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Sunday October 28, 2012

Goodbye, King of Romance

In a career spanning 53 years, Yash Chopra who died last Sunday directed 22 films, most of them box-office hits that brought stardom to a number of unknown actors.

IT is rare for Bollywood, divided as it is in various camps, to come together as it did a few days ago to mourn the death of the legendary producer-director Yash Chopra (pic).

Acclaimed as the King of Romance, Chopra, who celebrated his 80th birthday a couple of weeks ago at a gala dinner with the top guns of film industry in attendance, died of dengue at a Mumbai hospital last Sunday.

After the passing of the showman Raj Kapur in the 80s, Chopra was unquestionably the lone surviving movie mogul. His home banner, Yash Raj Films, was the most powerful in Bollywood, with even superstars considering it a privilege to be featured in films it produced. On Sept 27 when Chopra celebrated his 80th birthday, he announced his retirement as a director.

In a career spanning 53 years, Chopra directed 22 films, most of them box-office hits that brought stardom to a number of unknown actors. His last directorial venture, Jab Tak Hai Jaan starring Shah Rukh Khan-Katrina Kaif and Anushka Sharma, is due for release on Nov 13. Indeed, both Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan have to be thankful to Chopra for launching them on the high trajectory of stardom.

Shah Rukh Khan, who engaged Chopra in an extended chat on his birthday, acknowledged as much when he said it was his anti-hero role in Chopra’s 1993 hit Darr that eased the way for his rise as a superstar. Chopra revealed then how he had parted ways with the older brother, B.R. Chopra, in 1971 to set up his own venture.

“I had got married. And I wanted more money. I told Bhai Saheb (elder brother). He gave me his blessings and told me that I was on my own.”

Before he quit the prestigious BR Chopra Films, he had directed a couple of box-office hits. His first directorial venture, Dhool Ka Phool – the story of an illegitimate child – starring Mala Sinha and Rajendra Kumar, was the biggest hit in 1959. He never looked back after the success of his maiden directorial venture.

Under the BR Films banner, he directed several more meaningful films. Dharamputra, based on the bitter legacy of the partition of the subcontinent, introduced then newcomer Shashi Kapur, the youngest son of the legendary actor Prithviraj Kapur and the youngest brother of actors Raj and Shammi Kapur. The film was a box office hit.

However, it was his next directorial venture, Wakt, starring Raj Kumar, Sunil Dutt, and Shashi Kapur, which won him his first of the four best director awards. He directed two more films for his older brother’s company, Aadmi Aur Insaan and Ittefaq, before going his own way.

Ittefaq, incidentally, was Rajesh Khanna’s first box office hit. It was also notable for the absence of songs, a rarity in Indian films.

Rajesh Khanna got the image makeover as the romantic star in Chopra’s first home production under the newly-established Yash Raj Films’ banner. Daag, a love triangle starring Khanna, Sharmila Tagore and Raakhee, was such a big hit on the box office in 1973 that it firmed up Khanna’s place as a superstar while it ensured a key place in the industry for Chopra as a producer-director.

Soon, Chopra would taste bigger success in Deewar, the story of two brothers played by Amitabh Bachchan and Shashi Kapur, with the former cast as an underworld don and the latter an honest cop. The 1975 classic was to establish Bachchan as the angry young man of Bollywood. He starred in Chopra’s romantic classic, Kabhie Kabhie, whose lilting music is still fresh in the minds of cinegoers. Sahir Ludhianvi’s meaningful lyrics composed by Khayyam and sung by Mukesh and Lata Mangeshkar can still be heard on the popular radio and television channels after they first took the nation by storm back in 1976.

Again, Chopra performed a casting coup, hiring Bachchan and the latter’s real-life actor wife Jaya and his alleged mistress Rekha in the 1981 film Silsila. The love triangle with Sanjeev Kumar playing the wronged husband received lukewarm reception at the box office, though Chopra said it was his personal favourite.

However, in his later films, Chopra changed gears, emerging as the King of Romance, according his heroines pride of place and giving them an ethereal look in his films. Whether it was Sridevi in Chandni and Lamhe or Madhuri Dixit in the evergreen musical Dil To Pagal Hai, Chopra’s heroines were swathed in elegant chiffon sarees, oozed charm and sensuality, and were wooed by heroes amid an endless row of flowers in some exotic foreign locales.

He told Shah Rukh Khan, “After nature, the most beautiful thing God has made is woman. I never see bad points in a woman. I like to make films that take a peek into a woman’s heart.”

Notably, Chopra gained acceptability across all genres of film-making. Starting in an era when there were only 1,000-seater-plus cinema halls, he has managed to keep both front stalls and demanding film critics happy right up to the present with its 150- to 250-seater multiplexes. His films were box office hits that also won critical acclaim, a fact borne out by his four best director and an equal number of best movie awards. He was also honoured by the Government of India with the film industry’s biggest Dadasaheb Phalke Award. In 2005, he was given the civilian honour of Padma Bhushan.

In his advancing years, Chopra was quick to absorb new trends in film-making. In the mid-90s, when the Government finally accorded Bollywood the status of an industry, Chopra was quick to corporatise Yash Raj Films. He entrusted the day-to-day running of his company to son Aditya Chopra while he played the role of mentor and talent spotter. The Yash Raj banner is now one of the biggest in the industry, producing several films a year and introducing fresh young talents.

Alas, he would not be around to see the response to the last film he had directed, Jab Tak Hai Jaan, which is set for a Diwali release. He had worked hard to get the legendary music maestro A.R. Rehman and lyricist par excellence Gulzar together for the film. Also, Chopra himself wrote a poem which is recited in the film by Shah Rukh Khan.

As he told the celebrants gathered to mark what would be his last birthday, “I wanted to make a different and touching film.”

We will know how different when Jab Tak Hai Jaan is released on Nov 13.

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