Yash Chopra launched his banner Yash Raj films in 1973. The second film produced under the banner was Kabhie Kabhie. It released in 1976 and had Amitabh Bachchan playing the role of a sensitive poet named Amit Malhotra. All the fantastic poetry that Amit recites in the movie was written by the poet Sahir Ludhianvi.
One of the couplets goes like this:
Kal koi mujhko yaad kare,
kyon koi mujhko yaad kare,
masroof zamana mere liye,
kyon waqt apna barbad kare.
main pal do pal ka shayar hoon…
(Yaad = remember. Masroof = busy. Pal = moment. Shayar = poet).
The above lines were the thoughts of a poet who deeply felt that when he was gone, the world would forget him and move onto other things. And he was right. The world at large is too busy to bother about someone who is no longer there. Nobody remembers Sahir anymore. But there are always exceptions that prove the rule. Yash Raj Chopra is that exception.
His death has led to a tremendous outpouring of grief and sorrow from India at large and the Hindi film industry in particular. Very few film directors in the Hindi film industry have lasted as long as Yash Chopra did. His first film as a director, Dhool Ka Phool, was released in 1959. His latest film Jab Tak Hai Jaan is scheduled to release on 13 November this year. During this period he worked with the biggest superstars of Hindi cinema from Dilip Kumar to Rajesh Khanna to Amitabh Bachchan to Shah Rukh Khan.
Chopra was often referred to as the King of Romance given his penchant for shooting in beautiful locations (particularly in Kashmir earlier and later Switzerland) with his heroines looking extraordinarily beautiful in their red and white chiffon sarees and singing and dancing to some brilliant lyrics set to fantastic music.
And this sobriquet of the King of Romance has stuck to Chopra even in his death. A random search on Google on his death throws up the following headlines:
Yash Chopra: King of Romance leaves void in Bollywood
King of Romance: Yash Chopra dies at 80
King of Romance: Yash Chopra no more
Yash Chopra, Bollywood’s King of Romance passes away
An important part of justifying the tag of being the King of Romance lay in making his heroines look beautiful on screen, especially when they were singing songs. Raakhee has never looked as beautiful as she did when she was singing Kabhie Kabhi Mere Dil Mein, Khayal Aata Hai in the movie Kabhie Kabhie. Rekha was at her sexiest in the random shots that make the song Ye Kahan Aa Gaye Hum, Yun Hi Saath Saath Chalte in Silsila. Sridevi outshone even Switzerland in Chandni.
Juhi Chawla in the rain dance in Darr made millions of hearts go K K K K Kiran…. Both Madhuri Dixit and Karisma Kapoor danced their hearts out in Dil To Pagal Hai. And Preity Zinta and her dimples last saw success with Veer Zaara.
But just calling him a King of Romance would be doing a great injustice to the body of work that Yash Raj Chopra has left behind. In fact romance and candy floss cinema was something he discovered only in the latter part of his career.
His first film as a director was Dhool Ka Phool in 1959. It was produced by his elder brother BR Chopra (who later went onto produce and direct the Hindi serial Mahabharat, among other things). Dhool Ka Phool is a very sensitive story of an illegitimate child, whose parents happen to be Hindus, being brought up by a Muslim man. The film also had the brilliant song Tu Hindu banega na Musalman banega insan ki aulad hai insan banega, among other things.
Chopra followed it with Dharmaputra in 1961, one of the first movies to deal with the horrors of partition. Some of the riot scenes were too real for the audience to handle and caused problems at the cinemas the movie was playing in.
As film journalist Subhash K Jha wrote in a 2004 piece about the movie, “The film about Hindu-Muslim relations, touched on the raw history pertaining to the happenings which were just 12 years old. The reconstruction in Dharamputra of the carnage during the post-Partition riots opened up raw wounds in the audience, and sparked off riot-like situations at theatres screening the film. Yash Chopra vowed never to go into the thorny communal issue again.”
His next movie was the multi-starrer Waqt. The movie is still remembered for the song Ae Meri Zohra Jabeen, Tujhe Maloom Nahi picturised on Balraj Sahni. It was one of the earliest movies to be based on the lost and found formula (which the likes of Manmohan Desai later perfected to an art form).
