Emperor of emotions

Love for cinema

Emperor of emotions

Celebrated Indian film director, Yash Chopra, who passed away recently, cemented the genre of romance in Hindi cinema. Love always won, especially when Chopra was around, notes Rajiv Vijayakar .

Not only was Yash Chopra a man in love with love, but he made generations fall in love too: unconditionally, beautifully and almost spiritually. And yet, Yash Chopra often remarked that he never made love stories! “I make films on relationships!” he told me simply when we had met sometime in the mid-‘90s. “Human interactions always interest me.”

A keen observer of life, Yash Chopra’s achievements as a filmmaker are legion — the only director probably in the whole world to have given at least one super hit for six continuous decades, he was especially a master at romance. Just as Agatha Christie explored every possible nook and cranny within the whodunit genre, Chopra did likewise as a romantic filmmaker.

The many honours conferred on Chopra included cinema’s highest — the Dadasaheb Phalke award— besides the Padma Bhushan, as well as international recognition. Chopra also introduced a slew of new talents on, and behind, the screen, from all his family members — wife Pamela (singer and producer) and sons Aditya (writer-director-producer) and Uday (actor-producer-writer) to composer Pritam, lyricist Javed Akhtar and art director Sharmistha Roy to actors Poonam Dhillon, Farouque Sheikh, Saif Ali Khan, Ranveer Singh and Anushka Sharma and many more.

The journey

Chopra’s first five films were all produced by his brother B R Chopra as a producer, who was always partial to issue-based socials, except for the path-breaking quickie Ittefaq that was a murder mystery. But when Chopra got married to Pamela, honeymooned in Switzerland, and after she became pregnant with Aditya, two things happened: Yash Chopra decided to go his own way and launch his own banner, Yash Raj Films, and he unleashed the deep romantic within him.

Even today, Daag (1973), that super-successful and bold film that marked the launch of the banner, is a love classic with some of the most intense romance ever seen in Hindi films. The passion in Yash Chopra rubbed off on everyone — Akhtar-Ul-Iman, the dialogue writer, Sahir Ludhianvi and Laxmikant-Pyarelal, the giants behind immortal songs, and Rajesh Khanna, Sharmila Tagore and Raakhee, the principal protagonists. The film was rightly blurbed “A poem of love,” and was as sublime as it was hard hitting.

Ab chahe maa roothe ya baba and Ni main yaar manana ni (YRF’s first-ever of many famous Punjabi songs), Hum aur tum, tum aur hum, the sensuous Mere dil mein aaj kya hai and that incisive bewafai classic, Jab bhi ji chahe are evergreen melodies that first created interest in this bold romantic film.

Observes a trade veteran: “Rajesh Khanna was then reeling under some half-a-dozen flops. The banner was new, and Yash Chopra’s previous film Aadmi Aur Insaan had not done well. The distributors were not too happy with the idea of a man settling down with two women. And though Yash ji had conviction in this Gulshan Nanda story, it was the music that first caught the audience’s fancy and brought audiences to the theatres. By Sunday, the film was also declared a super hit.”

Sahir Ludhianvi, an old favourite of both the Chopra brothers, was an incurable if somewhat cynical romantic, and after Daag, Chopra took up a subject right after Sahir’s heart too: the love story of a poet, played by Amitabh Bachchan. Getting self-cathartic, the poet wrote two of the most sublime romantic poems of his career, Kabhi kabhi mere dil mein khayaal aata hai and Main pal do pal ka shaayar hoon, both immortalised by Khayyam’s simple tunes and Mukesh’s vocals.

Kabhi Kabhie, this multi-star film, had romance off-screen too: Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh were courting, Amitabh Bachchan and Raakhee were just married and the former’s wife Jaya was with the unit on location. The two-generation romance was probably the first Hindi film where mothers and fathers were middle-aged great lookers and lead characters — after all, how could those in love in a Yash Chopra film look like an aging Nirupa Roy or a Manmohan Krishna? Chopra termed the shooting schedule in Kashmir as a “family picnic!”

Chopra got even bolder in Doosara Aadmi (actually Hindi cinema’s first modern saga of an obsessive lover). Raakhee romantically snares a married younger man (Rishi Kapoor) who resembles her dead husband (Shashi Kapoor) and brings huge turmoil into his married life. The film pulled it off by never making Raakhee come across as a female ‘villain’.

Chopra’s next tryst with romance was even more of a tightrope off-screen: he managed to cast Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya and Rekha in a bold love triangle akin to their then-real-life situation in Silsila. Once again, Chopra pulled it off, but he admitted that he had individual meetings with his heroines to be completely reassured that they would not create trouble during the shoot!

Silsila began Chopra’s association with locations abroad — which was to be his fixed leitmotif later. He shot the title track spectacularly amidst tulips in Amsterdam, and since Sahir was no more, he actually got his Deewaar-Trishul-Kaala Patthart co-writer Javed Akhtar to discover his potential as a lyricist and pen intense romantic paeans.

The ‘80s were a turbulent phase for the romantic in Chopra as Silsila’s box-office setback made him attempt action dramas like Mashaal, Sawaal and Vijay. The sole concession Chopra made was the half-hearted romantic non-starter Faasle. But after all these films bombed, Chopra took stock of his work and convictions, and turned his career (and the fortunes of his banner) around with Chandni, the 1989 smash hit.

And from here began Chopra’s ride to iconic stature as the Raja of Romance — ranging from films he produced, which were helmed by son Aditya (Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Mohabbatein, Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi) to the films he merely presented for his family (Aaina, Yeh Dillagi, Hum Tum, Salaam Namaste and even the August 2012 release Ek Tha Tiger.)
With heroines singing in chiffon sarees against the Swiss Alps or other exotic foreign locales, Chopra spun a trendsetting blueprint for screen love that will continue to be imitated and emulated within as well as outside the portals of his banner.

As Chopra remained true to himself in showing “human beings in love,” he consistently maintained a trendy spin with modern lingo, chartbusting love songs and younger actors — Shah Rukh Khan being his pet lover-boy opposite an array of beauties ranging from Juhi Chawla and Kajol to Katrina Kaif and Anushka Sharma.

“The soul is always mine, but the language and cinematic format is always that of the current time,” Chopra smilingly confessed. And of course the USP has remained — exploring even more angles to the most supreme human emotion — be it the passion for the look-alike daughter of a beloved, lost to another man (Lamhe), destructively obsessive love (Darr), romance between denizens of enemy countries (Veer-Zaara) and in other YRF films, such as the saga of two intelligence officers who quit for love (Ek Tha Tiger), or the story of a professor who had loved and lost, but brought three pairs of lovers together (Mohabbatein).

Love, in short, always won because Chopra was around. But he has made its foundation so rock solid that romance will never die in Hindi cinema.

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