. Kya Karen? This year we’ve suffered severe losses. Let’s hope there are no more losses this year.”