The hittest funniest flop show

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Arjun Kapoor breaks into a goofy smile at the mention of Andaz Apna Apna. “I must have been seven or eight-years-old then,” he recalls. “My dad had taken me to Gossip, a preview theatre in Bandra, to watch Salman and Aamir Khan. I found the film very funny, and some lines like ‘Ye Teja-Teja Kya Hain, Yeh Teja-Teja?’ still stay with me. I still maro these dialogues. It’s a cult film, there aren’t many like that.”

Despite his film lineage, Arjun is not alone in reminiscing about Andaz Apna Apna 20 years after the film was released. Movie buffs across the country made AAA a cult with multiple VCD and DVD hire-outs. Stories about its making have added anecdotal legends to it. Before bound scripts, systematic narration and printed dialogues became the norm, and during an era when actors worked on three shifts across three films at the same time, the film’s director, Rajkumar Santoshi, had to devise ingenious methods on the spot to keep making this whacky comedy. He got his all-star cast and crew to deliver performances beyond their standard clichéd images.

While the shooting of the film’s climax was on, Raveena Tandon and Karishma Kapoor had just returned from Mauritius after having finished shooting for another film and had a sort of cold war going on — the heroines were not even on talking terms. This posed a problem for Santoshi, as he still had to shoot portions featuring both his leading ladies together.

Raveena remembers a complete lack of bonhomie while filming AAA. In fact, during this tied-to-the-pillar sequence, she had offered Karishma Kapoor a sip from her juice, as both of them were starving. Karishma refused outright, preferring to keep her thirst to herself. Clearly, Santoshi had an uphill task on his hands.

With a masterstroke, he created a sequence to clear the air between the actors. “We were shooting the climax of the film and decided to tie both Raveena and Karishma to a pillar and instructed them to talk to each other the way they felt like,” says Santoshi, whose unplanned film later encouraged him to make romantic comedies with younger actors with mixed results. (While Ajab Prem Ki Gazab Kahani did very well in theatres, Phata Poster, Nikla Hero flopped).

AAA released in 1994, when multi-starrers were the norm. It would rub shoulders with India’s biggest wedding movie, Hum Aapke Hain Kaun; with a crime caper, Mohra; a slapstick Govinda comedy, Raja Babu; and a socio-political drama, Krantiveer. The film was a box office disaster, but it has outlived all its co-releases and rumbled on to become a TV and video super-success.

So when did Santoshi realise that the film had assumed cult-film proportions? “It was one of those casual chats with Aamir some seven years after the film’s release that he told me that AAA has the maximum viewership from his filmography,” says Santoshi. His flop was finally a hit.

In successive interviews, Aamir has talked about the growing stature of AAA. In 2011, he had told this author that AAA’s popularity across generations and boundaries amused him. He ignored references to rivalry with his co-star Salman while making the film, preferring to draw attention to the fact that he never quite realised how funny Amar and Prem were while shooting for the film.

Interestingly, not many know that Santoshi has been cajoled by members of his fraternity to arrange screenings of the film’s unadulterated and unedited version on some 300-odd occasions. During some trials, theatres that could accommodate 100 people, were forced to cater to 100 more.

The film is evidently popular. Why then did it not achieve success when it was released? “It was more of a haphazard release,” says Santoshi. “Both Aamir and I were out of station during the time. That spoilt its chances even more. Not much was being pumped into its promotion. We were tense that prints would not be delivered to theatres on time, as the distribution company was a first-timer. Yes, it was haphazard.”

The shooting too was as haphazard, apparently. The film took three years to make; Salman Khan’s changing hairstyle is testimony of that. With an ensemble cast of four reigning stars — Aamir, Salman, Karishma and Raveena — and very busy character-actors, accommodating combination dates over a period of three years proved painful. It was only because of his patience and steely determination that Santoshi could pull it off.

For its leading actors, the film turned out to be life-changing, in the sense that it gave them iconic roles to remember them by. Crime Master Gogo’s “Mogambo ka bhatija, aaya hu to kuch leke hi jaonga” dialogue is stuff of folklore now. Shakti Kapoor has earned plaudits for bringing the character to the same league of other iconic villains of Hindi cinema like Mogambo, Shakaal and Gabbar, albeit in a funnier and funner way. Few are aware that Kapoor was not even the original choice for the role. Actor Tinnu Anand was approached for the part but his dates just could not be worked out.

