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.