Romancing success

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From little oaks grow mighty acorns. This proverb is best proved by Dadasaheb Phalke laureate and Padma Bhushan Yash Chopra, who on the occasion of his 80th birthday, also announced that he would hang up his boots as a director.

The patriarch of today’s numero uno banner and studio, Yash Raj Films, who will release his swan song Jab Tak Hai Jaan, starring Shah Rukh Khan, Katrina Kaif and Anushka on Diwali, began in the humblest way as assistant to elder brother B R Chopra and I S Johar.

Yash’s family wanted him to become an engineer as his brother B R Chopra was already in films, but he had no aptitude for it. Their uneducated mother in her earthy wisdom, however, blessed him and told him to follow his heart, giving him the credo for a lot of his characters in future love classics.

Yash learnt crucial lessons from his brother — movies should be about wholesome family entertainment and with a message. They should eschew darkness and be made from the heart. And filmmaking had to be a 24/7 obsession.

Yash did not know it then, but this was to become the keynote of his unmatched track record in Hindi films — of connecting with five generations of audiences across the country and overseas. Who else had blockbusters across six decades — his debut Dhool Ka Phool in the ‘50s, Waqt and Ittefaq in the ‘60s, Daag, Deewaar, Kabhi Kabhie and Trishul in the ‘70s, Chandni in the ‘80s, Darr and Dil To Pagal Hai in the ‘90s and Veer-Zaara in the millennium?

His self-confidence and courage of conviction were exemplary, as was his complete faith in the almighty. When his brother had three hits in a row — Ek Hi Raasta, Sadhana and Naya Daur — and decided that his new film Dhool Ka Phool would be co-directed by Yash with another assistant director Bedi, the filmmaker prayed for a solo break. Soon, Bedi left B R Films and BR even changed the hero when the original hero was unwilling to work with Yash Chopra as director.

The same conviction was seen when Yash Chopra decided to make Ittefaq. Yash shot the film in a month and decided that the whodunit would neither have songs nor an intermission. When he faced pressure from distributors, he made a 20-minute documentary to support the main feature. There was an intermission between this and the film, which remained exactly as he had envisioned it. And Ittefaq went on to become a superhit.

The next time Chopra had to summon his inner strength was after his wife Pamela became pregnant with their first child, now whiz kid filmmaker Aditya Chopra. He had to take the decision of moving out and forming his own company. Thus, Yash Raj Films was born.

Yash lays great premium on his mother’s blessings in the way things magically worked: V Shantaram offered him office space in his studios till he could afford one of his own. Raakhee, who had once been considered for the lead in Ittefaq, helped out with a loan. Producer-distributor Gulshan Rai helped him by signing him on as director for his post-Johny Mera Naam thriller, Joshila.

Daag, however, was a trial by fire — distributors were unhappy about the bold end of a man settling down with two wives. So suicidal was this considered for business that the film was given a restricted release. But it became a blockbuster by word-of-mouth overnight. His second production Kabhi Kabhie had an interesting sidelight: Amitabh Bachchan’s parents Dr Harvansh Rai and Teji Bachchan actually played Raakhee’s screen parents in the kanyadaan sequence! Later, when Yash Chopra wanted to make Silsila with Rekha and Jaya Bhaduri, but safely opted for Parveen Babi and Smita Patil instead, given the delicate state of the affairs then, it was Bachchan who assured Yash that his original casting was correct and convinced his wife and Rekha to do the film. And Dr Bachchan contributed to the lyrics of Rang barse!

The only time Yash wavered from his convictions was in the ‘80s, when he made “films of the kind everyone was making, with fights as highlights.” Chandni, his turnaround film that was the first to herald him as the ‘King of Romance’, was born on a night’s drive home. “I realised that my posters looked just like all other movies with guns and so on,” said Chopra once. “I decided to stop compromising, and conceived a romantic film in which songs — nine of them — were the highlights.”

From here began Yash’s voyage to the peak of glory, with a trendsetting depiction of heroines, beautiful foreign locations and hit music. “I presented women in a beautiful way with the help of a strong story. A woman is god’s most beautiful creation and she dons so many roles. It saddens me to see them depicted as evil on television,” he explained.

The monarch of movie mohabbat also explained his mastery over his many romantic triangles, “A pair of lovers can have many obstacles — parents, villains or calamities — but I preferred one in the shape of a third human being, who was also in love.”

Finally, with regard to the secret behind his sustained connection amongst the masses, he said, “The content must be solid. The soul in my films should be mine, but the treatment, zabaan and technique must be in sync with the times.”

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