Brilliant sense of timing was Ravi Baswani’s strength.
Five of the greatest comic films of the Hindi screen? ‘Chalti ka Naam Gadi,' ‘Angoor,' ‘Chupke Chupke,' ‘Chashme Baddoor' and ‘Jaane Bhi Do Yarron.' Not many would disagree with these choices. Only one actor figured in more than one from the list, Ravi Baswani, who passed away this past week following a massive heart attack. He was 64.
Ravi played major roles in the last two films mentioned in the list. Fortunately, Ravi was on the film scene when comedy still had some meaning and value. Comedy was not yet crude, exaggerated and full of sexual innuendos and the hero had not started usurping the role of the comedian. But this era was soon to end and talented comic actors like Ravi were left in the wilderness. Thanks to ‘Chashme Baddoor' and ‘Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron' he has left behind a rich legacy of genuine comedy.
It was ironical that winning combinations, in this case, Ravi Baswani and Naseerudin Shah, did not get together for long periods to discuss moving towards making a sequel to ‘Jaane Bhi…' A hilarious spoof on corruption in high places, two innocents (one of them Ravi who played a press photographer) run away from goons guilty of murder and in a delicious ironical twist, find themselves behind bars. The moral, there is no justice for the poor, shone through amidst all the clowning and side splitting laughter.
Recollecting a meeting earlier this month with Naseer and Ravi, director Kundan Shah said that plans were almost finalised for the sequel.
Shah who had first met Ravi, fresh with a diploma from the National School of Drama in the early 1970s sighed, “Life is so unpredictable. Now the film cannot be made without Ravi.”
According to Kundan Shah, Ravi had a brilliant and unique sense of comic timing which was one of the major reasons for the film's success and made it a cult film. That was why the late Vijay Tendulkar once told Kundah Shah that Ravi's performance was the most outstanding in ‘Jaane Bhi…' and the chemistry between him and Naseer was magical. Ravi at that time, was fresh from the success of Sai Paranjpe-directed ‘Chashme Baddoor,' where along with another comic actor, Rakesh Bedi, he tried to help his friend, the hero played by Farooq Shaikh, to woo and win his girl friend, Deepti Naval. The film had an element of freshness, innocence and originality, rarely seen in a comedy, and was a big box office hit.
Talent and the NSD diploma were not of much use in Bollywood and Ravi, along with fellow NSD alumini Alok Nath, Rakesh Bedi and others struggled for success, sharing a small flat in the Santa Cruz suburb, eking out a livelihood from theatre. Somehow, the comedy in the commercial Hindi cinema did not appeal to Ravi and he made only around 30 films in his career. But the advent of television helped him and his roles in serials including ‘Idhar Udhar' with Ratna Pathak Shah and her sister, Supriya Pathak, were appreciated. The films he acted included ‘Bunty Aur Babli,' ‘Peecha Karo,' ‘Anthony Kaun' and ‘Monsoon.' But none of them reached the levels of ‘Chashme Baddoor' or ‘Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron.'
It is ironical that at the time of his death, Ravi Baswani was involved in a project which was close to his heart and probably brought him fame and money. He had gone to regions around Nainital to select locations for a film to be directed by him, ‘Birjoo.' He had already finished writing the script which revolved around a boy's search for his missing father. Ravi had big plans for the film and was hoping to rope in Waheeda Rehman for the role of a grandmother, and as a trump card, Naseeruddin Shah to play a major role.
There was a strong bond between the two and Shah had readily agreed to play the key role.
But that was not to be. Ravi Baswani much admired by friends like Kundan Shah, Alok Nath and Rakesh Bedi, did not suffer fools and could never be a sycophant. This, perhaps, isolated him from the rat race in Bollywood film-makers believed that comedy could be played by any idiot and perhaps that was why Hindi cinema offered mostly stereotyped comic scenes!