The enduring magic of Yash Chopra’s cinema

Yash Chopra never directed any film that he didn’t believe in. Whether it’s arranged marriages, man’s battle with the machine age, corruption in the public sector…they’re all there in Yash Chopra’s cinema.

Subhash K Jha September 27, 2022 08:51:24 IST
The enduring magic of Yash Chopra’s cinema

Yash Chopra’s romance with films began with his first directorial debut Dhool Ka Phool in 1959 which he directed for his elder brother B R Chopra. If we go back to Dhool Ka Phool, we see a lot of love scenes in it. The film was about an illegitimate child. After Yash Chopra wrote his love scenes in Dhool Ka Phool he became hooked to them. Yash Chopra once told me that in Dhool Ka Phool there was a sequence where a man and woman on different bicycles fell on each other. The censors asked him to delete the scene. Yash felt all love scenes should come from the heart. Otherwise, it looked fake.

In the mid-1970s Yash gave up on romance made a series of action films like Trishul, Kala Patthar and Deewaar which is considered one of the most successful action films ever, had only one fight sequence! It was the mother-son emotions that saw the film to its success.. Thereafter Yash had a series of romantic failures like Vijay, Parampara and Faasle.

One day he was driving down to town from his home in the suburbs of Mumbai. Every hoarding that he saw had men holding guns in their hands. Yash realized he was losing his way. He believed in romantic films, so why wasn’t he making them? That’s how he made a comeback with Chandni. When he was asked about the film’s highlights he said the songs are the highlights. Lataji whom Yash Chopra hero-worshipped had all but quit singing when she agreed to sing for Chandni.

Born a day apart from one another Yash Chopra and Lata Mangeshkar were soul siblings.

Yash said to me about Lataji, “No film of mine can be complete without her voice. She sings all the songs in my films. Even if I have to go to London where she’s peaceful and happy, and record I’ll do so. She isn’t just a voice, she’s the inspiration for my cinema. As long as I make films she‘ll sing for me. She’s really Devi Saraswati reincarnated.”

When Chandni was released people predicted it would flop. Its success reaffirmed Yash’s faith in his vision and his audience. Yash Chopra called his two “neglected children” Silsila and Lamhe his favourite films. He was especially proud of Lamhe and was baffled when it didn’t succeed at the box office,.

Yash Chopra told me, “Maybe Lamhe was ahead of its time. But it got me the biggest critical acclaim of my career. Silsila was the first film on extra-marital relations to have broken the barriers between offbeat and mainstream cinema. Some films are destined to succeed in retrospect. This was the case with Guru Dutt’s Kagaz Ke Phool. On release, it was a disaster. Today it’s a classic. Our business may be called showbiz. But we owe more to society than mere entertainment. We have to make films that would wean audiences away from their mindsets regarding cinematic entertainment. When I look back on my career, I feel God has been kind to me. Of course, I worked hard to get where I am. But more than that, there’s a power that has got me here.”

Yash Chopra never directed any film that he didn’t believe in. Whether it’s arranged marriages, man’s battle with the machine age, corruption in the public sector…they’re all there in Yash Chopra’s cinema. His 1965 hit Waqt was considered an escapist entertainer. But it was actually a film about man’s destiny and how it cannot be controlled. His second film Dharmputra in 1961 addressed itself to the sensitive issue of communal relations. It sparked off riots between Hindus and Muslims. Theatres were threatened with bomb scares. To assure that no harm was done to the film’s leading man Shashi Kapoor, and actor Deven Verma, Yash personally attended the first show at Mumbai’s Maratha Mandir.

Yash told me he was very proud of his son Aditya Chopra’s Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. “When it completed 200 weeks I thought we had had our innings. But DDLJ kept growing. Now after 500 weeks the general manager of Maratha Mandir tells me it can easily go on for six more months. It still goes houseful during weekends! Aditya was only 23 when he made DDLJ. I still remember the first time when he narrated the story to me. I had tears in my eyes for two reasons. Firstly , it was because my son had written it. And secondly, because it was such a heartwarming story. I knew it was going to be a hit film. But to this extent! Never. It touched a chord in Indians all over the world. It prompted them to go back to their country, traditions and roots. DDLJ was the first romance where the boy takes the girl away only with the parents’ consent. The whole process of winning over the girl’s family was unique. Never in my life have I seen such reactions to any film. It became a landmark thanks to my son’s honest and sincere effort. It has become a benchmark for him. He can’t make DDLJ again, though I’m sure he’ll always make good films. But success cannot be guaranteed.”

The last film Yash Chopra directed was the dodgy but beautiful Jab Tak Hai Jaan. Yash Chopra spent most of his adult years peering passionately into the heart. Jab Tak Hai Jaan (JTHJ) was not his best work. The last 35 minutes when Shah Rukh Khan loses his memory is best forgotten. Miraculously the entire end-piece of this fractured symphony co-written by Aditya Chopra and Devita Bhagat, doesn’t take away from the sublime beauty of the work. JTHJ is like an elaborate work of art and a work that offers many different kinds of guilty pleasures for all those diehard fans of Yash Chopra’s romance who grew up, grew wise and even grew old watching Daag, Silsila, Chandni and the Doyen’s best work Lamhe.

His last film could keep you enthralled trying to play the game of spot-the-earlier-Yash-Chopra-referenced. You will catch Daag in the way Katrina Kaif returns into Shah Rukh Khan’s fractured life. You can catch many shades of Karisma Kapoor from Dil To Pagal Hai in Anushka Sharma’s girl-madly-in-unrequited-love act. You will see Kabhi Kabhie in the way Katrina comes to search for her missing mother (played by Neetu Singh who had played the girl in search of mom in Kabhi Kabhie) and you can spot Silsila in Katrina’s scenes with Anushka in London. JTHJ is an ambrosial autumn sonata done in colours and moods that redefine Mr Yash Chopra’s legendary levels of aesthetics while sharpening and polishing the contours of his characteristic preoccupations.

It was not the perfect sendoff for Hindi cinema’s most romantic filmmaker. But it came close.

Subhash K Jha is a Patna-based film critic who has been writing about Bollywood for long enough to know the industry inside out. He tweets at @SubhashK_Jha.

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