The foul-mouthed, foul-tempered temptress deserves the epithet Kapati (a Punjabi word for an irascible, potentially violent female), which has become permanently affixed to her given name. As Jano Kapati, Munawer Zarief gives a hilarious, knee-slapping, roll-over funny performance, which is part inspired lunacy, part crazy melodrama, just the kind of situation which suited Mr. Zarief's prodigious talents. He is without a doubt at the peak of his form. This film came at a critical juncture in Mr. Zarief's career, just as he finally hit his stride not only as a bankable leading man/comic (Nauker Voti Da) but also as a fine character actor in films such as Manji Kithe Dawan. He died a year after the release of Janno Kappatti still in his forties.
Mr. Zarief was a versatile actor and comedian best known for his work in the Pakistani cinema of the seventies. One of his niches was female impersonation. Some of his more celebrated impersonations are in Shararat, Mustani Mehabooba and Rangeela aur Munawer Zarief. Over time many of his performances were embellished with drag, as it became a reliable component of his repertoire. Jano Kappatti is the culmination of a long interest in gender-based comedy, in it he finally gets to appear as a leading lady (alas! the only time). Mr. Zarief's debut as a leady lady is a homage to and a spoof of the heroines of Punjabi cinema such as Alyia, Firdous, Neelo and Naghma, In the classic tradition, Mr. Zarief's performance is filled with juvenile antics, facial tics, heaving bosoms, coy sexuality and misguided histrionics. This memorable performance remains fresh and funny.
Jano Kappatti predates all the modern gender-bender comedies such as Tootsie, Mrs. Doubtfire and Julie Andrew's turn as a man impersonating a woman in Victor/Victoria. Mr. Zarief's performance is world class and deserves to be celebrated among the very best. Like his Hollywood counterparts, Mr. Zarief effortlessly creates a believable female character despite the low-tech make-up, which makes him look more like a transvestite than a lady. His task however is much more complex. Robin Williams and Dustin Hoffman were playing men who put on drag to become a "woman", there is never a question that the characters were heterosexual males forced into drag by circumstance. Mr. Zarief on the other hand plays a biological female who through dubious medical science is surgically altered to become a man. The central conceit is well suited to Mr. Zarief's talents, he takes this wild idea and runs with it, making inspired choices at each step.
Mr. Zarief's performance as Jano Kappatti is uncompromising and courageous. He holds nothing back. Take for example, his scenes with Iqbal Hassan, some of the sweetest in the film. Mr. Hassan is the traditional hero of the film, an honorable upstanding individual who also happens to be Jano Kappatti's "bachban ka saathi". Mr. Hassan embodied the quintessential sex appeal of a working class Punjabi hero and Jano's
The first half of the film is essentially the build up and resolution of this rivalry while two separate subplots unfold simultaneously. One deals with the mysterious pain, which plague our often-misunderstood heroine and the other with the hellish domestic life of Jano's older sister, Baji (Saba). Baji is married to a churlish drunkard (Munawer Said) who only sobers up long enough to be verbally, emotionally and physically abusive to her. At one point he even attempts to rape Jano, while Baji and Jano's mother desperately plead with him through the locked door. As Munawer Said is literally sprawled on top of her, Jano calls out to her mother in a stunning under statement; "ami ji ina nu roku, aye mere boot narey aya gaye nae"
The script's turning point arrives as Jano seeks medical care for her mysterious flank pain. The shady attending physician emerges from the OR with stunning news; Jano has been turned into Jani. The film provides no details about what the transformation entailed (was Jano a hermaphrodite?). Jano's reincarnation as a man (Jani) is not an immediate panacea for her mother and sister's troubles. The well-wishers eagerly wait for him in the village to congratulate Jano on his transformation into the stronger sex (makes you think if the reaction would have been so enthusiastic if it was the other way around) but Jani is distracted by the lure of sexual pleasure mixed with alcohol, as he becomes immersed in the club ("Key-lub") scene with a "Azad Khyal larki Group", headed by Anita (of the infamously lude and crude Kathernak fame. Her effortless and boundless vulgarity had much to do with the success of that tasteless, senseless, violent film.) Here with an entourage of trade-bunnies (I guess all extra suppliers hang out in the Shahi Mahala), Anita plays the sexual bait for the newly minted man rather professionally. The weighty miss Anita cavorts in swimming pools and dance floors, introducing the ill cultured to the realm of the senses (that of the Diamond district variety).
The fact that the first act of an oppressed woman after becoming a man would be to engage in sexual dalliance seems entirely consistent with the fact that this film was written and directed by men and made primarily for a male audience. Beyond this point the film suddenly and quite surprisingly falls apart. The script goes terribly awry as the writer and director attempt to turn the comedy into a revenge drama. Jani's reactions and priorities seem clearly out of sync with the rest of his character. Perhaps if the nature of the preternatural surgery was more coherently explained the film would have worked but it is not. Even Munawer Zarief can't save the film from nose-diving into utter stupidity. The direction, which was breezy up to the point, turns plodding. The emphasis could have been on the comic possibilities of a woman trapped in a man's body (which Mr. Zarief plays for about five minutes) but instead the character becomes a crude boor. It is as if the surgery was on his brain and not on his genitals. The film remains in this murky mess until the very end when a very masculine Mr. Zarief has to convince the men in the village that he is a real man.
The writer, Mr.Qadari must be credited for some snappy dialogue (although with Mr. Zarief's reputation for ad-libbing I wonder if he deserves that credit) and the funny conceit, which allowed Mr. Zarief to come up with his boisterous performance. Mr. Qadari is equally responsible for the self-destruction of the latter half. Most likely he and director were paid for a three hour movie but they could only come up with a coherent two hours. Thus they were forced to add another hour to the film pasting a bogus scenario to an otherwise admirable effort (the common flaw which runs throughout the industry). Janno Kappatti falls victim to the ludicrous notion that every Pakistani film should be at least three hours long. In the process, the overall impact of Mr. Zarief's otherwise hilarious performance is severely attenuated.
The look and feel of the film is firmly grounded in the quickie B-films made for the Punjab circuit. The technical limitations are glaring in the last hour because the film is otherwise insufferable. Most of the outdoor shoot is at least one if not two f-stops off the mark. Several of the songs have significant portions in soft focus (especially the close-ups). The music is instantly forgettable.
Like all enduring comedies, Jano Kappatti has a simple truth at its heart, the plight of a woman without the protection of a man is fraught with hazardous. Without politicizing it, the comedy is brutally honest about Jano's oppression and links it directly to a lack of male patronage, or in mobster terminology, she lacks protection. Jano is repeatedly threatened with rape because there is no male to protect her. She is not a sister, a wife or a mother. The three labels which get women through life in Pakistan. She is no ones "Izzat", so her "Izzat" become a fair game for every man. The only escape from this oppression is to become a man.
It is a testimony to Mr. Zarief's talent that twenty-five years after his death, there has not been a single comedian who has reached the hilarity or the complexity of Mr. Zarief's work. Thank you Munawer Zarief, wherever you are.
Note; This film is available on VCD from a variety of vendors. I own one from Tip Top Video. It is decent enough to watch, the quality is about as good as film shown on Prime-TV.