Article Hindi

25 years of Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar: The 90s classic that almost got shelved

The 1992 Aamir Khan-starrer faced tonnes of hurdles during the making of the film and was almost shut down at one point.

Suparna Thombare

Today Mansoor Khan’s Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar (1992) is looked back with nostalgia and warmth, but it is also a film that almost never got made. The film’s title really holds true for the making of the film as it got made despite several hurdles that threatened its completion.

It all began at the writing stage. Mansoor had the idea of Jo Jeeta... with him even before he started work on Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988) but he wasn’t able to finish the script.

“I didn’t know how to write a subject like this,” said Mansoor, while speaking at the reunion of the film’s cast and crew at last year's Mumbai Academy of Moving Images' Mumbai Film Festival. Since his Jo Jeeta... script was going nowhere, Nasir Husain suggested that he direct QSQT as its script (written by Nasir Husain himself) was ready.

At the time Mansoor was new to filmmaking and he wasn’t sure what works with the audience. The script that he did write for Jo Jeeta... at first was completely different from what finally got made. “There was no father in the story then. It was only two brothers and one was almost like a father. It was in the wacky zone. Good that I gave up on it,” said Mansoor.

Mansoor Khan

After the success and experience of QSQT, Mansoor decided to revisit his earlier idea albeit with a fresh approach. This time it worked and Mansoor and Aamir decided to collaborate once again. After the script was locked and the cast was put together, Mansoor faced new hurdles.

The shooting of Jo Jeeta... began in mid-1989, but little did the makers know that it would take three years for the film to get completed and released in theatres. The team had shot for 60 days in Ooty, after which he had to get rid of two actors playing major characters — Milind Soman (who played Deepak Tijori's part of Shekhar Malhotra) and South Indian actress Girija, who was playing the lead opposite Aamir, later played by Ayesha Jhulka.

Soman, who was a young model at the time, had lots of problems working with Mansoor. The two just couldn’t see eye to eye professionally and personally. “In the long shots (in Jo Jeeta...) even today you can see me. I had problems with the producers and also with Mansoor Khan on a personal level. We just weren’t able to get along. In fact, I had shot almost 40 per cent of the film,” Soman said in an interview some years later.

After Soman's departure a lot of the portions had to be re-shot with Tijori. But Girija also left the film midway as the re-shoot was taking more time than she had actually signed up for. Mansoor, too, was unhappy with her performance. “I saw her in Mani Ratnam’s film and offered her the role immediately. However, Ratnam is a brilliant director who knows how to make his actors work. I did not,” Mansoor said.

At this point, the film almost got shelved. The challenge of shooting the film all over again seemed like a daunting task to the director and he was on the verge of shutting it down. But it was Aamir’s faith in the film and Mansoor, that gave the film a new lease of life.
"I had lost hope. I wasn't sure if I had it in me to complete it. But Aamir felt that it's an all-time kind of film. And encouraged me to finish it," said Mansoor, adding, “Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar will be a cult film for ages (Aamir said). Doesn’t matter how much time it takes to complete.”

He now had the task of casting new artistes and shoot over 80 per cent of the film from scratch, which he did. Tijori and Jhulka came on board and things started working out. With the new cast and renewed enthusiasm, Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar finally got made.

The coming of age tale and the winning against all odds by an underdog is really also the story of the grit and determination of Aamir and Mansoor, who refused to give up on Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, which went on to become a 1990s classic.