‘Kundan Hadn’t Lost It’: Saeed Mirza on his book ‘I Know the Psychology of Rats’

Express News Service

Why write about Kundan Shah?

It’s a simple reason actually. Kundan was a very close friend and a professional partner of mine. We were in film school together ––the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune. When he passed away in 2017, I felt a terrible sense of loss and decided to write a book about my friend. Also, towards the end of his career, many in the industry and some of his friends too would claim that “Kundan had lost it”.

My attempt with this book is to prove that he hadn’t. Rather, he was closer to understanding reality than most creative people are. He didn’t take the easy way out, and I wanted to immortalise his vision. He tried to peel off the façades in society.

Shah’s debut film, the 1983 cult classic Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, was inarguably his masterpiece. But was it also, in a way, his undoing?

In a sense, perhaps. Mostly, people celebrated the film as a comedy, not realising it’s incredibly political and angry. They would seek Kundan out, demanding that he make similar fun films, but Kundan’s heart was not in it. He would often tell me, “I am tired of this. Why do I have to be funny now?” At that point, he was also getting more engaged with politics and he found the world was turning more grotesque. He wanted to portray that in his cinema.

You and Shah did not start out as friends in film school. What made you bond?

It was his diploma film. It shocked me. Titled Controlled Anarchy, it was perhaps the best film of the class that year. Later when I heard that he had pushed off to the UK and abandoned filmmaking, all
I could think of was the film he made as a student and how his talent was simply going to waste. It broke my heart. But then he came back to films, where he truly belonged. He couldn’t let go of the impact that the FTII had on him.

Did he have an influence on the kind of films you made?

We impacted each other’s works. He worked with me in Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyoon Aata Hai in 1980. It was his first foray into cinema after he came back from England. Then he created his masterpiece in 1983, and I used some of the cinematic elements from Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro in my 1984 film, Mohan Joshi Hazir Ho! It was a constant give-and-take between us. The form of the films was similar––seamlessly mixing what was funny, absurd and real. The only difference between us was that he turned extremely political, far beyond what I could ever imagine.

Did this political vein become prominent in him only after he turned a professional?

The Kundan I knew in film school would vehemently deny that politics had anything to do with filmmaking. Towards the end, everything he did had to do with politics. With him, what you sawwas what you got in his cinema. He had a take on everything and believed in the theory that the world was being run by a cabal, one that didn’t allow people to think. He believed in the Zeitgeist theory.

Are films really political?

There’s no such thing as films not being political, including pure entertainers. It’s the way you see the world. Political doesn’t mean electoral politics. It’s the politics in ordinary day-to-day life, what you see around you in society.

While writing, were you conscious of following a particular style?

Not really. There was just one thing––I did not want it to be chronological. The form of a beginning to an end has something lacking, I believe. Also, because of my training as a dissenter in film school, I made it a point to dissent in my style of writing.

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