Yash Chopra on his 80th birthday in Mumbai
On his 80th birthday on September 27, Yash Chopra told his star interviewer during a televised chat: “I think I’ve had enough, Shah Rukh.”
While Bollywood’s raja of romance was referring to his decision not to direct another film after Jab Tak Hai Jaan, his words proved prophetic.
Less than a month later, on October 21, the director-producer died at Mumbai’s Lilavati Hospital of multi-organ failure, days after being admitted with dengue.
Born in 1932 in Lahore, Yash had been sent to Bombay by his father to study engineering. But his passion for filmmaking led him to work as an assistant director to I.S. Johar, and then for his brother and director-producer B.R. Chopra.
Yash stepped out of his brother’s shadow with Dhool Ka Phool in 1959, a melodrama about illegitimacy. But it was the 1965 drama Waqt that propelled him into the big league. It was Bollywood’s first multi-starrer, bringing together everyone from Balraj Sahni and Sunil Dutt to Raaj Kumar and Shashi Kapoor in this lost-and-found tale.
Aadmi Aur Insaan and Ittefaq followed in 1969, testifying to his ease at crafting gripping cinema and exploring all genres. In 1973, he founded his own production company, Yash Raj Films, and launched it with Daag and the hit pair of Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore.
Down the decades, Chopra’s success came not only from the straight-from-the-heart stories he told but also from his faith in certain actors.
The biggest beneficiaries of the Yash Chopra master-class of one actor, many roles? Amitabh Bachchan (who tweeted: “Yash Chopra — 44 years of association... of creativity, friendship, fun and family ties... each moment so vivid even now... gone”) and Shah Rukh Khan (who tweeted: “I keep you with me Yashji and I miss you too Yashji... lots”).
“It was Yashji’s genius that he saw me as Vijay,” Bachchan has said about the angry young man that he played to smouldering effect in Deewaar (1975) — “a flawless script written by Salim-Javed”, according to Chopra — Trishul (1978) and Kaala Patthar (1979). It was “Yashji’s genius” again that transformed Vijay into the brooding poet Amit in Kabhi Kabhie (1976) and the tormented playwright Amit in Silsila (1981).
With Silsila, Yash pulled off a casting coup that no one else in Bollywood would have dared attempt: a triangular relationship tale starring Amitabh, Jaya and Rekha in roles believed to have blurred the line between real and reel.
Cut from AB to SRK. “You are the only actor in all these years who has never asked me for the script or asked what money you would get (when) I have approached you for a film,” Chopra told Shah Rukh during his 80th birthday interview. That guru-shishya bond lasted till the end, from Darr to Jab Tak Hai Jaan.
With Darr (1993), Shah Rukh the star was born as the anti-hero. But Shah Rukh the ultimate romantic hero of his generation was born in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (1995) which Chopra produced.
Love and melody were the two main chapters of the Yash Chopra school of filmmaking, from brave box-office duds like Lamhe to the comeback cry of Chandni and beyond. “I have never made romantic films. I have made films on human relations and always followed my heart,” he once said.
Yash’s films were replete with the most memorable music, from Khayyam to R.D. Burman, and Shiv-Hari (santoor player Shiv Kumar Sharma and flautist Hariprasad Chaurasia in a unique partnership) to A.R. Rahman’s Yash Raj debut with Jab Tak Hai Jaan.
In a career spanning over 50 films as director and producer, Yash won several awards, including six National Film Awards.
“Any words describing him as a legend, although true, sound so trite, so ineffective. He made cinema he believed in without compromising. I always found him warm, generous, funny and heavily into food,” said Shabana Azmi.
Rani Mukerji, linked for years with Yash’s son Aditya, had once said: “The most excitement on Yashji’s set would be generated before lunch while he decided what food to order that day!”