How 'Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak' shattered several stereotypes

'The Director introduced several new ideas. One such example is a reversal of gender dynamics: Aamir is first seen in the story strumming a guitar while Juhi Chawla, the heroine, is riding a horse'

How 'Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak' shattered several stereotypes

Kaveree Bamzai

‘Every ten years, the audience says, “Hey, I’ve changed.” Aamir has swept a whole new generation, just the way Zeenat Aman once did.’ That was Shekhar Kapur on QSQT (Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak) in a 1988 India Today story. Director of Masoom (1983) and Mr India (1987), Kapur was a filmmaker in demand back then, even if he was later labelled as someone who had a penchant for abandoning films midway.

Time Machine, started in 1992, starring Aamir, Naseeruddin Shah and Rekha was one such movie that he did not complete. Barsaat, the 1992 debut of Bobby Deol, and Dushmani in 1995, starring Sunny Deol and Jackie Shroff, are other examples. Most notorious amongst his half-finished or never-started films is Paani, which he was to make for Yash Raj Films and in which the late actor Sushant Singh Rajput was to star.

Acknowledging Aamir Khan’s impact on audiences, the India Today article written by Simran Bhargava described QSQT’s cult status, saying youngsters were re-watching certain scenes over a hundred times. ‘Like the cutely passionate one in the woods where Aamir is alone with Juhi Chawla: he is desperately attracted to her and yet has to keep away. By the end, he says, “to hell with it” and kisses her.’ The article called QSQT a ‘real’ film, noting that the hero fights with six guys and gets beaten up and that he is dead scared of his father and lies to him. ‘Aamir is awkward,’ says Bhargava, ‘but it is an awkwardness that works.’

A state-level tennis player, Aamir Khan chose not to continue his studies after Class XII at Narsee Monjee College. Adamant that he wanted to work in films, he decided to assist his uncle Nasir Husain on Manzil (1984) and Zabardast (1985). Manzil featured Sunny Deol and Dimple—she was returning to films after separating from Rajesh Khanna—while Zabardast starred Sanjeev Kumar, Sunny Deol and Rajeev Kapoor. It was during these years that Aamir also acted in Ketan Mehta’s Holi in 1984, based on Mahesh Eklunchwar’s play.

Mehta’s film, shot mostly on the campus of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune, co-starred Naseeruddin Shah and Ashutosh Gowariker. It was during the making of Holi that the seeds of a close friendship with Gowariker were sown. A moustache and short cropped hair made Aamir (credited as Aamir Hussain) barely recognisable as Madan Sharma, one of the college students in Holi who goes on a strike after an altercation between the principal’s nephew and another student.

But it was QSQT that made him a real star. The movie came in the middle of a tumultuous year in which Rajiv Gandhi pushed through a Constitutional amendment that would lower the voting age from twenty-one to eighteen. This extended voting rights to fifty million more people and acknowledged the country’s youth power.

In 1991, when Census figures were released, the proportion of fifteen to thirty-four-year-olds in the population was estimated at 33.5 per cent of 846 million, or 283 million, compared to 168 million in 1971. In 2011, this rose to 422 million. This rising number of young people would subsequently be described as the ‘demographic dividend’.

In Hindi cinema, the old order was looking, well, distinctly old. Amitabh Bachchan had top billing in Shahenshah and Ganga Jamuna Saraswati but at forty-six, he was no longer the force he used to be. In Shahenshah, Bachchan played a bumbling and comically corrupt Mumbai police inspector by day and an imposing figure of dread for the city’s criminals by night. In Ganga Jamuna Saraswati, he was cast as a truck driver who has been wrongfully imprisoned for two years and who goes looking for his estranged wife once he is a free man again.

This was the last film to be directed by Manmohan Desai. Ganga Jamuna Saraswati was a dismal failure and India Today promptly declared that Bachchan’s ‘future looks uncertain’. The other movies of the year were symptomatic of late ’80s Bollywood. Among them were masala entertainers such as Tezaab and Dayavan (a remake of Mani Ratnam’s Nayakan), loud revenge dramas like Khoon Bhari Maang and Zakhmi Aurat; and multi-starrers including Vijay and Khatron Ke Khiladi.

When Mansoor Khan’s Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak hit the screens on 1 March 1988, it offered audiences fresh energy and a sense of novelty with its cast of newcomers. Writer Aysha Iqbal Viswamohan observes that Aamir Khan was not cast in the mould of the big heroes of the time—the tough and macho Sunny Deol, Jackie Shroff and Sanjay Dutt. Instead, he was softer, closer to the Rishi Kapoor and Kumar Gaurav mould. Director Mansoor Khan introduced several new ideas in the narrative; one such example is a reversal of gender dynamics: Aamir is first seen in the story strumming a guitar while Juhi Chawla, the heroine, is riding a horse.

Again, setting a trend that was to be followed by Sooraj Barjatya in Maine Pyaar Kiya with Salman Khan, the hero, and not the heroine, was presented as an object of desire. Scholar Jyotika Virdi notes that in their first encounter in QSQT, Rashmi (Juhi Chawla) gazes voyeuristically at Raj’s (Aamir Khan) athletic body as he stands against the setting sun. Here again, the hunter becomes the hunted, with the girl making the first move, saying ‘Hum par aapka bada achcha impression pada hai’ (I have a really good impression of you) and then, in a later scene, asking to sleep next to him when they spend the night in the jungle. She says: ‘Aa jaayen aapke paas?’ (Can I come closer to you?) This was refreshing, notes Virdi, because it brought in a new kind of heroine, sweet, innocent and yet determined, unlike the more overtly sexualised heroines of the ’70s and ’80s.

The Romeo and Juliet theme was something even the youngsters associated with the film could identify with. Gautam Chintamani describes the film’s crew as being in much the situation and experiencing the same realities as the film’s characters.

Cinematographer Kiran Deohans, Mansoor Khan and Aamir were either dating their future wives or were newly married. Chintamani quotes Deohans as saying: ‘It wasn’t tough to fall in love with the way the story was written,’ adding that he could sympathise with Aamir’s character. Deohans was a Hindu dating a Parsi, Mansoor was dating Tina, who was Christian, and Aamir was with Reena, a Hindu. All three of them could understand the dilemma of Aamir’s character.

(Extracted with permission from The Three Khans and the Emergence of New India by Kaveree Bamzai, published by Westland Non-Fiction, July 2021.)

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