Twenty years ago, the tales and travails of a group of teenagers at a Mumbai school became something of an obsession for young television viewers. The show Hip Hip Hurray enjoyed great popularity during its 80-episode run on Zee TV, and continues to be fondly remembered as an example of the phase of Indian television that predated raucous family dramas and crime procedurals.
Hip Hip Hurray treated its teenage protagonists (and viewers) like adults, following them through tough choices and crucial moments. The format had few precursors, and two decades after it first aired on October 21, 1998, Hip Hip Hurray’s status as a defining Hindi teen drama remains unrivalled.
Even the writer and director of the series, Nupur Asthana, can’t fully explain its enduring appeal. “There was a lot of soul-searching, looking for truths in the stories of these kids,” Asthana told Scroll.in. “Emotions are universal, and I think every teen in every generation goes through these. So somehow, those emotions have rung true and resonated with later generations as well.”
The show was born out of a “happy fluke”, said Asthana, who had worked as an assistant director to Ketan Mehta for over three years and wanted to venture out on her own. “I didn’t know at the time how to raise money for a film, and so I thought maybe television might be a good way to start. And so I wrote. I tried to figure out what I wanted to say.”
The inspiration came partly from Asthana’s childhood desire to experience the boarding school life made popular by Enid Blyton’s popular series Malory Towers and St Clare’s. “When I was a kid, I’d always wanted to be in a school like Malory Towers or St Clare’s – possibly every kid wanted that – and then I just started writing. I poured it all out on paper.”
The end result was the world of the Class 12 students of DeNobili school and their friendships, romances and other life-defining experiences. The characters were brought to life by a cast that comprised predominantly newcomers, many of whom are now television or film regulars. These included Nilanjana Sharma, Rushad Rana, Nauheed Cyrusi, Purab Kohli, Zafar Karachiwala, Candida Fernades, Peeya Rai Chowdhary, Shweta Salve, Kishwar Merchant and Vishal Malhotra.
Alongside the greenhorns were such established actors as Beena Banerjee, Vinay Pathak (who also wrote the dialogue), Suchitra Pillai, Sanjay Mishra and Sheeba Chaddha.
The chemistry between the young cast members was built over a six-week-long acting workshop. “I also wanted to completely keep out any sense of competition between them,” Asthana said. “I told them from day one, there is no hero or heroine, no lead – all of you are equal. And that really helped in the show as well, because they were supposed to have studied from childhood together in the same school. That chemistry leapt out of the screen to the viewers and contributed to the show’s appeal.”
Asthana stayed true to her word. The show gave all its 15-odd key characters their own adventures and back stories. Wouldn’t that have been a challenge from the writing point of view? “I had 80 episodes, so there was enough time,” Asthana said. “I could go in at length and tear into their stories and explore that. But I also wanted to do right by these kids, because I had told them that there would be no hero. And that was a win-win situation for me because I got to tell so many more stories and delve into various issues and aspects of teenage behaviour.”
Over its two-year run, the show explored such topics as eating disorders, substance abuse, exam stress and domestic troubles. But the heart of the series lay in its friendships and its many contours of young love. Within this spectrum, Hip Hip Hurray also touched upon themes of mental health, sexuality and body image.
That the industry was not yet driven solely by television rating points helped greatly. “Television was not run like it is today, where there are many executives telling you what to say and how to say it,” Asthana explained. “If a specific episode didn’t get as many viewers as the last, nobody told us, change the story. Which is why the soul of the show stayed strong.”
Asthana has carried forward the focus on youth culture in much of her subsequent work, including Sony TV’s Mahi Way, about an overweight woman’s quest to find love, her debut film Mujhse Fraaandship Karoge (2011), which looked at adolescent relationships in the age of social media, and the gay-themed web series Romil and Jugal (2017). Asthana’s credits also include the 2002 Sony TV show Hubahu and Yash Raj Films’ Bewakoofiyaan (2014).
The late teens and early twenties is an age group that interests her, Asthana said. “But what I try to do now when I do anything centred on youth is look for something new to say. For instance, Romil and Jugal was exploring homosexuality, an aspect I had not explored in my work. So I was very excited and challenged. I’ve been trying to take it to the next level each time in terms of what I explore.”