Can you believe QSQT is a quarter-century old? And can you believe that love, once, was so unattainable?
I’m sorry if I’m turning this column into some sort of nostalgia machine, remembering movies simply because they turn a certain age — but there just wasn’t any way I was going to be able to resist writing about Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, which turned 25 on April 29. Considering the stature Aamir Khan has since assumed, I’m surprised the celebrations haven’t been more lavish — you know, embalming the negative in gold, that sort of thing.
But seriously, the film needs at least a token salute, if only because its success showed filmmakers that there was more to popular entertainment — popular music — than throbbing beats and psychedelic disco floors. At least for a while. QSQT (whose star was instantly christened the ‘QS Cutie’) brought back the promise of wholesome Hindi cinema.
For some of us, those nearing the end of school or already into college, the film was something of a generational marker. I refer, of course, to the song that was not just a song but an anthem, ‘Papa Kehte Hain...’ This was one of the first instances of teenage confusion I remember seeing on screen. We were used to kids dropping out of school and college, and those kids became delinquents and grew up to be Amitabh Bachchan (in the 1970s) or Sanjay Dutt (in the 80s) — but here was a clean-cut lad telling us that he just didn’t know what he wanted to do in life.
Even today, when I see the song, I am overcome by sentiment, recalling a time when the umbilical cord was going to be snipped, when school would soon give way to hostels and an unknown future. Or as the song put it: ‘Magar Yeh To Koi Na Jaane Ki Meri Manzil Hai Kahan...’ (But then nobody knows what my destination is).
When the song occurs in the film, it’s the last day of college — a banner says ‘Rajput College — Farewell to 3rd Year Students’. It’s a raucous party. A big band’s on stage, with one most enthusiastic drummer. And then Aamir Khan steps up with a small monologue and slips into the song.
What made the number closer to heart, to experience (even to someone such as me who was still in school), was the fact that only Aamir, among his batch mates, seemed confused — everyone else seemed quite sure about what they would do, where they would end up. As the song makes clear, some kids would end up engineers, some kids would make their name in business — but Aamir doesn’t know what awaits him. He was speaking to every single teen who was asked, as a child, what he or she wanted to be when they grew up and who could only muster up a blank stare by way of a reply.
The amusing thing is that the song isn’t meant to be about this confusion. That’s only the first part, which builds up to the second, where Aamir reveals that, unlike these prosaic friends of his, he’s something of a poet, and that his desires aren’t professional but personal. He dreams of a girl with magic in her eyes and love on her lips. It’s a clever song situation that alerts us to where this boy’s destiny lies, not in the world of engineers and businessmen but in the world of hearts (which, thankfully, sounds far less corny in Hindi, when he says ‘Dil Ki Duniya Mein Apna Naam Karega’).
As it turns out, his wishes are fulfilled. He gets the girl of his dreams. And he dies. Looking back at the film today, perhaps this was inevitable. Liberalisation was just around the corner. Money would come to mean everything. The country would become a breeding ground for professionals, not poets.
In the years that followed, a certain kind of poetry would be lost from the movies too. Another song I love from the film is ‘Kahe Sataye’, which Juhi Chawla sings to Aamir at night, across the small fire that separates them. She’s never been alone, she’s afraid, she’s annoyed that he’s apparently dropped off to sleep so easily — and these feelings burst forth in a lyrical fashion.
Such a song would be inconceivable today because no one would listen to such a slow tune, and more importantly, today’s heroines just aren’t that naïve anymore. And in a world where parents and families — feuding or otherwise — have vanished from screens, and where men and women are free to cohabit with ease, love has transformed from a Holy Grail to a stainless steel cup, the romance replaced with utilitarianism. Sometimes we watch older films and say 'They don’t make them like they used to”. With QSQT, it’s more like “They couldn’t make this today even if they wanted to”. The country is no longer a destination for dreamers.