After QSQT (1988), Mansoor Khan and Aamir Khan go a step ahead with Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar (JJWS). Inspired from Breaking Away (1979) and the idiom of Archie comics, the film is one of the few sensible sports films in India and one of Aamir's finest films. A film with a sporting backdrop already has half its battle won, since it deals with the triumph of the human spirit; of the underdog who finally make it after conquering all the obstacles in his path. But what makes JJWS great is that its wins that other half of the battle as well. It is here that Mansoor Khan really succeeeds as he makes a highly engaging coming-of-age film that involves you, rouses you and in the final analysis yes, moves you.
A key factor for this is that the sports angle aside, Mansoor effectively uses his strengths of being an able storyteller on film as he beautifully combines the human elements and handles the various relationships within the film. Be it the strained father-son relationship between Sanju and his father who always wants Sanju to be like Ratan without realizing Sanju has his own identity, his heartwarming bonding with his too-good-to-be-true elder brother or his Archie-Betty relationship with his silent admirer, Anjali - all the tracks are extremely well-etched out. Mansoor creates believable and real flesh and blood characters that take you back to your school and college days and make you identify with them thus involving you in their story.
JJWS is unthinkable without Aamir Khan, undoubtedly the life and soul of the film. Though 26-27 by then, he plays the collegian to perfection, getting the attitude and body language spot on. He is absolutely brilliant as the brattish, lovebale good-for-nothing prankster Sanju, who turns serious and responsible thus redeeming himself in the eyes of his father when it matters most. Be it the scenes where he woos Devika or orders Ratan around in front of her in their cafe to impress her or when he realizes his responsibilities as Ratan lies injured in hospital, he never strikes a false note anywhere in the film.
The rest of the cast are supporting players to Aamir and by and large they all contribute immensely to the film. JJWS undoubtedly represents the best work in Ayesha Jhulka's career, perhaps her only memorable screen work. She has never looked cuter or acted better. As the girl silently in love with Sanju and his loyal pillar of support in his time of need, she is wonderful. Ayesha makes the role her own and it is hard to imagine that she wasn't even the first choice for the film. Following her stunning debut in Mani Ratnam's Telugu film, Gitanjali (1989), Girija was the original heroine of JJWS and even shot for a portion of the film. However, Mansoor was dissatisfied with her perfromance and had her replaced. She is till there in the film in the college dance competion as Mansoor was not able to reshoot the entire song and has just inserted relavant close ups of Ayesha as she watches the performance off stage! Mamik makes the ideal older brother to look up to while Kulbhushan Kharbabnda is solidly dependable as ever as the father extremely proud of his ideal older son and starined with the younger good-for-nothing even though he loves him tremendously. Deepak Tijori looks too old and is barely adequate as the arrogant rich kid Shekhar Malhotra while Pooja Bedi has been cast and used correctly as the gold digger, Devika, rather than her diplaying any great histrionics on her part.
A key factor in the film's appeal lies in its musical score by Jatin-Lalit, their second film together. The film is their breakthrough film and the songs Yahaan ke Hum Sikandar, Jawaan Ho Yaaron, Naam Hai Mera Fonseca, Sheher ki Pariyon among others are all well tuned and were extremely popular in their time . But the cake, icing and cherry all has to go to Pehla Nasha Peha Khumaar. Beautifully written by veteran Majrooh Sultanpuri, the song captures the bilthe spirit of falling in love that first time perfectly. And special mention must be made of its exquisite picturisation shot with lip sync in slow motion, thus effectively giving the flushes of first romantic love the necessary heady feeling of floating in the clouds. Simply, suberb and magical. Incidentally, the song was the first song choreographed by Farah Khan. To get correct the lip sync in slow motion, the song was played back at double the speed during filming. The actors had to sync the lip movements at this high speed but ensure their body movements moved at normal speed, an extremely difficult task as when you talk fast, you tend to move your body and hands fast as well. In the final film the song was then played at its normal speed and the corresponding picture 'synced' to it, thus getting the desired effect. While on the technical side, mention must also be made of the picturisation and editing of the climactic cycle race. The race draws you in as you follow it with bated breath, rooting and cheering for the underdog, Sanju and as the suspense builds up and Sanju finally overtakes Shekhar at the end, you cannot help but applaud.
JJWS went on to win the Filmfare Award for Best Film. Though Aamir's was undoubtedly the performance of the year, he lost the Filmfare Award for Best Actor to Anil Kapoor for Beta (1992), one of the most shocking decisions in Filmfare's history. Aamir has never bothered with award ceremonies in India since. Mansoor and Aamir would come together for the third and final time for Akele Hum Akele Tum (1995), inspired by Kramer v/s Kramer (1979), and in spite of some effective moments, the film coming after QSQT and JJWS was a major disappointment.
If there is one complaint, the film does contain certain cliches and stereotypes seen eternally in Indian mainstream cinema . So of course the poor and middle-class lot are the good souls while the rich are the blackhearted. In that sense all the main positive characters of the film- Sanju, Rattan, Anjali, his father and friends are finally guardians of their good old fashioned middle class values.
It would be fifteen years before Hindi cinema would come up with another fine film with sports as a background - the Shimit Amin directed Shah Rukh Khan starrer, Chak De! India (2007) that looks at how a disgraced former Indian hockey player, Kabir Khan, finds redemption 7 years later in coaching the Indian Women's Hockey Team to victory in the World Cup.