Being able to write and create knowing the pulse of the common-man, is certainly one of the greatest blessings from existence. Jaspal Bhatti was one of those immensely blessed personalities who could do that in just a few minutes, putting forward fresh ideas full of entertaining satire and comedy.
Beginning his journey from the innocent days of Doordarshan with projects like Flop Show and Ulta-Pulta, Bhatti can surely be quoted as the R. K. Laxman of Punjab, who very well knew what the common-man was thinking, struggling with life while feeling helpless and left alone. Sadly and questionably, the genius has never been given the credit of reviving the Punjabi cinema post the dark phase of the ’80s and ’90s, bringing back smiles and laughter in the theatres. However, the fact is that it was his Mahaul Theek Hai, released in 1999, with which the Punjabi film industry and the audience got their cherished humour back in their cinema. That remains the significant reason why the film has to be considered a landmark project in the history of Punjabi films without an iota of doubt.
The same year also witnessed the release of National Award-winner Shaheed-E-Mohabbat Boota Singh, but it was Mahaul Theek Hai that won over both the masses and the critics, making way for the return of comedy genre in Punjabi cinema, which is still ruling the industry in the present era.
The king of satire, Bhatti was also the mentor and an inspiring father-figure for many present-day celebrities including B. N. Sharma, Sunil Grover (Guthi) and Smeep Kang. In fact, Kang – one of the most successful writer-directors of Punjabi cinema – featured as the young hero in Bhatti’s Mahaul Theek Hai to begin his cinematic journey as an actor. Giving the due credit, Bhatti was also one of the few turbaned Sikhs of Punjab who started getting important roles in Hindi films much before Diljit Dosanjh announced his arrival.
Sharing the experience of my first meeting with the master of his craft, it was around 2005 when we met to discuss the release of his video film Jeeja Ji. It was a short unplanned meet that became possible as he was in Delhi to attend a family marriage. A newly-opened restaurant in Rajouri Garden was randomly chosen and as we sat beside each other, the attendant was there to take the order. Being a non-Punjabi, he didn’t recognise Jaspal Bhatti and certainly had no idea about his stature. Bhatti realised that and simply asked him a question in Punjabi (translated here for convenience).
Looking at the attendant he said, “Brother, actually we are back after attending a marriage and have had our meals. So we are in no mood of ordering anything but just wish to sit here for a few minutes, chat and leave. Will you charge us for that? If yes, then how much it would be?”
Hearing the unexpected, the young boy was taken aback and he hurriedly left in that confused state saying, “I will have to ask. Please give me a minute.”
Bhatti started smiling and just when we were about to begin our conversation, the attendant returned with his manager, who had two men with aggressive body language behind him. The moment the manager saw him, he got pleasantly shocked and sent all the attendants back. He was a fan, who got overwhelmed seeing the celebrity visiting his restaurant. The manager then humbly requested us to order anything as guests with no charge, but Bhatti smilingly hugged him and said, “We will just have some water and 20 minutes for our small chat.” The manager kept on insisting to at least have something to drink, but Bhatti was fine with just water.
That day I met one of the very few genuine and down-to-earth masters in the world of entertainment who are worth knowing as a person too, apart from their larger-than-life stature as an artist. Unfortunately, Jaspal Bhatti is also one of those extremely gifted and blessed artistes, who left the world when he still had so much to offer his audience, representing their daily-life trauma on screen.
To be fair, just a few hundred words articles cannot do any justice to such a towering personality and his outstanding body of work. Hence, I sincerely hope a detailed book is written or planned by either the maestro’s wife or one of his close associates, revealing a lot more about his unique creative process and the world of such fabulous creations.
As mentioned, Jaspal Bhatti was and still is the R. K. Laxman of Punjab and we have witnessed no other artist with that kind of bold and courageous thought-process till date. Hope the legend would be smiling and cracking satirical jokes in his heavenly abode too, with the same infectious spirit and enthusiasm.
(The writer is a critic-columnist, an explorer of cinema and author of ‘Did You Know’ series on Hindi films also active at bobbytalkscinema.com)