“Then I agreed to do the film only as an adjustment,” says Kapoor. “Vinay Sinha, one of the producers, was a family friend. He called to tell me that Tinnu had backed short takes out and he requested me to play the part. It was a distress call. Those days, I was busy doing three to four shifts a day and barely had any time. I accepted the film on the condition that the shoots would happen only at night.”

Andaz Apna Apna also happens to be one of those few films in the industry, whose story was penned only after the desired star cast had given their consent. Santoshi started writing the story only after Aamir and Salman agreed to come aboard.

Another thing about the film is that its clichés — which would get any film panned — work beautifully in its favour. Names of bygone characters of Hindi cinema like Raabert, Teja, Amar and Prem add to its charisma. The production house Mehmood owns in the film — Wah Wah Productions — was borrowed from the ’70s blockbuster Pyaar Kiye Jaa, where the actor owns a studio by the same name. Yet, in the film, they all seem to fit like a glove. The experiment worked for AAA. So what makes this nonsense of a film tick even after so many years?

According to Kapoor, it is the departure from the loud, garish films that had become the norm then. “The comedy of AAA is way ahead of its time and, therefore, it took time to seep in,” he says. “The era was replete with films full of double entendres, made primarily keeping the front benchers in mind. When the film was released, it took time for people to realise what hit them. Santoshi had invented a radical style of storytelling. With time and repeat viewing, AAA has now assumed the proportions of a cult film.”

Santoshi rubbishes all talk of rivalry between the two Khan superstars as nonsense. He picks out gems from the time of the shooting. “The discussion for the film would happen over kebabs from Salman’s house and biriyani from Aamir’s house,” he says. The only time the director lost his cool was when the two actors would break into uncontrollable fits of laughter whenever they had to say “aaila” or “ooi maa”. The shoot would be interrupted again and again and this irked Santoshi, as he was in a rush to finish the film.

For Aamir, television became an important factor in helping the film attain cult status. To this day, AAA remains one of the most viewed titles on Indian TV. Zee Network’s newest channel &Pictures has already acquired the broadcast rights of the film, along with recent superhits like Chennai Express and Kai Po Che. Amazon sells the film’s dvd at Rs 480 in the US and has also launched a Blu-ray version.

With a form-as-you-go script, the film witnessed multiple improvisations and spontaneous additions by its actors and director. Kapoor gives the entire credit to Santoshi, who was open to suggestions. So much so that he let the entire climax scene be improvised! Aamir’s line “Gogo ji, aapka ghagra” and Kapoor’s soliloquy about the future of a gang leader were all done impromptu by the actors while the camera was rolling.

“The scene where I and Salman fight each other in the climax was to be filmed originally between Aamir and me, but he was not comfortable doing it,” recalls Kapoor. “The fight master then filmed the sequence with Salman.”

The director’s touch can be felt in the film’s unpretentious, carefree performances. Note that AAA was made way before the current age of media blitz, and its mahurat shot — a fossilised concept in modern Bollywood — had Sachin Tendulkar in attendance. The shot was given by Dharmendra, as a friendly gesture to Santoshi, who had given his son Sunny Deol iconic roles in Ghayal and Damini. In fact, Santoshi enjoys such a good rapport with his actors that years later he would convince Amitabh Bachchan to shave off his goatie for his role of a police officer in Khakee. Clearly, if there was anyone who could pull off an unlikely funny film under trying circumstances, then this persuasive, dedicated filmmaker was the right man for the job.

With time and with newer fans adding to the film, there have been whispers of a sequel for AAA. Santoshi says he is currently working on the script but would only make the film if he feels it’s worthy. “The script should be ready by next year,” he says. “For me, the barometer is the comedy of the first film, and for this reason, I am taking my time.” Although he candidly admits that a sequel will automatically get a decent opening.

Raveena, who took a hiatus from films years ago, jumps at the mention of a sequel. “I would love to see a sequel to the film and also star in it,” she says with glee. “It would be great to get together with Salman, Aamir and Karishma once again.”

While an idea of a sequel is up in the air, the original film remains a high point for ’90s Bollywood. Its whacky, natural flow was a throwback to the golden years, when comedies like Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, Padosan and Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron had captured everyone’s imagination. As a parting trivia, does anyone remember the film that sealed Andaz Apna Apna’s fate at the box office? On 11 April, 20 years ago, it was Anil Kapoor’s Andaz — a title that confused moviegoers. Strange how you will really need to dig deep in your memory to even recollect an image of that one!

(Abhishek Srivastava is a freelance film writer based in Mumbai.)

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