Hindi cinema would have had to invent Mansoor Khan had he not existed. It's been over a decade since he last directed a film but that isn't a reason good enough to forget him. Perhaps the first amongst equals in the list of filmmakers who blazed a trail for others, Khan remains the unspoken hero who has single-handedly changed the way we look at Hindi films.
It was 1988 and Hindi cinegoers, now used to a decade long punishment in the form of bad films and worse attitudes, looked towards the next one for some respite. But who'd bring this change? The young guns like Subhash Ghai and Rahul Rawail were trading their individuality for the 'tried and tested'; the heroes were angry but not getting any younger, the heroines couldn't escape waterfalls. Some haseenas even became dakus and nothing seemed right. If Manmohan Desai and Prakash Mehra had lost the plot then one of commercial Hindi cinema's most popular producers had hit a dead end. Nasir Hussain, the driving force behind classics such as Tumsa Nahin Dekha (1957), Jab Pyaar Kissi Se Hota Hai (1961), Teesri Manzil, Caravan (1971), Yaadon Ki Baaraat (1973) and Hum Kissi Se Kum Nahin (1977) lost his touch with Manzil, Manzil (1984) and Zabardast (1985). The magic was surely gone but those who thought things couldn't get any worse for Hussain had a surprise in store.
Nasir Hussain never followed the trend. Rather he was used to creating trends and that's what he did when handed over the baton to his son. Wait. Did you say what's so path breaking about a producer father handing over his production house to his son? What else would you say if the son happened to be an engineer from some of the best engineering institutions in the world and had no real inkling to make films? Unlike his nephew, Aamir, who assisted him on a few films and whom he'd decided to launch as the lead in his new production, Nasir Hussain's son was far removed from the world of films. Mansoor, who graduated from IIT Bombay and then went on to Cornell and M.I.T. Boston, didn't know how the hell could his father believe he could direct a love story between two warring Thakur clans and that too with a title which couldn't get any more filmy. Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988) not only launched the careers of Aamir Khan, Udit Narayan, Anand-Milind and ace cinematographer Kiran Deohans but also gave Juhi Chawla post Sultanat (1986) and Alka Yagnik post Mere Angane Mein a second shot of life.
Mansoor took a while in looking at QSQT as a soft Romeo-Juliet inspired tale that his father viewed it as rather than a tale of feuding Thakurs. Once Mansoor understood recognized that element he made QSQT truly his own. The first thing he did was to replace his father's regular RD Burman with then up and coming Anand-Milind. It broke Nasir Hussain's heart but the time had gone for the old order to move on. Everything about QSQT was like hitting the refresh button on a keyboard. There had been love stories before and there have been hundreds of them after but never was a commercial Hindi film treated with such love and care. Yes, the young lovers run as far as they can from all the madness; yes, they make a house in the rocky mountains and sing songs but there was still a sense of reality attached. Rashmi is the typical Hindi film leading lady who is afraid of her authoritarian father she still is her own person. Now contrast this with Preity Zinta's character from Dil Chahta Hai (2001), made 13 years later, a mute lamb who follows stupidity in the name of good manners. Rashmi's friend Kavita (Shenaz Kudia), who always taunts her for being subservient, never pushes her beyond a point but goes all out to help her when Rashmi has made up her mind. Readily submitting to just about everything and everyone, Shalini in DCH has no friends and even her own inner child seems to have abandoned her!
Somewhere QSQT unknowingly revived Hindi films. If nothing else it's solely responsible for rediscovering the melody of Hindi film music and the fact that there was no Filmfare Award for Music from 1985 till QSQT happened is testimony enough. A little over a year later Sooraj Barjatya reinstated the whole feel good factor of Hindi films that QSQT had initiated with Maine Pyaar Kiya (1989). Aditya Chopra might have grown up on the romance that overflowed in his father's films but his Dilwale Dhulanhiya Le Jayenge (1995) is much closer in spirit to QSQT than any Yashraj Film. Almost every film in the Hindi cinema's romance genre be it Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1988) and Dil Chahta Hai (2001) isn't untouched by the charm of QSQT.
Mansoor Khan has made four films in twelve years and hasn't made a single on in the previous twelve. He made a few advertisements and reluctantly oversaw the production of his nephew's launch by the same cousin whom he had launched. Today, Mansoor Khan is more interested in making cheese on his organic farm in the Nillgiris than making films. But then had his interest in cinema been more than what it was, he'd have never saved Hindi cinema.
Gautam Chintamani is an award-winning writer/filmmaker with over a decade of experience across print and electronic mediums.
(The views expressed by the author are personal)
From HT Brunch, March 18
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