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Qayamat Se Qayamt Tak: The perfect Romeo and Juliet adaptation

Romeo and Juliet in any other language will always be Romeo and Juliet. A beautiful, delicate love story about a young couple born into two feuding families that tugs at people’s hearts with its tragic ending. It’s hard to do it any differently without coming up with something that is a cheap imitation of the original story written by William Shakespeare. That is unless you end up making Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (QSQT - 1988).   

 Writer-director Nasir Husain, who wrote and produced QSQT, was the man with the Midas touch. Husain’s 1988 home production, which saw Aamir Khan and Juhi Chawla catapult into the big league, even as his own son Mansoor Khan took over the directorial reins from Husain, is etched in Hindi cinema history for a variety of reasons. Coming at a time when action, vendetta films ruled the roost, QSQT or ‘QS-Cutie’ as it also came to be known as a hit tip to the elfin charm radiated by the film’s lead pairing, resonated like a breath of fresh air with movie-going audiences for its tender love story, a tight script, finely etched performances and a soundtrack that still holds people in its throes to this day.    

 Aamir had already served as an assistant director (AD) in his chachajaan Nasir Husain’s earlier films Manzil Manzil and Zabardast. He had also acted in Ketan Mehta’s Holi (1984). As an AD, Aamir had impressed Husain with his dedication and his eye for detail. Husain also knew of Aamir’s acting forays, but it was only after eminent writer Javed Akhtar advised Husain that he should cast his nephew as a ‘hero’, did Husain decide to do so. Juhi, meanwhile, had already acted in filmmaker Mukul Anand’s Sultanat (1986) and had been roped into play Draupadi in B.R. Chopra’s Mahabharat television series. However, once she got a call for Rashmi’s role in QSQT, she excused herself from the television show and the rest as they say is history.

 Perhaps even more interesting is the story of Mansoor Khan donning the director’s hat in his father’s production. Mansoor, who had studied abroad, had worked on the lighting effects of Husain’s earlier film Zamaane Ko Dikhana Hai (1981). He was also credited as an assistant in Husain’s films leading upto QSQT, but hardly did anything on the sets of Manzil Manzil and Zabardast. “I should have been fired,” he once told me. By this time, however, Mansoor had made a short film called Umberto. Husain had seen Umberto and liked what his son had done. With his health not allowing him to undertake the pressures that are part of the director’s job, Husain decided to hand over the baton to Mansoor. But Husain first had to first convince Mansoor about a film revolving around thakurs and zamindars. Although Mansoor initially dithered, he eventually agreed to direct QSQT since he liked the premise of the film.       

 Mansoor’s entry into the film substantially altered QSQT’s treatment. While Husain had planned a film with a Romeo and Juliet climax, he felt anxious about a film with a sad ending. He asked his son to change the climax to a happier one, but Mansoor, his sister Nuzhat Khan and Aamir, all of whom collaborated on the film’s screenplay with Husain, prevailed upon Husain to maintain the film’s diabolical finish. They were proved right as Raj (Aamir) and Rashmi (Juhi) dying in each other’s arms won the audience’s sympathy in no uncertain terms. 

 This is not to suggest that Husain did not have a significant role to play in the film’s success. All the quintessential tropes of a Nasir Husain film – boy and girl falling in love while setting out on a journey, the hero passing himself off as someone else, the emphasis on youth, the hill station setting – were all there to be savored in QSQT. Yet, it was the inherent delicateness, the sheer tehzeeb of the exchanges between Raj and Rashmi where Husain worked his magic. The use of ‘aap’ and ‘hum’ between the hero and the heroine refashioned an old literary, genteel sensibility that had gone missing in Hindi films of the 1970s and 1980s.

 Equally delightful is Husain’s hand in determining the film’s name. While initially, the film was being made under the working title, Nafrat Ke Waaris – based on a dialogue that Raj gives Randhir Singh (Juhi’s father) – it was Husain, who in an inspired moment came up with the film’s name. He then summoned Mansoor, Nuzhat and Aamir to ask what they thought of Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak. While the trio immediately liked Husain’s suggestion, Husain also ran the title past the film’s songwriter and renowned poet Majrooh Sultanpuri, who thought the name to be apt given the film’s violent beginning and gruesome ending.

 And it was the same Majrooh Sultanpuri, who together with young composer duo Anand-Milind, conjured something special with QSQT’s soundtrack. Each song in the film, be it ‘Papa kehtey hain’, ‘Ghazab ka hai din’, ‘Akele hain toh kya gham hai’ or ‘Aye mere humsafar’ left a mark on the audience, with author Ganesh Ananthraman writing in his National Award-winning book Bollywood Melodies, “There was an innocence about the score that could only be attributed to the all-round newness.”

 It is now close to three decades since QSQT released, but its charm hasn’t yet faded. Recent films like Habib Faisal’s Ishaqzaade (2012), Neeraj Ghaywan’s Masaan (2015) and the Marathi hit Sairat (2016) almost immediately rekindle our memories of Mansoor Khan’s directorial debut what with their emphasis on youthful love. There is a book, too, Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak: The Film That Revived Hindi Cinema authored by Gautam Chintamani - on what went into the making of the film. But perhaps the best way to understand what made this film so special is to ultimately sit back and watch it for yourself.

 You can catch the musical masterpiece Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak on Sunday, 4th February at 12 Noon only on Zee Classic.