I was there, 20 years ago when Rajkumar Santoshi’s Andaz Apna Apna limped into theatres with no pre-release publicity in the same week as an Anil Kapoor film called Andaz which was houseful by the time we got to the ticket window. They offered us tickets to Andaz Apna Apna instead. My mother and I, like the people in line behind us, bought tickets for the next show of Andaz. No one wanted to watch a movie that had obviously hijacked the name of the current popular release, even if it starred chocolate boys du jour Salman Khan and Aamir Khan.
That film that we walked away from is now considered a cult classic. Writing about Andaz Apna Apna, I have realised, is like writing about mother’s love. Everyone has their own version of how it affects them, what lines they remember the most. A title that literally implies “to each his own”, this film has found its own place in Indian pop culture. And I was there.
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Just like anyone who grew up in the 1980s could recount the Mahabharat scene from Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, anyone who grew up in the 1990s and early 2000s will be able to quote Andaz Apna Apna. Both were comedy films that didn’t fare well at release but garnered a following through television repeats and VHS/CD/DVD rentals. Any illegally-run movie rental shop from New York to Nerul in Mumbai will tell you how Andaz Apna Apna is a film, that once borrowed, does not come back without multiple viewings and much later than the due date.
One summer afternoon, while I lay on my stomach on the living room floor, like a dog cooling its belly, I watched the comedy for the first time on cable TV. I laughed so hard, I remember feeling my abs the next day. This was amazing, because at age nine, I didn’t even know what abs were. The movie was hilarious, but the internet did not exist to meme, quote, tweet, blog, and column the hell out of it.
The film is about Amar and Prem, two good-for-nothings who leave home after duping their respective fathers, to woo an heiress and her friend, Raveena and Karishma, (played by two of the most underrated comic actresses in Bollywood), Raveena Tandon and Karisma Kapoor. Andaz Apna Apna was a comedy film that did not make the women the punchline and allowed them both to match the men punch for punch. There was also a kidnapping subplot (that involves a bag of diamonds, obviously) and a double role played so deftly by Paresh Rawal — that turned his existing villian image on its head and established him as one of the finest talents on screen that was also showcased in another “cult” classic, Hera Pheri, in 2000.
Andaz Apna Apna was the first film in mainstream Bollywood to take a calculated dig at itself. The likes of Juhi Chawla and Govinda made appearances as themselves, humming songs from their own films. Comic legend Mehmood did a throwback to the “Wah Wah” productions from his another legendary comedy film Pyar Kiye Ja. The actors hammed freely, with Shakti Kapoor’s evil villain, Crime Master Gogo, proclaiming “Aaya hoon, kuch to loot kar jaunga … khandani chor hoon main, khandani … Mogambo ka bhatija, Gogo.”
The film was the harbinger of a generation that would sooner sell their dignity on national television in a Splitsvilla or a Bigg Boss than have to do any work really, where friendship and honesty were reduced to cliches. In one scene, Aamir Khan observes to his competitor Salman Khan, “Do dost ek pyale mein chai piyenge … isse dosti badti hai.” As Teja put it so eloquently, “Na surat, na shakal, na akal. Jise dekho chala aa raha hai.”
From playing slick, handsome heroes in their films, the Khan boys were like us — bumbling and struggling, hilariously idiotic and armed only with an arsenal of one-liners. And they still get the girl, and the diamonds and the approval of their families in the end! It held a mirror to us and the image it reflected was hilarious. Its makers, its characters and its audience, everyone knew that Andaz Apna Apna was a joke and we were all in on it.
But I never expected Crime Master Gogo or Teja to touch my life in the way that he did in 2002, when I met my bhabhi-to-be for the first time. It was weird to think of my older brother liking a girl. I was still being weaned from my Catholic schoolgirl revulsion for boys (Because if you talk to a boy…you will die. It’s a fact). And, suddenly, my brother liked a girl and no one was yelling at him about it. Instead, I was being made to put on a salwar kameez and meet her. She was very pretty, and I could tell my brother cared for her and she for him. But that did not quell my suspicions. As we walked out after lunch that day, I suddenly heard my mother say “Adu, your dupatta is dragging on the floor.” And, as I turned around, my to-be-bhabhi blurted, “Gogoji, apka ghaghra.” It struck me — she had been there as well. Our relationship flourished during multiple viewings of Andaz Apna Apna and breakfasts, where we praised each other’s efforts with “Bread ka badshah, omelette ka raja, Humara Bajaj.” Her knowledge of the film then made me realise that in the last decade or so, the internet in India had re-discovered Andaz Apna Apna, and the rest, as they say, is browser history.
Maybe the film was ahead of its time, or maybe it came at just the right time. A time when everyone had a sense of humour and no one in the cast came with glitzy PR agencies to make a fuss about a joke. Aamir Khan and Salman Khan today are two-thirds of the most powerful trio in the movie market; you’d be hard pressed to hear them say more than saccharine-laced bytes to each other. The memorable bus scene where the two heroes meet for the first time, and while exchanging platitudes of praise pass snide remarks at each other in smug voiceovers — “Circus ka retired bandar lagta hai” and “Shakal se to bidi ke kharkhane ka majdoor lagta hai” — seems to be ironic.
The 20-year anniversary was abuzz with rumours that Santoshi is making a sequel. A naughty picture of the two Khans urinating against a wall that did the rounds of social media also sparked rumours about the camaraderie of the two, and whether they will reprise it in Andaz Apna Apna 2. I don’t care. Because when the original came out— I was there. No, we were there.
Aditi Mittal is a stand-up comedian, actress and writer, based in Mumbai