An early poster for Qayamat se Qayamat Tak (released on April 29th, 1988) boldly proclaimed the tagline: Love..The Crime of The Century! Although stated ironically, it was still a peculiar way to advertise a musical love story. But it couldn't have been such a surprise either. After the 60’s, ideas of unbridled love became less fashionable, while the 70's was about vigilante heroes meting out social justice. By the 80’s, romance in Hindi cinema began to look dated. All of this sobered the imagination of the youth; love was losing its transcendence.
But now, it was the tail end of the century and love on the screen was in need of a revival. Liberalization was knocking on the door. American brands influenced fashion, music and movies; the youth was restless to assert its own needs over family and societal concerns; there was a buzz in the air.
Enter Nasir Hussain: maverick movie maker of runaway romantic hits such as Dil Deke Dekho (1959), Teesri Manzil (1966) and Yaadon ki Baaraat (1973). Hussain was desperate to bounce back following an unsuccessful string of films. Already a legend of the industry and now approaching the end of his career, he was willing to take a gamble for his next blockbuster, open to a wholly new approach. All he knew was that he wished to launch a new movie starring his nephew, who, until now, had assisted him in a few films. The nephew was, of course, Aamir Khan, a little over 20 at that time . Hussain had written a script for a film titled Nafrat ke Waris, but given his health, knew that he couldn't withstand the pressures of directing it himself; and, in a move that turned out to be pivotal, passed on the director mantle to his son Mansoor (Khan), who had never got behind the camera to make a theatrical movie.
Mansoor Khan had a tough act to balance. While working on a script by his father, he had to find his own voice (and team). Following the example of Raj Kapoor’s hugely successful experiment with Bobby (and paving the way for a certain Adi Chopra making DDLJ), he found a way to re imagine the old Shakespearean tale of lovers caught between generational family rivalry: by making use of his own style and sensibility. Himself in his late twenties and well familiar with the American coming-of -age movies of the time, Mansoor Khan began with a script containing dialogues written in Hindi-Urdu style, and turned it into a movie that overflowed with youthfulness, saturated colors and enduring music- a la John Hughes.
But the biggest change that Mansoor Khan brought in had to do with the film’s ending. Nasir Hussain’s original script, following the trope of mainstream Hindi movies, had resolved the conflict of the eloped lovers through mutual acceptance by the warring families; in other words, “a happy ending”. But Mansoor Khan simply could not accept such a simplistic resolution. Plus, it wasn’t in keeping with the great love tragedies of yore. Hussain felt that the audience would not accept the tragic fate of the lovers and leave the theater despairing. But his director-son would have none of it. He had restructured the script with the tragic end in mind and was determined to keep it that way. Only in order to pacify his father’s growing anxiety, he shot an alternate ending for the film, much to the surprise of the cast on location.
And that made all the difference. Qayamat se Qayamat Tak, as it now came to be called, was not only a story of love, but as much about death- love’s eternal, invisible companion. Seen with the tragic end in mind, details in the film acquire richness as they foreshadow the inevitable fate of the lovers: Like when a young Raj (Amir Khan) sings at his college farewell party: “Magar ye toh, koi na jaane..ke meri manzil hain kahaan” (Who really knows where my destiny lies), or later, when he refuses to accept the photographs clicked by Rashmi (Juhi Chawla) saying: “Doobte hue suraj ke saath kheenchi hui tasveer paas rakhne se aadmi mar jata hai” (One hastens death by keeping photographs taken at sunsets) ; or how the golden sunsets, like death itself, remain an ever-present witness to their lives- from the fateful moment they first see each other, to the very end, as their bloodied bodies lie in embrace.
“Life always says Yes and No simultaneously. Death is the true Yea-sayer. It stands before eternity and says only: Yes”, wrote Rilke. 35 years after its release, it is absurd to imagine QSQT with a happy ending. That would be anti-climatic in the dullest of ways- losing all its poetic, rebellious qualities. Death does not separate the lovers, it unites them. Far from despair, it brings an odd sense of release. QSQT brought back the primacy of romantic love in Hindi cinema in all its youthful madness, its fleeting intensity and in the wilful befriending of death.
Love may have been the crime of the 20th century. Which is why we are so wary of falling into its grips during the 21st. But we don't always have to be so careful. In times of shifting realities, it may be the most human of all actions, one that can’t fully be narrowed down by the language of machines. The time may have come for another revival of the Hindi movie romance. There is new buzz in the air.