In 1988, a serial on Doordarshan, Fauji, revolving around a bunch of high-spirited cadets undergoing rigorous training at a commando school , became the subject of dining table discussions across the country.
A veiled invitation to the country’s youth to join the armed forces, Colonel RK Kapoor’s coming-of-age show is remembered even today, two decades later, for its energetic Abhimanyu Rai who over the span of 13 episodes of 25-minute duration each, went on to become an unlikely heartthrob.
Shah Rukh Khan who played the much-loved Abhi, like many young boys, had grown up dreaming of wearing the uniform some day. He did, during those heady days in the police academy, during the shooting of Fauji.
Real cool guys
“It was a training ground of a different kind, for a career in films that was to follow,” reflects Bollywood’s Badshah, 21 years later. “I had grown up with a stereotyped notion of army officers… That they were stiff, strict and sticklers for
discipline with big, bushy moustaches. Sure they were all this and many had mouchis too, but at the same time, interacting with them at such close quarters, I realised that they were really cool guys too.”
For the young Khan, not yet riddled with back injuries, it was the physical aspect of the shoot that was the biggest high. “I was shimming up rocks and tumbling down even with someone holding on to my feet,” he laughs. “I still remember the locker room camaraderie we shared and a buddy who deadpanned, ‘I say chaps!’ that became the catchphrase of the nation. I remember the thrill of carrying a real gun and the spirit of adventure. I remember having really short hair and a girl landing in my arms from the skies.”
Abhimanyu Rai turned Shah Rukh Khan into an almost overnight living room superstar. It also earned him his first brush with fame. “During my days in college and in theatre, I’d spent a lot of time hanging outside Mandi House. Once I bumped into Ashu (filmmaker Ashotosh Gowarikar) there. Both our serials were rejected,” he says with a wry smile.
Hey, are you Abhi?
He continues, “Thank God for Fauji. While it was on air, I was stopped one day by a mother and daughter who wanted to know if I was Abhi. It was the first time I was recognised on the streets. A lot of us in the media today can trace our roots back to DD. That’s where it all began for me, and so many others.”
SRK also has fond memories of Colonel RK Kapoor, the writer and director of the action-adventure, who he says is the epitome of the ‘jolly good fellow’ with a booming laugh to match. The superstar is delighted to have roped in Kapoor to helm the sequel for him.
Red Chillies Idiot Box is producing Fauji 2. Buzz is that it will start airing on Colors channel early next year. Gossip also has it that SRK is going to be playing an army officer father without gray in his hair, giving pep talk to son Pulkit Samrat, Lakshya of Kyunkii Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, who takes over as the new Abhimanyu.
Apparently, Jackie and Ayesha Shroff’s 18-year-old son, Jai aka Tiger, was the first choice for the role but he turned down the coveted offer that Samrat grabbed.
Khan refutes the rumour saying, “It’s true that I’m producing Fauji 2. But I’m not playing Pulkit’s father or anyone else’s. I may give a voiceover if asked but otherwise it’s a new show with new people.”
Meanwhile, on September 28, DVDs of Fauji hit home video stores across the country. Launched by Eagle Film Company, the release of the two-pack DVDs, priced at Rs 699, coincided with DD’s 50 year- run as national broadcaster. Khan who has a set of DVDs in his library in Mannat, has the last word, “Fauji was a cult show that became a part of DD’s history and my destiny. I’m confident the sequel will be as big a draw.”