Years before Aamir Khan earned himself the name of Mr Perfectionist and was still carving a space for himself in Hindi cinema, there was a film that celebrated the extraordinary courage of a seemingly ordinary teenager.
Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar is the story of the rivalry between two schools. The Rajputs represent the elite and Model School represents the working class. Sanjay Lal, played by Aamir Khan, lives without a care in the world. He chills with his friends in ‘borrowed cars’, tries to smoke without getting caught and aims to impress the girls from Queens college. In all fairness, his life is as ordinary as it could get. With no family money to fall back on and no academic achievements, Sanjay represents every teenager who is yet to face the world. This character was quite an anomaly when one compares it to the heroes of the 90s.
In mainstream Hindi films of those days, this was not how the leading hero functioned. In those days, we saw our mainstream heroes take charge of the situation, we hardly saw them make mistakes and we never saw them getting beat up. Sanjay did it all. Yet, he emerges as the hero when he faces the music.
The main point of contention in Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar is the coveted cycle race. Of course, the win of the dark horse, the family that comes together in the end and the bad penny that always turns up are all important elements of this story but what culminates all these elements, in the end, is Sanjay’s win.
Through most part of the film, we see Aamir Khan’s Sanjay is engaged in trying to one-up the boys of Rajput. He wanders aimlessly trying to hatch plans that would earn him Devika’s (Pooja Bedi) affection. But when he sees his brother in a critical condition, Sanjay decided to take the reins. Ratan’s accident is a pivotal point in the plot. It acts as a trigger to move Sanjay into the driver’s seat.
From being a ‘non-hero’, Sanjay becomes the ‘hero’.
Aamir Khan had seen a fair bit of success by the time Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar released. His debut film had won him a lot of accolades. Dil, with Madhuri Dixit, had made him a teenage heartthrob. Yet, he chose to do a part where his heroic qualities were not highlighted. In fact, he is the underdog, the one who is nowhere on the radar when his father talks about responsibility. Be it depositing money in the bank or performing well in school, Kulbhushan Kharbanda’s character has no hopes from his younger son. But it is Sanjay who saves the day in the end.
In his three decade long career, Aamir has made a lot of bold choices. He put his faith in a cricket-based period drama, he chose to do a film inspired by the life of Bhagat Singh at a time when there were many others attempting the same yet every single time, his faith has paid off.
With exceptional films standing out in his filmography, Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar doesn’t scream perfection but for the kids who grew up watching the journey of Aamir Khan, this underdog story will always be a special one.