By Gurmukh Singh
TORONTO: I have tons of memories of my friend and India’s pioneer comedian Jaspal Bhatti who died in a road accident on Thursday in Punjab while promoting his film Power Cut.
The first time I met Jaspal Bhatti was at his Chandigarh residence when I went from Delhi to interview him for the Sunday Times of India. I think that was in 1996, and we used to have a page called People in the STOI (the Sunday Times of India) looked after by Sumita Paul (now Sumita Mehta after her marriage to Outlook editor Vinod Mehta).
When I went to meet Jaspal, he was not at home but his wife Savita was there. Soon he came and we had a great time talking about how he got the offer from India’s government-owned TV network called Doordarshan to make Ulta-Pulta in the 1980s and later Flop Show. Those were pioneering shows in Indian TV.
And as we were talking about his days as an engineer (he was an electrical engineering graduate from Punjab Engineering College, Chandigarh), the electricity went off. Laughing loudly, he said, “That’s why I quit being an electrical engineer because people would have thrown stones at me for this kind of power failures.’’
Then he talked about his cartooning days for The Tribune from Chandigarh and how cartooning hobby led him to adopt comedy as a profession.
His half-page interview appeared in the Sunday Times of India, and he became friends with me. That interview also appeared in the Sunday Times edition of Bombay.
After this, he came to Delhi before his film Mahaul Theek Hai was released in 1998. I think I was going to meet Gulzar Saab who was in Delhi that day and staying in a South Delhi hotel. So I asked Jaspal to come with me and meet Gulzar Saab as he had never met him. As we were driving in Jaspal’s friend P.S. Bright’s car from the Times of India office at ITO to the hotel where Gulzar was staying, Jaspal said he wanted to eat something. So we stopped at Nathu’s Sweets in Sundar Nagar.
When we went inside, Nathu’s staff recognized Jaspal and pampered us with their choicest dishes. And when we went to pay at the counter, the guy refused to accept money from us. He said: “Everything is free for Bhatti Saab.’’ I cannot forget that incident.
Another incident involving Jaspal Bhatti I cannot forget is when he was shooting some film and staying at the Intercontinental Hotel near Bengali Market in New Delhi. I went to meet him with a friend of mine. Jaspal ordered food, snacks and other things. As we were having fun, someone from his crew noticed that an unknown guy had come, eaten their food and disappeared. When this guy was eating, each one of Jaspal’s crew thought that he was a friend of someone among them.
After Jaspal’s crew failed to find this free-loader, we had a great laugh. That was such a hilarious incident.
Then another incident involving Jaspal I cannot forget is the launch of my book titled The Rise of Sikhs Abroad by then Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh in May 2003. After the release of the book, we went to the Chandigarh Press Club or somewhere to have drinks. It was getting late and all food shops were closing.
So my friend-classmate Diwan Manna, who is a known artist in India, Jaspal Bhatti, Major-General Himmat Singh (brother of former election commissioner of India Manohar Singh Gill), journalist Swaraj Chauhan and I went to a roadside dhaba in Sector 19 or 27.
When we reached there, the dhaba guys were closing as police were forcing them to down shutters after 10 pm or 11m. But when the police guys saw Jaspal, they just disappeared, and the dhaba guys treated us to a very delicious dinner. Mind you, the dhaba remained open till past midnight and no policeman was seen around. Such was Jaspal’s clout with everyone – from a dhaba owner to policemen to minsters.
And when his film Mahaul Theek Hai (a comedy about police highhandedness in Punjab) was released, I remember meeting him on January 1, 1999, at his Chandigarh residence. He took me to the Batra Theatre which was showing the film.
Both of us entered the movie hall from the backside and sat at the back so that nobody recognized Jaspal Bhatti. After the film was over, we slipped out quietly as Jaspal didn’t want to create a commotion at the theatre.
That was Jaspal Bhatti – a friend’s friend. A down-to-earth human being.
In 2008, when I was planning to have a website, I asked him to suggest a few names. And Jaspal wrote me this email:
“Sorry for being late. Here are few names that i could think of….
Jaspal was the top artist to emerge from Chandigarh and he never abandoned his city to settle in Mumbai.
There won’t be another Jaspal Bhatti. He was unique. Rest in peace, my friend. We will always miss you. Alas and Alack!