Waqt is the story of Lala Kedarnath (played by Balraj Sahni) who has three sons whose birthdays are on the same day. There is an earthquake and the family is separated and loses contact with each other (what we call bichadna in Hindi movies).
The story goes that BR Chopra, the producer of the movie, wanted Prithviraj Kapoor and his three sons (Raj, Shammi and Shashi) to portray the role of the father and his three sons. But eventually only Shashi Kapoor acted in the movie.
“My brother BR Chopra thought it was a dream cast. One day, he was travelling with Bimal Roy when he narrated the script and also discussed the casting. Bimal immediately told him that the cast was a misfit. The movie was about separation and here I was casting three real brothers so anyone could recognise them. Ultimately the film was made with Shashi Kapoor, Sunil Dutt and Raj Kumar,” Chopra said in his recent interview to Shah Rukh Khan.
Waqt also had one of my all-time favourite dialogues in Hindi cinema. “Chinoi seth jinke apne ghar sheeshe ke hon, wo doosro par patthar nahi phenka karte,” Raj Kumar (who plays the eldest son), tells the villain Chinoi Seth (played by Rehman). Waqt turned out to be the biggest grosser of 1965.
Four years later, in 1969, Yash Chopra made the suspense drama Ittefaq starring Rajesh Khanna, Nanda and Iftekhar. The movie was largely set in one room and did not have any songs, which was a big risk at the point of time it was made. It still remains one of the best suspense movies made in Hindi cinema, and is nail biting till the very end.
In 1973, Yash Raj Chopra launched his own banner Yash Raj films with Daag — A Poem of Love. The story was written by the ace Hindi novelist Gulshan Nanda and was apparently inspired by the English novel The Mayor of Casterbridge. This was Chopra’s sixth film as a director. His first five films were all serious movies. Daag was also high on emotion and melodrama but it had a lot of romance in it as well with superstar Rajesh Khanna romancing both Sharmila Tagore and Raakhee. The movie had some superhit songs like Ab Chahe Sir Phoote Ya Maatha and Mere Dil Main Aaj Kya Hai. Chopra won the Filmfare award for the best director for this movie.
Chopra had also taken to directing movies for film financier Gulshan Rai in the meanwhile. He directed the Dev Anand starrer Joshila which was released in 1973. The movie did not do well at the box office and is now remembered only for the song Kiska rasta dekhen, ae dil ae saudai, set to tune by the great RD Burman.
Chopra next directed Deewaar for Rai. The movie was written by the angry young men Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar. Chopra, in a recent interview to Shah Rukh Khan, on is 80th birthday, said that Deewaar was Salim-Javed’s best script. It was perfect. The movie which released in 1975, the same year as Sholay, went onto become one of the biggest hits of Hindi cinema.
Said to be loosely based on Mazagon Dock coolie-turned-underworld don Haji Mastan, it saw Amitabh Bachchan being firmly established as the angry young man who mouths lines like “Main aaj bhi feke hue paise nahi uthatha” and wears Billa no 786. The movie was originally not supposed to have any song but songs were added later under pressure from the producer.
While shooting Gulshan Rai’s Deewaar Chopra was also shooting Kabhie Kabhie. This movie, Chopra’s ninth film as a director, would turn out to be his first out and out romantic film. The movie had some brilliant songs written by Sahir Ludhianvi and set to tune by Khayyam. When it comes to describing the love for a beloved no better song has been written in the annals of Hindi cinema than
Kabhie kabhie mere dil mein khayal aata hai,
ke jaise tujhko banaya gaya hai mere liye.
tu ab se pehle sitaron mein bas rahi thi kahin,
tujhe zameen par bulaya gaya hai mere liye.
In the years to come Chopra would make Trishul for Gulshan Rai. He would also make Kaala Pathar under his own banner along with Trishul. Kaala Patthar, released in 1979, was set around a coal mine and had Bachchan at his brooding best, even though it did fairly average business at the box office. Both Trishul and Kaala Patthar were multi-starrers which revolved around the angry young man played by Bachchan and had very little scope for romance, though they did have the mandatory romantic song.
