Before the hit, the hiccups: what kind of a title is ‘Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak’ anyway?

Conviction and a publicity campaign borrowed from American pulp fiction paved the way for Mansoor Khan’s debut movie.

The latest book in the HarperCollins India series on iconic Hindi films explores the making of Mansoor Khan’s debut feature Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, which was produced by his father, the legendary filmmaker Nasir Husain. A tragic romance starring Aamir Khan and Juhi Chawla and scored by Anand-Milind, Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak is counted among Hindi cinema’s popular classics, but before its release in 1988, Khan and Husain had to fight off criticism of the film’s title, its music and its ending.

Mansoor was mortified when he saw the complete film for the first time at a trial for the inner circle. ‘I was cringing … kya bakwas hai yaar!’ says Mansoor. He remembers coming out of the screening having noticed what he considered mistakes, while his father had a spring in his step.

With new names, both in front of the camera and behind it, selling Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak took longer than expected. Although Nasir Husain’s name was still a big draw, the recent dip in the banner’s fortunes, along with a new cast and a first-time director, tilted the balance against the film. One thing that became clear from the first few private screenings was that people were divided in their opinion of the ending. While the younger lot loved the tragic ending, the elders didn’t want Raj and Rashmi to die. Each time such a discourse took place, Nasir sahab would nudge Mansoor that he should consider a different ending, but Nuzhat and Aamir would defend the one Mansoor had shot.

It was around this time that the film’s title underwent a change. Most Nasir Husain films have had memorable titles and, like always, this time too it was Nasir Husain who came up with the film’s final title. Nuzhat recalls how one day her father snapped his fingers and simply said ‘I have it’ before announcing Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak. ‘My first reaction was, “Hmm … It’s bit of a mouthful” and, for a long time, we were doubtful,’ says Nuzhat.

The change in title, however, didn’t help the film’s prospects. Many distributors at trials echoed the same concerns about the film’s ending. At the time Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak was being pitched to the market, distributors held enough power to coerce film-makers into changing things according to what they believed would boost box-office prospects. There were numerous trials for distributors from all over India and, after every screening, the reactions were the same—some found the music weak, some didn’t like the title— but almost every single one of them objected to the tragic ending.

Mansoor Khan, Aamir Khan and Nasir Husain. Courtesy HarperCollins Publishers and Nasir Husain Films/Mansoor Khan.
Mansoor Khan, Aamir Khan and Nasir Husain. Courtesy HarperCollins Publishers and Nasir Husain Films/Mansoor Khan.

Mansoor decided to keep the ending. ‘During the trials,’ says Mansoor, ‘my father was worried that I was being stubborn about the sad ending and kept telling me that for Indian audiences life was already filled with misery and so they don’t want to cry.’ Mansoor had seen his father change the finale of Baharon Ke Sapne following the audiences’ reactions and knew that the era his father hailed from believed that a sad ending in a film would be akin to cheating the viewer.

For Mansoor, the film’s resolution was defined by the hard-hitting premise his father had written, and with the prologue that set up the textured animosity between the two families, there was no other way to end the saga. Even while reasoning with each other, neither brought up Ek Duje Ke Liye, and Mansoor remembers thinking that the ending was rather forced, saying, ‘It could have been written in a manner where it’s not advocating suicide.’ While maintaining that Ek Duje Ke Liye was possible in real life, Mansoor believes he wouldn’t write his characters as people who choose death over seemingly bleak social scenarios.

Mansoor often thinks that had he possessed a deeper understanding of the nuances of Hindi cinema, he would have filmed the final shot, the image on which the film ends, in a different style.

The image of Raj and Rashmi finally being together for all eternity and a setting sun in the background seemed more contrived than organic. Mansoor and Kiran Deohans went back to Kolar and shot a new track of a young newly married couple travelling to the place where Raj and Rashmi died. The sequence would feature the man, who we later realize is Shyam (Raj Zutshi), as he tells his bride that before they embark on a life together, he wants to bring her to a place where he had made a promise to someone years ago. He goes on to tell her the story of Raj and Rashmi’s love for each other. This meant that the film would essentially be a flashback and Mansoor thought that this ploy would envelope the entire narrative and, moreover, avoid an end image of two dead lovers. But the device didn’t work. Much like the ‘happy ending’ that he was never game for, Mansoor was not convinced about the retelling of the film through a flashback and having tried it, he was now more certain than ever about the climax he had wanted all along.

It took Nasir Husain almost a year to close all territories and once everything was set, the distributors met Mansoor one last time to discuss a few things. Almost two decades later, Mansoor doesn’t remember the meeting but Aamir, who was present along with Nuzhat and Nasir Husain, recalls it vividly. The distributors were on board but told Mansoor three things that they had problems with: the ending, the music and the title. Aamir smiles as he recalls Mansoor letting ‘them have it’ and adds how Mansoor told the distributors that he believed in the ending, loved the music and didn’t really mind the title. ‘They had bought the film and were game but were expressing their concerns, they were worried that people wouldn’t turn up,’ says Aamir. ‘Mansoor told them, “If you don’t like the film, don’t release it.”’

Selling the film would always have been an uphill task, especially with unknown faces and a debutant director—along with music directors who were hardly known—and Nasir Husain was ready for it. Dalip Tahil jokes about how he and Alok Nath were the known faces and, as opposed to the hero or heroine, were regularly accosted for autographs during the shooting of Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak. Even Juhi Chawla recalls how she was received with blank looks when she asked a few taxi and auto drivers near her building in Cuffe Parade if she could put up stickers of her soon-to-be-released film on their vehicles. ‘Most drivers would go “Kaun hai yeh dono…” and some were kind enough to put them on when I said, “Meri hai,”’ says Chawla.

Aamir Khan and Juhi Chawla pose for a poster. Courtesy HarperCollins Publishers and Nasir Husain Films/Mansoor Khan.
Aamir Khan and Juhi Chawla pose for a poster. Courtesy HarperCollins Publishers and Nasir Husain Films/Mansoor Khan.

Leading up to its release, the film finally started getting noticed thanks to an innovative marketing campaign devised by Mansoor, Nuzhat and Nasir Husain. A series of three large hoardings went up across Bombay. The first featured a full-length image of Aamir but only his back to the camera in a black outfit with a caption that simply enquired, ‘Who is Aamir Khan?’. Aamir recalls the marketing ploy as Nasir sahab’s idea to build curiosity and says, ‘Each time you’d pass it you’d go “Kaun hai yeh?” as there was nothing else.

After a week, the second billboard in the series came up and while Aamir’s image and the question, ‘Who is Aamir Khan?’ remained the same, it featured an additional line that egged the spectators to ‘Ask the Girls Next Door’. Finally, a week later, the last billboard featured a third line that read, ‘See him in Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak’.

Nuzhat fondly remembers the unique marketing tactic they had come across in a novel. ‘It was one of those Harold Robbins or Jackie Collins books where a PR agent puts up a banner for a star, and we said we will do exactly the same,’ says Nuzhat. The ploy paid off. There was soon a buzz about the strange sounding upcoming film, with growing interest around the lead pair, especially the hero.

Till a week before the release of Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, Aamir Khan could easily hail a taxi or an autorickshaw and even take a BEST bus, but it would all change in a matter of weeks. The boy next door had no idea that he was poised to become the next superstar.

Excerpted with permission from Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak The Film That Revived Hindi Cinema, Gautam Chintamani, HarperCollins India.

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