Jaspal Bhatti, Sardar of Satire, dies in Punjab car crash
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An ace writer, director and actor, Bhatti was a stinging social and political commentator who gave serious issues a brilliant twist of wit and humour even as he called himself the 'Ulta Pulta' (topsy-turvy) man after one of his popular TV shows.
Bhatti's car crashed into a tree near Jalandhar in the early hours of Thursday when he was on his way to promote Power Cut, which is due to release on Friday. His son Jasraj Bhatti and actress Surilie Gautam — sister of Yami Gautam who acted in Vicky Donor — were also in the car and were injured. Besides Jasraj, Bhatti is survived by his mother, wife Savita and daughter Rabbiya. He had lost his father on August 15 this year.
An electrical engineer from PEC, Chandigarh, Bhatti was a former executive engineer with the Punjab State Electricity Board who was blessed with a sharp wit and a sense of humour. Instead of wasting this talent in meaningless comedy films and programmes, Bhatti sought to use it as a weapon of change and invested it in his shows — from his first sitcom Flop Show that aired on Doordarshan in 1989, to Ulta Pulta and Nonsense Private Limited. He wrote, directed and starred in all of them along with wife Savita.
If Flop Show was an incisive and amusing comment on Indian society and its harassed and burdened middle class, Ulta Pulta and Nonsense Private Limited gave a comical view of corruption. There was sense in his 'Nonsense Club' — also India's first humour club, an order to the chaos in Ulta Pulta and Full Tension, and a hit formula of definite hilarity in the legendary Flop Show. The 1980s and 90s saw the rise of this genius who seemed to have his finger on the nation's pulse and entertained it with his spoofs on the system, and sharp socio-political statements.
At a time when Punjabi cinema had hit rock bottom, Bhatti directed his first Punjabi film, a spoof on Punjab police and politicians called Mahaul Theek Hai in 1999. It was a major hit, and the following years saw Bhatti in Bollywood films such as Fanaa, Hamare Dil Aap Ke Paas Hai, Mausam, Aa Ab Laut Chalein, Koi Mere Dil Se Pooche, Kuch Na Kaho, Tujhe Meri Kasam, Jaanam Samjha Karo, Kartoos etc.
A cartoonist - his strip was titled 'Oddly Speaking' - and writer for The Tribune newspaper in Chandigarh since 1982, Bhatti also appeared as a judge on SAB TV's Comedy ka King Kaun with actress Divya Dutta, and competed in Star Plus's Nach Baliye with his wife in October 2008. Bhatti was granted the Lifetime Achievement Award at the first Golden Kela Awards. He set up India's first 'joke factory' and school of comedy, MAD Arts School in Mohali. Here, he produced Thank You Jijaji for Sab TV.
A lack of funds, logistic challenges, dearth of actors and soaring production costs never stopped Bhatti from poking and prodding the public with his endless parades and parodies. He took things in his stride, and gave it his own identity with credits such as Misdirected by Jaspal Bhatti, Jarring Music, Underground Singers and Camera Jerks.
At Nonsense Club, he and his team would act as the town criers, enact street plays and skits on a range of current issues, from inflation and corruption to female foeticide and poverty. Bhatti was the common man's voice who would walk Chandigarh's markets and streets with placards and garlands of vegetables, mobilizing people, stirring activity and questioning authority.
"Corruption, inflation, power.these are dry subjects, but we need to find humor in them, and address the issue at the same time," he said at the press conference for Power cut, his third film after Mahaul and Jijaji. Bhatti was excited about the project because he was launching his son in the film and addressing Punjab's critical power shortage. Such was the affection and popularity Bhatti enjoyed that some fans shocked by the news of his death hoped that this was yet another of his spoofs or acts of nonsense.
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