When a lot of us were growing up, one of the first things we imbibed from Western History is the usage of the acronyms BC and AD. The reason revolves around how Christianity is so deeply embedded in a lot of the Western powers and thus, their religion’s pre-eminence to denote a ‘before’ and an ‘after’ Christ. But beyond definition, the idea of BC and AD is also embedded in the psyche because it represents a marker in history.
Cut to 70mm, the movie Godfather represents a before and after in their cinematic experience; for Indian cricket, the year 1983 represents the dividing line between a game the nation took an interest towards and the game that became an obsession; in the storied career of Sir Alex Ferguson, the clock ticking down at the Camp Nou in 1999 was, for many, a before and an after. These experiences in history are unique because it constitutes those rare instances when one can truly feel that they were a part of history, that the experience is so special that repeating their own versions of it are considered almost natural.
And for Sport on India’s 70mm, the nation will unanimously agree that 1992’s Jo Jeeta Woh Sikander represented a before and an after.
Let’s give it some historical context. When the Mansoor Khan directed movie was making its debut, across the country, India had already been enamoured by Cricket for well over a decade. In fact, a few months prior to Jo Jeeta’s release, a precocious young Mumbaikar had played in his first Cricket World Cup and added to an already burgeoning list of superlatives. So, wouldn’t it make all the sense of the world grand climax on the Cricket field? Shouldn’t Sanju Sharma have practised his right-arm fast-medium instead of speeding downwards on a mountain pass?
But it didn’t and we are all glad it didn’t.
This nonconformist take echoed throughout the movie - symbolized by the lyrics, ‘jo sab karte hain yaaron vo kyon hum tum karein” - is a take that would’ve ushered millions of likes from today's millennial. The protagonist isn’t your do-gooder living by some code, nor is he the quintessential all-rounder that academic institutions treat like gold dust; instead, a carefree lad who lives life as he pleases and in all honesty, he is the black sheep in the family. But where it evolves into the sporting narrative is as it is in innumerable sports stories - both in fiction and in real life - there is always that moment when someone changes their errant ways and focuses on Sport, dedicates their mind and soul to the craft and makes something happen that remains etched in everyone’s minds.
For Sanju, that moment to reflect and change boiled down to his brother Ratan’s accident.
The other aspect of the movie which will resonate powerfully with any football fan in 2018 is the fight against those who’ve always had the resources - mostly money - and those who’ve always had the heart. This plays out wonderfully in the foothills of the Himalayas as the intensity of inter-college competition is brought to the fore but in the backdrop, it is quite clear that the narrative of rich vs resourceful is playing out seamlessly in the narrative. The students from Rajput are every bit the super club, rich, arrogant and very aware of how society perceives them; the students from the Model school are from modest backgrounds, and they are always on the lookout to get one over the ‘aristocracy’.
In two separate incidents, this plays out wonderfully. In the first race, Ratan loses a right race against his bête noire, Shekhar, not because he was inferior as a racer, not because of poor preparation, instead, it was because of a failed bike. Not the lesser man, just the man on the lesser machine.
But the greatest achievement of the Jo Jeeta team, cast, director, et al, managed is in managing to tell a story that was set in 1992 but in a microcosm represents a growing India breaking free of its shackles, breaking free of the status quo and not falling prey to formulaic storytelling, especially when seen through the lens of Sport. Whilst some people will see Jo Jeeta as more drama than Sport, the argument can be made here that Jo Jeeta told a sporting story that would resonate with almost any Sports fan belonging to any age, the triumph of a good for nothing over the powers-that-be; where all the grit and determination is to beat your opponent but each time the wheel turns, it is also for something better, something bigger, for a different tomorrow.
This is why as Sports fans; it makes all the sense in the world to revisit this timeless film and acknowledge the tremendous contribution it made towards bringing together Sport, School, and Society. The year 2017 was the 25th anniversary of Jo Jeeta and in this ensuing period, there have been excellent successors in the form of Lagaan, Dangal and Chak De India, but if there is one thing that half a century hasn’t done is displace Jo Jeeta’s unique position as a marker in both cinematic and sporting history.
First, there was Jo Jeeta Wahi Sikander. Then there was everything else.
(The author is Country Head – Commercial Banking and in-charge of Sports Vertical, IndusInd Bank)