Being able to write and create knowing the pulse of the common man is certainly one of the greatest blessings in life. Jaspal Bhatti was one of those immensely blessed personalities who could do it in minutes, coming up with new 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 cited as the RK Laxman of the Punjab, who knew very well what the common man was thinking, struggling with life while at the same time feeling helpless and left alone. Sadly and arguably, the genius never got credit for reviving Punjabi cinema after the dark phases of the ’80s and’ 90s, bringing smiles and laughter back to theaters. However, the point is, it was his Mahaul Theek Hai, released in 1999, with which the Punjabi film industry and audiences alike found their cherished humor in their cinema. This remains the important reason why the film must be regarded as a landmark project in the history of Punjabi films without a doubt.
The same year also saw the release of the National Award winner Shaheed-E-Mohabbat Boota Singh, but it was Mahaul Theek Hai who conquered both the masses and the critics, paving the way for the comedy genre to return in the Punjabi cinema, which is still ruling the industry in present times.
The king of satire, Bhatti was also the mentor and an inspiring father figure to many current celebrities including BN Sharma, Sunil Grover (Guthi) and Smeep Kang. In fact, Kang – one of Punjabi cinema’s most successful writer-directors – played the role of the young hero in Bhatti’s Mahaul Theek Hai to begin his cinematic journey as an actor. Considering merit, Bhatti was also one of the few turbaned Sikhs in the Punjab to start securing prominent roles in Hindi films long before Diljit Dosanjh announced his arrival.
Sharing the experience of my first meeting with the master of his trade, it was around 2005 that we met to discuss the release of his video film Jeeja Ji. It was an unforeseen short encounter that became possible as he was in Delhi to attend a family wedding. A newly opened restaurant in Rajouri Garden was chosen at random and as we were seated next to each other the attendant was there to take the order. Being a non-Punjabi, he did not recognize Jaspal Bhatti and certainly had no idea of ââhis stature. Bhatti realized this and simply asked him a question in Punjabi (translated here for convenience).
Looking at the attendant, he said, âBrother, actually, we’re back after attending a wedding and having our meals. So we’re not in the mood to order anything, but just want to stay here for a few minutes, chat and go. Will you charge us for this? If so, how much would it be? “
Hearing the unexpected, the young boy was surprised and he left in a hurry in this confused state, saying, âI’ll have to ask. Please give me a minute.
Bhatti started to smile and just as we were about to start 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 was pleasantly shocked and fired all the attendants. He was a fan, who was shocked to see the celebrity visit his restaurant. The manager then humbly asked us to order anything as guests at no cost, but Bhatti hugged him, smiling and said, “We’ll just have water and 20 minutes for our little one. conversation.” The manager kept insisting on at least having something to drink, but Bhatti was okay with just water.
That day I met one of the very few genuine, down-to-earth masters of the entertainment world who also deserves to be known as a person, apart from their larger-than-life stature as as an artist. Sadly, Jaspal Bhatti is also one of those extremely gifted and blessed artists, who left the world when he still had so much to offer his audience, portraying their trauma of everyday life on screen.
To be fair, a few articles of a few hundred words cannot do justice to such an imposing personality and his exceptional work. Therefore, I sincerely hope that a detailed book will be written or planned by the maestro’s wife or one of his close collaborators, revealing much more about his unique creative process and the world of these fabulous creations.
As mentioned, Jaspal Bhatti was and still is the RK Laxman of Punjab and we haven’t seen any other artist with this kind of daring and courageous thought process until this day. I hope the legend smiles and makes satirical jokes in his heavenly abode, with the same infectious spirit and enthusiasm.
(The writer is critic-columnist, cinema explorer and author of the “Did you know” series on Hindi films also active on bobbytalkscinema.com)
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Posted on: Saturday March 06, 2021, 7:00 am IST