Just Mohabbat was based on a simple thought: ‘The child is the father of man’. It chronicled the life of a young boy who reacts to how grown-ups around him behave,” says Deeya Singh, who co-produced and co-directed the show with her husband, Tony Singh. The 1996 show was about Jai (played by Harsh Lunia and later Vatsal Sheth), a kid, who stays in a hostel, and focuses on his growing up years and his relationship with his friends and a dysfunctional family. The show also starred Salim Shah, Kavita Kapoor, Tanvee Sharma, Sadia Siddiqui, Aditya Kapadia, Jennifer Kotwal and Chandana Sharma. Many actor did cameos in the show including Surekha Sikri, the late Ravi Baswani and Irrfan Khan. Imran Khan’s wife Avantika Mallik and Kunal Roy Kapur, were also seen in smaller roles.
Deeya says, “The book, Catcher In The Rye and the TV show, The Wonder Years were the inspiration for the show. It was a dramedy, a genre not often explored on TV. The title song, too, became iconic.” Deeya admits that child actor Harsh Lunia was naughty and they had to work hard on “geting him to deliver the scenes as needed”. She says, “He was a real badmash (naughty). Audiences loved Jai’s wackiness and audacity. Jai would have issues as his parents were often fighting and he would mock them. He would say that adults complicate life, which is in fact simple. Audiences would write to us saying they felt a sense of nostalgia watching the series, as they could relate to Jai’s antics.”
The young kid
Jai had an imaginary friend Gautam. When Jai grows up, the imaginary friend remains the same. The imaginary friend was the conscience and the idea was that there’s a child in all of us. Initially, the Singhs were apprehensive to take the story from a young kid’s life to the romance of a teenager. “Vatsal fit in very well as the teenaged Jai. Those days, there was no concept of taking a leap but we did it,” she says.
Vatsal who played the role for two years, gained a lot of popularity. “It was my debut show and I didn’t have any experience. The show changed everything in my life. I wasn’t looking at acting but my friend’s mother was the casting director and when they didn’t get the right actor, she happened to ask me to audition. They gave me five lines, which took me an hour to memorise. Initially, I was cast as a friend, but later, I got selected for the main lead,” says Vatsal.