Ever since it released on this day a quarter of a century ago, the cult Mansoor Khan film has withstood the test of time and remains as popular now, as it was back then. A sports drama film with a peppy dose of high school romance, Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar still triggers tremendous nostalgia among all of us who were of that age back then.
Born in the mid-seventies, the eighties and nineties were my growing up years. Films were a strict no-no in most middle-class homes and mine was no different. Bollywood was quarantined stuff. Doordarshan, DD that is, was our only source of entertainment (or the lack of it) and I remember waiting the entire week for Chitrahaar which mostly played songs from the fifties and sixties. But even watching Chitrahaar was subject to parental guidance and ‘inappropriate’ songs would be promptly censored by switching off the TV.
Some of my friends, with a liberal set of parents, had cassette players in their homes and would listen to Bollywood music. The more fortunate ones had personal stereos, or the Walkman, as we used to know it back then. It was one of my friends from the latter group who one day smuggled in a Walkman in school and made me listen to Pehla Nasha. “You haven’t heard anything like this before,” I remember him saying. And true he was. Pehla Nasha was music unheard to me. It was phenomenal. I asked him the name of the film. Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, he blurted out. That sounded stupid. Sikandar? Was it a war film?
I got to watch the video of the song a couple of years later. It was 1994 may be. I was in my eleventh standard and wondered which girl in school would turn out to be my Anjali (Ayesha Jhulka in the film). But that never happened. I finally managed to watch the entire film in 1998 on TV.
Pehla Nasha was the first major break of choreographer Farah Khan, who is now a reputed director herself. The song was supposed to be choreographed by Saroj Khan. But Farah, one of Mansoor’s assistants in the film, had to pitch in at the last moment as Saroj was unavailable.
Farah took a unique approach to shoot the dream sequence of the Majrooh Sultanpuri chartbuster. She shot the entire song in slow motion and punctuated it with a red leitmotif (Anjali’s bandhani long skirt, Devika’s iconic halter neck dress, and Sanju’s jumper) that lent a wistful and romantic air. What finally came out of the editing table was a cheerful ode to the sensations of first love like never before, never after.
Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, 25 years later, is a cult classic. Every rerun of this film transports me back in time in school when I dared to be as rakish and indisciplined as Sanju (Aamir Khan) and showed the brazen defiance of his gang in the face of adversaries.
The Archie Comics influence in Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander was unmistakable though. The cosy universe of Ooty was modelled on the lines of Riverdale. Ramlal’s Café—site of some of the most chaotic and dramatic scenes in the film—was the answer to the Chocklit Shoppe of Pop Tate. The four main characters played by Aamir Khan, Ayesha Jhulka, Pooja Bedi and Deepak Tijori slipped under the skin of the immensely lovable Archie Andrews, the golden-hearted Betty Cooper, the haughty Veronica Lodge and the cocky Reggie Mantle respectively.
Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar had its heart in its place. It masterfully weaved a compelling story of sibling bonding, true friendship, struggle of the single parent, rivalry, dating, the triumph of human spirit, and most importantly, sportsmanship. Even the language spoken by the main characters was pedestrian but catchy, hot-blooded but heavy-handed. At one point in the film when Shekhar (Deepak Tijori) claims Devika (Pooja Bedi) as his ‘girl’ and Sanju stings back with a “No, she’s mine. And I am not haramzaada. You are haramzaada,” you can’t help but chastise Sanju not for his language, but for picking up the wrong girl.
The strength of Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar lies in the comprehension of tender yearnings and misunderstood anger that constitutes our teenage years and a lifetime of lessons it imparts. I came to know much later that the end of the film was supposed to be shot differently. The original script had Sanju nudging Shekhar on the way to receive the trophy. But the director dropped it at the last moment as that would have negated Sanju’s battle to kill his inner demons.
And that is what the film teaches us; a time that comes in our lives when we can look back with a sense of pride and accomplishment, having discovered the inner Sikandar in ourselves.