By Damian D'souza Feb. 01, 2019
There was once a little-known kid who grew up in a chawl, worked a couple of dead-end jobs, and rose to fame as Bollywood’s poster boy of the ’80s and ’90s. Jackie Shroff, was your everyday next-door mawali, a tapori through and through, which is why his appeal endures today.
Jai, Kishan, and Kakubhai. You wouldn’t be mistaken if you thought these were just three Gujju men aboard the 7.30 am Churchgate fast, heading to their electronic hardware stores at Mumbai’s Lamington Road, ready to offload some motherboards to eager punters. Fifteen minutes away from all the “floppy diks” and hard drives, is the neighbourhood of Teen Batti, where the tridev of Jai, Kishan, and Kakubhai is known collectively by its affectionate moniker, Jaggu Dada.
To fault Jackie Shroff for ditching his given name of Jai Kishan Kakubhai Shroff, for a concise, anglicised nom de guerre, would be like faulting Da Vinci for not giving the Mona Lisa a duckface. In the ruthless world of ’80s cinema, when Bollywood was taking baby steps toward the big bucks and still learning to spell “nepotism”, actors like Jackie Shroff and Mithun (nee Gourang) Chakraborty had to appear more palatable to an audience with great expectations in a nation on the cusp of economic liberalisation, which aspired to modernity. No one wanted to watch Meenakshi Seshadri’s Radha pine so sexily, over Reshma’s ethereal voice, for Jai Kishan Kakubhai Shroff. The nation pined with her – they pined for a homegrown charisma and roguish charm. They pined for Jackie.
There was once a little-known kid who grew up in a chawl, worked a couple of dead-end jobs wherever he could find them, and rose to fame as Bollywood’s poster boy of the ’80s and ’90s. Jackie Shroff, was your everyday next-door mawali, a tapori through and through, one of the original gully boys. Though he could rock a suit with the best of them, his uniform of choice – an open-front shirt with a handkerchief or scarf tied around the neck – was a style reminiscent of Bombay’s old-school, hard-knock shaane log, taximen, and bus drivers. People without delusions of grandeur, people born with hand-me-down rubber pacifiers in their mouths as opposed to silver spoons.
Jackie Shroff was a proxy for every middle-class boy in the ’80s with designs on “doing shaanpatti” in his neighbourhood.
Image Credits: Getty Images
It took one film for Shroff to go from back-alley mawali to a bankable star. Subhash Ghai’s Hero in 1983 saw him play a role that was essentially himself, and established him as a legit box office draw. It was during this decade that Jackie Shroff became the archetypal urban action hero – the affable tapori next door who rights the wrongs in his world, often through revenge against a wealthier and more privileged adversary, like he did in 1986’s Karma. He was a proxy for every middle-class boy in the ’80s with designs on “doing shaanpatti” in his neighbourhood.
It was in the ’90s that Jackie Shroff began growing out of the mold he was cast in the decade before. Khalnayak, 2001: Do Hazaar Ek, Angaar, and Rangeela saw the Jackie of the ’90s mature into a versatile actor, slowly moving away from the streets from whence he came. As he progressed as an actor, he essayed far more mature roles – playing the man who taught Hrithik to fire an AK in Mission Kashmir and then playing the Devil’s advocate to SRK’s liver in Devdas in 2002. And the came Boom…
It was in the ’90s that Jackie Shroff began growing out of the mold he was cast in the decade before.
The 2003 disaster, whose script was probably written in liquid cocaine, sealed the fate of everyone involved in it. Amitabh Bachchan was the only survivor of this car wreck, which tragically was the end of the line for Jaggu Dada in Bollywood. The audiences of the new millennium had little use for his tapori aesthetic. In fact all the other taporis of yore, Govinda, Mithunda, and Anil Kapoor were fast becoming relics as Bombay became Mumbai and prioritised panache over pateli.
Jackie Shroff had all but faded from memory, when the internet discovered outtakes and B-roll from a long-forgotten PSA, which featured Jackie Shroff behind shades, failing miserably at delivering his lines, turned into viral gold by his indomitable tapori swag. His internet cred soared after a video interview at MAMI, where we see a slightly dishevelled Jaggu dada starting off an interview in English, but then quickly falling back to tried-and-tested Bambaiyya Hindi. He reminds us of middle-class chawl uncles, who quickly use up their entire English vocabulary when they find themselves in the limelight, but then fall back to Hindi or Marathi when shit gets real.
But the real Jaggu Dada stands up in a Rajya Sabha TV interview, on Youtube, where he gets candid about everything from his mother dying, to his love for nature. “Bole toh jhaad paan se chipak ke rehne ka kya,” he says leaving the interviewer dazed and confused at the realness that has just been laid out in front of him.
Jackie Shroff with his freewheeling style and trademark tapori head bob is testament to the fact that you can take the tapori out of Teen Batti.
Image Credits: Getty Images
On the internet, where fakeness is called out quicker than you can say Raja Kumari, it’s no wonder that Jaggu Dada commands such a cult following. In a recent interview, he admitted to being willing to try just about anything in the entertainment industry, displaying the willingness to hustle, just like the rest of us middle-class serfs. He’s been up, and then he’s been down, but “kiske zindagi mein unch-neech nahi aata hai bhidu?”
But beyond his tapori persona lies a magnanimous man. Tales are told of how he’s always willing to help out someone in a tight spot financially, giving back to the streets, to the same people whose adulation took him from Jai Kishen to Jaggu.
While the bantais of his generation such as Govinda and Mithun Da have been keeping it low-key, and others such as Sanju Baba and Anil Kapoor have reinvented themselves, Jackie Shroff with his freewheeling style and trademark tapori head bob is testament to the fact that you can take the tapori out of Teen Batti, but you can never take the Teen Batti out of this tapori. And this is where the eternal appeal of Jackie Shroff lies.
Kya baat hai, Bhidu!
Damian loves playing videogames. If all the bounties he collected slaying zombies were tangible, he wouldn't need to write such bios. Seriously though, Damian used to be a cook who wrote, now he's just a writer who cooks.