The year 1981 was a landmark year in the history of Hindi cinema. It saw the release of Silsila starring Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya Bachchan and Rekha, which was a rather inspired casting. The story goes that Smita Patil and Parveen Babi were supposed to star in the film originally opposite Amitabh Bachchan. But as Yash Chopra explained in a recent interview to Shah Rukh Khan, “Smita was going to play the role that was ultimately played by Jaya Bachchan. I was not very convinced with the casting. I always wanted Rekha and Jaya Bachchan. Amitabh was shooting for his film Kaalia in Kashmir. I went to meet him. He likes to read the bound script. He read the script and asked me, "Are you sure you have made the right casting." I told Amitabh (Bachchan) that I wanted Jaya and Rekha in the film. He paused for a moment and then said, "Bombay jaake unko mil lete hai" (Lets go to Bombay and meet them). The very next day we took a flight and during the whole journey we didn't even speak a word. I met Jaya and Rekha and both of them agreed to do the film.”
The movie was beautifully shot in Kashmir and Netherlands. Dekha Ek Khwab to Ye Silsile Hue shot in the background of Dutch tulips remains one of the best shot songs in Hindi cinema. It looks fresh even 31 years later. But the movie’s theme of an extra-marital affair between two married individuals did not go down too well with the Hindi film audience.
Nevertheless Silsila set the template for what would become the Yash Chopra romance. Good locales, beautifully shot songs, brilliant music and lyrics, and heroines dancing in the rain. The story and the script of the movie which were strong points of Yash Chopra movies till then took a backseat.
Between Silsila in 1981 and Chandni in 1989, Chopra made box-office duds Faasle (which people feel is the worst of the 22 movies that he directed) and Vijay (highly inspired by Trishul). Vijay was more in the news for a 16-year-old Bakhtawar Murad Khan (better known by her screen name Sonam) cavorting in a bikini with a much older Rishi Kapoor than for its storyline or entertainment value. Chopra also directed Mashaal with Dilip Kumar and Anil Kapoor during those years. The film had some excellent performances and brilliant songs composed by Hridaynath Mangeshkar.
Yash Chopra became the King of Romance with his 1989 hit Chandni. The film had a fairly common Do hero-ek heroine waala love triangle story. But it had some excellent songs, shot in Switzerland, and it had Sridevi at her peak looking fresh and beautiful as ever. With this film Chopra furthered the Silsila formula and it was a huge box office success despite its weak storyline.
Two years later in 1991 Chopra made Lamhe with Sridevi and a moustache-less Anil Kapoor. The movie had all the ingredients of his Silsila formula but it also had a strong storyline of a younger woman falling for an older man who had once loved her mother. The movie has found its audience since its release.
With Darr in 1993, Chopra established Shah Rukh Khan as what came to be known as the anti-hero (whatever that means) in Hindi cinema. Four years later he made the candy floss Dil to Pagal Hai which had Shah Rukh playing Rahul and saying “Rahul naam to suna hoga” every 10 minutes. With a very thin storyline Chopra managed to make Madhuri Dixit look gorgeous, and that along with some great music and Shah Rukh sold tickets at the box office.
In 2004, Chopra directed the Indo-Pak love story Veer Zaara. His last film Jab Tak Hai Jaan is scheduled for release on the day of Diwali next month (I have this nagging feeling that the story line is similar to Daag – A Poem of Love, Chopra’s first independent production).
Like he was in his life, in his death, Yash Chopra has been christened the King of Romance. But romance was something he discovered in the second part of his career. Rather ironically, some his best movies from Dhool ka Phool to Waqt to Itefaaq to Deewaar to Trishul had very little romance in them, though his later romantic movies like Chandni, Darr, Dil to Pagal Hai and Veer Zaara definitely made more money. And his latest movie Jab Tak Hai Jaan might very well be the next Rs 200 crore superhit.
Vivek Kaul is a writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org