Hit maker

Print edition : November 16, 2012

Yash Chopra. His cinema appealed to all sections of society.-THE HINDU ARCHIVES

With the death of Yash Raj Chopra (1932-2012), making of cinema, particularly the romantic genre, will never be the same again in the Hindi film industry.

ON a trip to the city of dreams, when it was still known by its old name Bombay, one saw a huge crowd gathered outside the Brabourne Stadium, venue of many an exciting cricket match, though there was no match scheduled. A closer look revealed that a film shooting was in progress. A young shoeshine boy was the protagonist of the sequence. The shot was part of a movie called Deewar. When the movie was released a year or so later, one saw it essentially to relive that scene outside the stadium on a humid afternoon in Bombay. What appeared on screen was an absorbing piece of work.

The film grew on me, and with time I learnt about Yash Raj Chopra, its craftsman. The image of Amitabh Bachchan storming into a hotel and flinging the villain many floors down through a window stayed on in the mind. The violence was meant to make an impactto capture the anger of a young man who was wronged against and shunned by society. It did so stunningly. Chopra narrated the story, based on the life of a smuggler, in the most professional manner.

Bachchan, who had tasted huge success with Prakash Mehras Zanjeer in 1973, could not have asked for a better film-maker to propel his career. Chopra was to make some memorable films with him later. From Deewar to Trishul and Kala Patthar to Silsila, the actor blossomed, and Chopra grew as a film-maker of immense staturefrom the director of a multi-starrer like Waqt or a small-cast thriller like Ittefaq.

Chopras death on October 21 shocked the cinema world. He had recently celebrated his 80th birthday and announced retirement with his final offering Jab Tak Hai Jaan when dengue consumed this fascinating film-maker and left a void that can never be filled. An association of 44 years abruptly comes to an end. He went away too soon and too suddenly. He deserved to be with us longer. Yash Chopra, a friend first, a creative legend later, has passed away this evening in the late hours. He did not just sell beautiful dreams, he created them too in reality, Bachchan wrote on his blog.

Romance, his forte

Romance was said to be Chopras forte, but he was also a film-maker who reached out to various sections of society. Each of his films had an appealing theme. More importantly, he commanded a following where cinema became a family viewing. He could give a social drama like Waqt, away from sombre offerings like Dharmputra and Dhool Ka Phool, and he could pack action and emotions as he did in Deewar, Kala Patthar and Trishul. Not to forget is the romance in movies like Silsila, Chandni, Dil To Pagal Hai and Veer-Zaara.

Chopra began as a director in 1959 with Dhool Ka Phool and took to producing movies in 1973. He loved to innovate and tackled touchy subjects with intensity. With time, his movies spurred thoughtful debates on meaningful cinema within the film industry. He was known to defy traditionalists and encourage youth. He could comfortably make Dharmputra that dealt with fundamentalism and also Silsila, an all-time hit that glorified romance, with some exotic locales adding to its success. Madhuri Dixit, the leading lady of Dil To Pagal Hai, rated him one of the giants of cinema.

Elder brother B.R. Chopra was a big influence on Yash even though they drifted apart in later years. The younger Chopra charted his own course by directing Dhool Ka Phool, produced by his brother. It was a sensitive topica Muslim raising a Hindu childand Chopra handled it with amazing maturity. The song Tu Hindu Banega Naa Musalman Banega (You will neither be a Hindu nor a Muslim) engaged the attention of the nation. Chopras firm belief in secularism was evident in the subject that made the movie a hit with the masses and critics alike.

His next venture, Dharmputra, was equally off-beat and daring. The movie, set in the times of British rule in India, is about a Hindu family bringing up a Muslim child. Another bold venture much later was Lamhe. It had a disturbing theme but stood out for the wonderful treatment by Chopra as he got the best out of actors Anil Kapoor and Sridevi. Many consider Lamhe, which had classy music from Shiv Hari, to be his best gift to Indian cinema. For a man who loved music and poetry, Chopra gave cinema a thriller like Ittefaq which did not have a single song. It was similar to Kanoon, made many years ago by his elder brother. Ittefaqs unfolding was riveting, with Rajesh Khanna giving an unforgettable performance.

Chopra, born in Lahore, came up with a gem in 2004. Those were times when India and Pakistan were engaged in improving their relations. The Indian cricket team had toured Pakistan for a Test series after a gap of 15 years, and by the year end Chopra gave the audience a movie to cherish in Veer-Zaara, a love story between an Indian Air Force officer and a Pakistani woman. The story appealed to allthe lovers are separated by a scheming politician only to unite many years later thanks to the efforts of a young Pakistani lawyer. Chopra dug into old compositions of the late Madan Mohan and offered his fans across the world a grand musical treat.

Tribute from a legend

Lata Mangeshkar, a favourite singer of Chopras, paid glowing tributes to him in an interview: I have lost a true friend and a dear brother. He loved me to death. He had made it clear that Id have to sing for all his films from the time he turned director with Dhool Ka Phool [in 1959]. I think I sang for all his films except Waqt [in 1965]. When he turned into an independent producer with Daag [in 1973], he sat and explained the story to me and the situation for every song. He had a great music sense. One thing that youd always find in the music of a Yash Raj film is a number based on Punjabi rhythms. Yashji had a penchant for Punjabi songs and had to have one of them in all his films. He had an amazing sense of poetry too. That was evident in the songs and music of Kabhi Kabhie.

To Chopra went the credit for assembling perhaps the greatest star cast in Indian cinema for Waqt, a path-breaking movie with an evergreen theme of a long-lost and reunited family. Balraj Sahni, Sunil Dutt, Raaj Kumar, Shashi Kapoor, Sadhana, Sharmila Tagore and Rehman gave compelling performances in it to weave together a timeless classic. Balraj Sahni singing Aye Meri Zohra Jabeen was one of the highlights of the movie, not to forget Asha Bhosles Aage Bhi Jaane Na Tu.

Eleven years later, Chopra came up with Kabhi Kabhie, a multi-starrer featuring Amitabh Bachchan, Shashi Kapoor, Waheeda Rehman, Raakhee, Rishi Kapoor, Neetu Singh and Simi Garewal. The galaxy of actors and its music turned Kabhi Kabhie into a huge hit in 1976. An inspired Chopra pulled off a grand casting coup five years later by pitting Jaya Bachchan against Rekha in Silsila when the two were not on the best of terms with each other. The movie did not fare well at the box office much to Chopras disappointment, but it remains one of his best.

Chopra will always be remembered for giving space to supporting actors. He was an actors director, and he proved it by elevating Raaj Kumar in Waqt, Dilip Kumar in Mashaal, and Shashi Kapoor in Deewar to attention-grabbing characters even though they did not happen to be the key players. Sridevi gave exceptional performances in Chandni and Lamhe, thanks to some deft handling by Chopra.

The youth adored Chopra for the romantic themes and the grandeur that marked his movies. He took pains to identify the locations for his song-and-dance sequences; once he scouted for spots from a helicopter in Scotland. If he was not directing, he was producing a movie ( Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge) with his trademark urge to provide quality entertainment. Violence and vulgarity had no place in his movies. Music always remained a strong point.

Chopras cinema appealed to all sections of society. With the passing away of Yash Raj Chopra, cinema making, particularly the romantic genre, will never be the same again in the Hindi film industry.

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