If Mansoor Khan had his way, his debut film would be Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar. But circumstances led him to direct his father Nasir Hussain's Qayamant Se Qayamat Tak (1988), which was designed to be his cousin Aamir Khan's big launch. The 80s witnessed quite a few significant star kid launches like Sanjay Dutt in Rocky (1981) and Sunny Deol in Betaab (1983). Aamir didn't have the brawn and big personality of these actors. He did try growing a moustache for his part in QSQT, but that idea was scrapped. Mansoor was determined to make a film that looked young, contemporary and plausible.
That's why he asked Anand-Milind and not R D Burman, who had scored some of his most successful melodies for his father's films, to create the songs for QSQT. "Mansoor felt that he could not have felt free to work with Pancham uncle because he was so senior and established. He really wanted someone young he could talk to," says his sister Nuzhat Khan, who was involved in every aspect of the film, from its scripting to costumes and post production. Actor Dalip Tahil, who plays Aamir's father in the film, remembers a time when Hussain wanted Shammi Kapoor and Sanjeev Kumar to play Aamir and Juhi Chawla's dads in the film. "Mansoor said if I am going to make this film then I need to take a more contemporary cast because I can't direct Sanjeev Kumar and Shammi Kapoor in my first film. It just wont work!" he recalls.
The other area in which Mansoor got his way was the film's climax. He was convinced that a Romeo and Juliet-style love story must end in tragedy. Hussain, who at the time was having some bad luck at the box office, didn't want to risk upsetting the audience. The father and son argued over which way to go right till the release of the film. Here we trace the drama behind the film's final moments.
Nuzhat Khan: I had been away studying psychology in America. When I came back my dad was looking for a story. He really wanted to write Aamir's first film, who had been an AD for a few of his films. He said I really want to think of a love story. Mansoor was writing his own script which later became Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar. So my dad, I and later Aamir were working on the script of QSQT.
Later Mansoor wasn't too happy with how Jo Jeeta was working out. Dad was supposed to direct QSQT but then he fell ill and had to have a bypass, so we asked Mansoor if he would consider making the film. He was quite reluctant.
He kept saying I don't know what a thakur is. I've never met one in my life. Much persuasion happened. When he agreed, he joined the writing process. He brought in his storytelling skills and characterisation which became quite pathbreaking. We were following something classic and when Mansoor came in he introduced new elements – especially the most fabulous climax.
Mansoor Khan: I was not much of a film buff. I had very contrary views to mainstream cinema that I still do have. But I was feeling like I had wasted so much of my father's money studying abroad and then I dropped out in the last year and I had no intentions of doing a 9-5 job. In fact, that's where Aamir's character from Jo Jeeta was coming from. But since I didn't have that idea ready, I said okay let's do QSQT.
I wanted to layer every character. Even the four guys who harass Juhi's character, I didn't want to make them out and out villains. There were just four guys who had too much beer and start misbehaving, it's not like they were rapists at heart. I would have big arguments with my father over these kinds of things. So 50 per cent of the script was mine and 50 per cent my father's. One of the things we disagreed on was the climax. For me it was always going to be a tragic ending, but somewhere along the line, my dad lost conviction in it.
Nuzhat Khan: The film we made was very quiet because the last couple of films my dad had made at that time had not done well. So we were not very arrogant about making this. We went to Bangalore and began with shooting the climax. Dad did send with us two very senior people who had worked on his productions. We were little children who went off with these guys who we knew from when we were small. It was a little bit of a cross generation functioning going on there.
Mansoor Khan: I rewrote the ending on the set itself. I told everybody I'm not happy with it. We reached and everybody was getting ready for the shot and this was bothering me. I felt there wasn't enough meat or build up to it, so I rewrote it again there. I don't think about the audience. Since I'm not much of a watcher, I didn't know when they will whistle, cheer or throw money. Sometimes it's good to know these things and sometimes it is good to go by your conviction.
When we came out of the trial, all the elders would be saying 'No, no it can't be a sad end'. Some told my father please explain to your son this will not work, he doesn't know any better. On the other hand, all the young kids would say 'No no chachajaan, yeh achha hai'. There was a clear rift because the elders weren't going by their feelings but by the pattern that these kind of films don't work.
Dalip Tahil: I remember all the distributors came to Nasir saab and said please change the ending. You can not have a sad ending, the movie will bomb. A few said he should follow Raj Kapoor's philosophy that you should never kill young love.
Mansoor Khan: My dad had also made a film called Baharon Ke Sapne (1967) where originally they both (Rajesh Khanna and Asha Parekh) die and that was the fitting ending. But when he went to the theatre and saw people were so upset with him, he got a shock. Till then he had made one hit after the other. When he was standing in the corridor he heard people abusing him. He came out panicked and shot another ending in two days. He went to each theatre, cut it and put the new ending.
Dalip Tahil: So Mansoor went back to Banglaore where he had shot the climax and reshot it with a happy ending. But he was not involved in the shoot. For the first time I saw him sitting far away on a chair and telling people to get on with whatever they had to shoot. I remember he told Nasir saab that if he went with the happy ending, he'd take his name off the film. That blew Nasir saab's mind. He went from pillar to post taking people's opinions on which way to go.
Finally he went to the wisest man he knew in the film industry at the time, a gentleman called Rahi Masoom Raza. Rahi saab was a writer and he said if you have a happy ending you'll make money, and the film will do well but it will never become a classic. That convinced Nasir saab and we never ended up using the happy ending.
Mansoor Khan: Years after QSQT's release, Baharon Ke Sapne was coming on TV and my dad was watching. I remember I was going somewhere but I got quite engrossed and I sat and watched it. When it came to the end I got very disappointed and I told my dad, 'See, this what I meant'. Only then he said, 'Yes, you're right'.