Editor's note: This is an excerpt with permission from the book Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak — The Film That Revived Hindi Cinema, by Gautam Chintamani, HarperCollins India.
One of the most underrated actors of her generation, Juhi Chawla debuted at a time when heroines in popular Hindi cinema were undergoing a transition. Sridevi was set to hit the peak of her career; in a few years even Amitabh Bachchan would be reduced to playing second-lead to her in films such as Khuda Gawah (1992). Madhuri Dixit burst upon the scene with Tezaab (1987). Meanwhile, Chawla was perhaps unjustly ordained to being the perpetual number three to the two. Yet, she managed to chart an interesting course for herself and remains one of the most loved actors in Hindi cinema.
My book ‘Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak- The Film That Revived Hindi Cinema’ relives how Juhi Chawla got the role that she is still best recalled for. Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak’s Rashmi was in many ways a typical character often seen in Hindi cinema, but like the film — which took standard Hindi cinema elements and came up with a new narrative — Juhi, too, reinterpreted the standard character in a new light.
Mansoor Khan had made up his mind about the female lead. As the search for the girl commenced with names tossed around, Mansoor would always end up coming back to a model he had come across a few years ago. Mansoor first met Juhi Chawla during his Scan Video days. At that time, Chawla was an up-and-coming model and they had discussed a shampoo commercial that Mansoor eventually never directed.
The meeting had left quite an impression on him.
A year later, the two met again for a television programme that Mansoor was trying to launch. Chawla liked the idea and committed on the basis of the narration, but this too proved a false start. Mansoor liked Juhi’s personality and when the matter of casting the female lead for Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak came, he could not get himself to look beyond. By the time the film came up, Chawla was a Miss India with a few films to her name.
Chawla’s debut film, Sultanat (1986), featured her opposite another debutant, Karan Kapoor, Shashi Kapoor’s younger son, and in the company of heavyweights such as Dharmendra, Sunny Deol, Sridevi and Amrish Puri.
While the film’s abysmal box-office performance barely impacted the careers of most people attached to the project, it did cast a shadow over Chawla for no fault of hers. The focus was on screen legend Dharmendra and his son, Sunny, sharing the screen for the first time ever. Even though they had previously been cast in Raj Khosla’s Sunny (1984), the two did not have a scene together in the film.
The lavish action drama was made on a mammoth scale, with Chawla having little to offer. But as luck would have it, she ended up suffering the most from the film’s failure. Even Karan Kapoor managed to get a few more films (Loha  and Afsar ) before calling it quits and is now best remembered as the face of Bombay Dyeing.
Juhi had signed a few films in south India, and had almost given up on Hindi films. At the time Mansoor got in touch with Juhi, the actress had started thinking of opportunities on TV and was in advanced stages of talks with B.R. Chopra to portray Draupadi in the filmmaker’s television opus Mahabharat (1988–90). Mansoor mentioned Juhi to his father, who would see her for the first time at his bungalow, where the prospective lead was called for an interview.
Juhi Chawla’s mind was inundated with images from the films that were associated with Nasir Husain’s name as she went to meet the iconic film-maker at his home office.
"I was nervous," reminisces Juhi, who clearly remembers laughing and smiling a lot to cover up her anxiety. Seated behind an imposing desk, Nasir sahab appeared intimidating to the young actress who was unaware that Mansoor had, in fact, already decided upon her. Juhi never expected much from the initial meeting, but was surprised to be called back for a screen test. Although Mansoor saw no need to test Juhi, Nasir Husain wanted to be sure about the heroine.
Aamir and Juhi enacted the scene from Yaadon Ki Baaraat where Sunita (Zeenat Aman) confronts Vijay (Vijay Arora) after she realizes that he’s been posing as a rich prince and mocks him. "I was tutored by Aamir, who taught me my scene and rehearsed with me," says Juhi.
"The audition with Aamir and Juhi was also an audition to see how I’d shoot," says Kiran Deohans, the cinematographer who would also make his debut with the film. In those days, it was standard practice to shoot with the sun on the face, but Deohans turned it around and shot with Aamir and Juhi being backlit by the sun. ‘It made them look more romantic,’ says Deohans.
Chawla had noticed two or three other girls who had been called for the screen test as well and wondered if she stood a chance. But once Husain saw the results, not only was he convinced about Juhi, but any doubts were also laid to rest.
"He was very happy when he saw the results," recalls Deohans. One of the girls, who didn’t show up for the audition was singer Alisha Chinoy, who had more than expressed an interest in trying out for the part. Mansoor isn’t sure why Alisha backed out but, in a way, he was happy with how things turned out.
"I was so sure about Juhi that I didn’t want her to feel bad," says Mansoor.