Like shopping malls and pizza joints, movies traditionally arrived late to small town India. Thus, it was around 1998 that Mansoor Khan’s Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar was projected in all its glory on the silver screen. There were bits and pieces before that: ‘Pehla Nasha’ on Chitrahaar, a few scenes that we managed to watch during the DD telecast before being shooed off to bed, and an article or two in the neighbourhood barber’s collection of Filmfare and Mayapuri.
In hindsight, it arrived at the right time, when I was primed to connect with Aamir Khan’s wide-eyed dancing on the hilltop in ‘Pehla Nasha’, interschool sporting contests, and a world that revolved around school and friends from school. It was shot in Kodaikanal but set in Dehradun (padhadiyon ki god me ek khoobsurat jannat, as the film describes it). Being from a small town nestled between the hills, far away from hustle-bustle of the city and its charms, the ambience was relatable for me. While we had enjoyed the angry young man and dancing Jimmy, Sanju from Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar was the closest movie hero a kid in the ninth standard could relate to. Thus, Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar became a movie that was talked about in classrooms, its scenes imitated from the back bench and its ending aspired to.
Yahan ke hum sikandar became our clarion call for inter-school competitions (or rivalries, as we pictured them in our heads). It was onscreen validation of our little CBSE-vs-ICSE rivalry, our version of Model vs Rajput. Our cricket matches were automatically elevated to the stature of the annual sporting event in the film (needless to say, only in our heads, while the rest of the town went about business as usual) and giving an inch was akin to an apocalypse. What made the film refreshing was the fact that the characters were not larger than life; rather, they seemed to have been picked from life itself and suspended in intermittent moments of disbelief. Sanju, Ratan and Anjali (yes, Ayesha Jhulka was the first onscreen Anjali who was friend-zoned because of the more “glamorous” second lead), even the brat Shekhar, were easy to find around us. And Shekhar was an opponent we could hope to take down in real life. Time passed and in the melting pot of college, our rivalries were discarded along with our school uniforms. The college campus-cum-fight club movies of Akshay Kumar and Suniel Shetty, and the Archie universe of Karan Johar soon featured in the ‘Now Playing’ section of the theatres, but neither of those genres could provide an approximation of actual college, in the ways Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar did for school life.
The movie does not entirely stand the test of time – two young men take a fighting detour in the middle of a cycle race and still come back in time to compete for the first place (makes you wonder at what pace the other cyclists were moving), a school where students excel in academia and athletics alike is painted as bad, while the slackers from Model are romanticised. But it was the era of suspension of disbelief and lesser ‘filters’ to gauge a movie, and this is the time that the movie takes me back to. My good old school days of the 90s – of Reynold pens and cycles with gears, of first crushes and cricketing bruises, and where the mind was, in many ways, without fear.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.