When we think of gorgeous heroines draped in plain color chiffon saris and sleeveless blouses – swaying to rhythmic beats composed by eminent musicians and lip-synching soulful lyrics penned by proficient poets – with the magnificent Alps as a backdrop, the only name that comes to our minds is that of Yash Chopra!
The producer and director showed us the value of pure romance sans vulgarity in times when the only mantra to box office success appears to be “the lewder and cruder, the better”. He passed away last year. He has left behind a rich legacy of social comment through the wide-ranging themes of movies he produced or directed.
But the king of romance acquired this sobriquet by a very interesting process of evolution, through a long and arduous journey of making socially relevant movies which reflected our society’s challenges of their respective times. Like other popular directors of Bollywood – Raj Kapoor, Subhash Ghai and others – he had a unique ear for music, which was a hallmark of all his movies. The lyricists he associated with were accomplished poets who invariably came up with relevant and meaningful verses.
Evolving Into a King of Romance
Partition, Secularism and Peace
If ‘Dhool ka Phool” (1959) was about illegitimate children, ‘Dharamputra’ (1961) touched upon religious intolerance in days when the term Hindu fundamentalism was not part of our vocabulary. The story of a Muslim bringing up a Hindu boy tugged at one’s heart-strings. The scenes of partition were hard-hitting, leading to a backlash at the time. That was perhaps the reason he never ventured to make a film on a political theme again during his lifetime.
However, he did come up with a clear message on peace and unity with his ‘Veer Zaara’ (2004). Not even a single bullet was fired in the film, but the message was loud and clear – that India and Pakistan share a common culture and a strong bond – by implication, both countries deserve a chance to be together again, pooling their scarce resources to alleviate poverty, hunger and disease, instead of war mongering.
Family Values, Wealth and Bigamy
‘Waqt’ (1965) was his last movie where he worked with his elder brother Baldev Raj Chopra. It was the first one to have had a multi-star cast, a practice which is followed till today. It also spawned several other movies in the lost-and-found genre, popular ones being ‘Yaadon ki Baraat’ and ‘Amar Akbar Anthony’. The movie also depicted the lavish styles of the rich, conveying that acquiring wealth is not necessarily evil.
Then he formed Yash Raj Films, his own banner, and came out with ‘Daag’ (1973). The issue of bigamy was handled with his trademark elegance and suavity.
The Angst of the Youth
This was followed by two angry-young-man-phase movies, capitalizing on Amitabh Bachchan’s recently acquired image in ‘Zanjeer’. It started off with ‘Deewar’ (1975) and was followed by ‘Trishul’ (1978). In ‘Mashaal’ (1984), he cast thespian Dilip Kumar who portrayed an angry old man. Much to the glee of middle class audience struggling with rising aspirations and astronomical living costs, the means were no longer important; ends were.
With ‘Kabhie Kabhie’ (1976), he introduced a poetic touch into the art of commercial movie making and set the box office registers tingling. This trend continued in his subsequent movies like ‘Silsila’ (1981), ‘Chandni’ (1989) and ‘Lamhe’ (1991). The angst eventually mellowed down and human emotions acquired center stage. All the characters in these movies were from an affluent background. In each venture, the canvas only got larger. In each, candy-floss romance was in the air, backed by melodious music and soulful lyrics that would remain etched in our collective psyche for a long time to come.
His style of depicting romance was muted, elegant and refined. The main protagonists were invariably civil and dignified, following the norms of propriety. It was devoid of lewd dialogues, coarse lyrics and vulgar scenes. Even in ‘Darr’ (1993), we had an anti-hero stalking the heroine, but never in bad taste.
Social Values and the Indian Diaspora
He produced ‘Dilwaale Dulhania Le Jayenge’ (1995), which was directed by his son, Aditya Chopra. The movie set new records and Indians world over could readily connect with the superiority of family values it espoused. A daughter brought up in UK needs permission from her overbearing father for a vacation in Europe; a hero refuses to get persuaded by the heroine’s mother to elope with the heroine; instead, the couple works towards getting an approval of the match from the heroine’s father, come what may – these were market savvy master strokes in the script which made the movie immensely popular with all age groups.
Very few directors have ventured to work on a theme with music as a backdrop. ‘Dil To Pagal Hai’ (1997) did precisely that. All the main characters had a different perspective on love, and the movie was about the transformation of their belief systems. It was beautifully built around music and dance, elevated to a level where soul-mates discover each other.
We live in terrorism infested times. It is not surprising that his last venture, ‘Jab Tak Hai Jaan’ (2012) used this as a backdrop of a triangular love story.
An Ear for Music and Rich Poetry
While supporting his brother, B. R. Chopra, Yash Chopra got to work with music directors like N. Dutta and Ravi. However, once on his own, he first worked with Lakshmikant Pyarelal for ‘Daag’, and then with Rahul Dev Burman for ‘Deewar’. Khayyam was his choice for ‘Kabhie Kabhie’ and ‘Trishul’. All through these movies, he worked with Sahir Ludhianvi as the lyricist.
Yet another master stroke was his persuading legendary classical musicians Shiv Kumar Sharma and Hari Prasad Chaurasia to compose the music for several of his movies. Together, they created a rich legacy of music in such movies as ‘Silsila’, ‘Chandni’, ‘Lamhe’ and ‘Darr’. The classical dance sequences performed with aplomb by Sridevi in ‘Chandni’ and ‘Lamhe’ remain as fresh today as they were when captured on celluloid. ‘Silsila’ and ‘Veer Zaara’ had lyrics by Javed Akhtar, whereas all others had poetic inputs from Anand Bakshi.
For ‘Dil To Pagal Hai’, he turned to Uttam Singh, who came up with mellifluous compositions for the movie. His best was, however, reserved for ‘Veer Zaara’, which dug up old compositions of the legendary Madan Mohan, revived by the latter’s son Sanjeev Kohli.
In his last offering, ‘Jab Tak Hai Jaan’, he teamed up with A. R. Rehman, with lyrics by Gulzar.
Setting New Benchmarks
Undoubtedly, he set new benchmarks for the film industry. Several trends that we take for granted today were initiated by him. He set the template for future Bollywood directors who continue to ape his technical gloss but lack the depth of romance and human emotions captured by him. He was among the first to push the industry into professionalism. Working with classical musicians and accomplished Urdu poets, he has left behind a rich repertoire of music for all of us to savor for a long time to come.
He would always be fondly remembered for a certain elegance and refinement of language which many of the current breed of Bollywood dream merchants sadly lack. Also, for the unique brand of secularism, peace and unity he propagated through his movies.
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