Yash Chopra’s romance with movies began with his first directorial debut Dhool Ka Phool in 1959 which he conducted for his older brother BR Chopra. If we go back to Dhool Ka Phool, we see a lot of love scenes. The film was about an illegitimate child. After Yash Chopra wrote his love scenes in Dhool Ka Phool he became addicted to them. Yash Chopra once told me that in Dhool Ka Phool there was a sequence where a man and a woman on different bikes fell on each other. The censors asked him to delete the scene. Yash felt that all love scenes should come from the heart. Otherwise, it looked fake.
In the mid-1970s, Yash ditched romance and made a string of action movies like Trishul, Kala Pattar and Deewar which is considered one of the most successful action movies of all time, only had one fight sequence! It was the mother-son emotions that saw the film succeed. Subsequently, Yash experienced a series of romantic failures as Vijay, Parampara and faasle.
One day, he was driving into town from his home in suburban Mumbai. Every stockade he saw had men holding guns. Yash realized he was losing his way. He believed in romantic films, so why didn’t he make them? This is how he made a comeback with chandni. When asked about the highlights of the film, he said the songs were the highlights. Lataji, whom Yash Chopra adored as a hero, had practically stopped singing when she agreed to sing for chandni.
Born a day apart, Yash Chopra and Lata Mangeshkar were siblings.
Yash told me about Lataji: “None of my films can be complete without his voice. She sings all the songs from my movies. Even if I have to go to London where it is peaceful and happy, and record, I will. She is not just a voice, she is the inspiration for my cinema. As long as I make films, she will sing for me. She is truly Devi Saraswati reincarnated.
When chandni was released, people predicted it would fail. Its success reaffirmed Yash’s faith in his vision and his audience. Yash Chopra called his two ‘neglected children’ Silsila and Lamhe his favorite movies. He was particularly proud of Lamhe and was taken aback when it failed at the box office.
Yash Chopra said to me: “Maybe Lamhe was ahead of its time. But it earned me the greatest critical acclaim of my career. Silsila is the first film about extramarital affairs to have broken down the barriers between quirky cinema and the general public. Some films are destined to succeed in retrospect. This was the case with Guru Dutt’s Kagaz Ke Phool. When it came out, it was a disaster. Today it is a classic. Our company can be called showbiz. But we owe society more than just entertainment. We need to make films that would distract audiences from their mindset regarding cinematic entertainment. When I look back on my career, I feel that God has been good to me. Of course, I worked hard to get where I am. But more than that, there is a power that brought me here.
Yash Chopra never made a movie he didn’t believe in. Whether it’s arranged marriages, the battle of man against the machine age, corruption in the public sector… it’s all there in Yash Chopra’s cinema. His 1965 hit Waqt was considered an escape artist. But it was actually a movie about the fate of man and how it can’t be controlled. His second movie Dharm putra in 1961 looked into the delicate issue of community relations. This sparked riots between Hindus and Muslims. Theaters were threatened with bomb threats. To ensure that no harm was done to the film’s main man, Shashi Kapoor, and actor Deven Verma, Yash personally attended the first show at the Maratha Mandir in Mumbai.
Yash told me he was very proud of his son Aditya Chopra Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. “When he finished 200 weeks, I thought we had our sleeves. But DDLJ has continued to grow. Now, after 500 weeks, the managing director of Maratha Mandir tells me that it can easily last another six months. There is always house during the weekends! Aditya was only 23 when he made DDLJ. I still remember the first time he told me the story. I had tears in my eyes for two reasons. First, it was because my son wrote it. And second, because it was such a touching story. I knew it would be a hit movie. But to this extent! Never. It struck a chord with Indians all over the world. This prompted them to return to their country, their traditions and their roots. DDLJ was the first romance where the boy took the girl only with the consent of the parents. The whole process of conquering the girl’s family was unique. Never in my life have I seen such reactions to a film. It has become a landmark thanks to my son’s honest and sincere efforts. It has become a reference for him. He can’t do DDLJ again, although I’m sure he will always make good films. But success cannot be guaranteed.
Yash Chopra’s Last Movie Was Shady But Beautiful Jab Tak Hai Jaan. Yash Chopra spent most of his adult years passionately searching the heart. Jab Tak Hai Jaan (JTHJ) was not his best work. The last 35 minutes of Shah Rukh Khan losing his memory are best forgotten. Miraculously, the entirety of the final piece of this fractured symphony co-written by Aditya Chopra and Devita Bhagat, takes nothing away from the sublime beauty of the work. JTHJ is like an elaborate work of art and a work that offers many kinds of guilty pleasures to all those hardcore Yash Chopra romance fans who grew up, got wise and even got old watching Daag, Silsila, chandni and the best work of the Dean Lamhe.
His latest movie might keep you hooked trying to play the game of spotting the earlier referenced Yash-Chopra. You will catch Daag in how Katrina Kaif returns to the fractured life of Shah Rukh Khan. You can catch many shades of Karisma Kapoor from Dil to Pagal Hai in Anushka Sharma’s number of a girl madly in love with no return. You will see Kabhi Kabhie in how Katrina comes looking for her missing mother (played by Neetu Singh who had played the girl looking for mom in Kabhi Kabhie) and you can spot Silsila in the Katrina scenes with Anushka in London. JTHJ is an ambrosial autumn sonata performed in colors and moods that redefine Mr Yash Chopra’s legendary levels of aesthetics while sharpening and polishing the contours of his signature preoccupations.
It wasn’t the perfect farewell for Hindi cinema’s most romantic filmmaker. But it came close.
Subhash K Jha is a Patna-based film critic who has written about Bollywood long enough to know the industry inside out. He tweets at @SubhashK_Jha.
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