During my entire childhood, I had always associated Yash Chopra with some of the most popular romantic movies I had known. The first fluffy notions of romance I had was from his films. It was much later that I discovered that the same man also gave us some the most iconic action films as well. It was he who rediscovered the ‘lost and found’ formula, which was later monetised to perfection by Manmohan Desai and Nasir Hussain! Sure, his cinema was escapist. Yet, in many ways, it was indicative of the times we lived in.
It was only in the 1970s that the demarcation between the art and commercial cinema became more pronounced. What we today know as commercial cinema owes a lot of its elements to the cinema of Raj Kapoor. With a saleable story line, mega stars, songs shot at foreign locations, chart buster music and a fine dose of melodrama, Raj knew his way to the heart of the audience. Yash Chopra learnt his first lessons of film making from his brother BR Chopra. But it was Yash again, who quickly adapted the Raj Kapoor school of melodrama to perfect the idea of a commercial Hindi film.
When his directorial debut Dhool ka Phool (1958) talked about the concept of an illegitimate child, the nation was fresh from the wounds of partition. Hence, the child was told, Tu Hindu banega na Musalman banega, insan ki aulaad hai insan banega. His Dharmaputra (1961), brought out the pains of partition to the fore, though it was a box-office dud. In Waqt, he became the pompous dream merchant, as we remember him today. Waqthad luxury oozing out of every corner. It was replete with fantastic sets, top stars of the day, memorable songs and above all, the lost and found formula, which had been used sparingly before in Kismet (1943) and Awaara (1951). Waqt also was indicative of the Punjabiyat of Hindi cinema, which was to become bigger in the time to come. But above all Waqthad a much deeper subtext of time being the most powerful element of our lives and played with the idea to bring in a series of coincidences.
Waqt – pompousness at its best
He launched Yash Raj films in the 1970s with the Rajesh Khanna-starrer Daag (1973). This began a new phase in his career. Supported by the excellent scripts of Salim-Javed, he played a major role in showcasing the angry young man of Hindi cinema. Amitabh Bachchan had hit the bulls eye with Zanjeer(1973); but it was Deewar (1975), that left the ever-lasting image of an anguished man of the 1970s. With unemployment, scarcity, hartals and the Emergency to top it all, there was nothing much for an average youngster in India to look forward to. Though Deewar was unabashedly melodramatic, it echoed the sentiments of an entire nation. It did not have a new story- it was totally borrowed from Mother India (1957) and Gunga Jumna (1961) and it merely contemporised the idea of ‘majboor Maand do bachche’. Deewar was not just one of Yash Chopra’s finest films ever, it also came to define the era of 1970s.
Deewar – It remained the most iconic script from the Yash Raj stable
And yet, the romance didn’t quite die. Even as the embers of Deewar were setting the nation on fire, he brought out Kabhi Kabhie, a star-studded romantic extravaganza, dipped in the poetry of Sahir Ludhianvi. Kabhi Kabhie was one of Yash Chopra’s best musicals ever. He returned to the idea of illegitimate child with Trishul (1978), again with Amitabh as the wronged, angry, young son of a rich industrialist (played by Sanjeev Kumar). The coal mine disaster of 1970 inspired his Kala Paththar. Deewar, Trishul and Kala Paththar together formed the Vijay trilogy of Yash Chopra. The characters played by Amitabh in these movies were not markedly different; yet they brought to the fore a new facet of the angry young man each time.
In spite of being a musical delight and Yash having achieved a casting coup by roping in Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya Bachchan and Rekha in the extramarital melodrama, the script of Silsila (1981) reflected the confusion of the film maker and failed at the box office. He lost track after Silsila, though Mashaal (1984) had many traces of brilliance. Silsila also marked the beginning of his association with the classical maestros Shiv Kumar Sharma and Hari Prasad Chaurasia. With Silsila, song sequences being shot in the gardens of Europe became a recurring feature in his films. Like Raj Kapoor, Yash Chopra too had a fetish for the woman in white and all his films from Silsila onwards had a prominent song sequence with the heroine in white.
Amitabh’s character in Kabhi Kabhie was supposed to have been
modeled on the poet Sahir Ludhianvi
The extramarital strains of Silsila got muted in the hype surrounding the cast
Personally, I felt that barring Lamhe (1991), all his later films had style winning over substance. Chandni(1989), was more of an ode to the beauty of Sridevi. It was a movie rejected by Rekha. Lamhe (1991), was bold and off the beaten track for its time. It also saw Sridevi at the peak of her career. Lamhe was the story of a young girl falling in love with a man much senior to her. The audience rejected this work, though it remained a critic’s favourite. Starting from Chandni, his movies reflected the resurgent mood of a country at the brink of liberalisation. The borders seemed irrelevant and a new brand of romance was soon emerging.
Sridevi at her best in Lamhe
Every generation has its love story. The audience of 1960s had Mughal-e-azam, those from the 1970s had Bobby and the generation of 1990s had Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (1995). Though it was directed by Aditya Chopra, the Yash Chopra mark could not be missed. Today, if a mustard field reminds you of love and longing, the credit goes to DDLJ. Though it was a blockbuster, Dil Toh Pagal Hai (1997), with its forced romance and theatrical dialogues seemed no match to his yesteryear classics. Yet, there are magical moments in it, which makes it a decent watch even today. I was in Dubai when Veer Zaara was released in 2004. The audience there went mad over the film, as well as its lead actor Shahrukh Khan. Yash Raj had become a banner to reckon with in the foreign market and therein lay its pit fall as well. The banner began catering more to the nostalgic needs of the NRIs abroad than cinematic sensibilities of the audience back home. Except for the Late Madan Mohan’s music, there was hardly anything remarkable about Veer Zaara.
But then, I can’t think of many people in the history of Hindi cinema who successfully directed films for almost 55 years! He sold candy floss dreams of romance, in the most unapologetic manner. Romance, tragedy, comedy, drama – everything was larger than life. Whether you like it or not, today, what is perceived across the world as ‘Bollywood’ cinema, is to a large extent, the Yash Raj brand of cinema. He taught three generations of Indians to fall in love with the idea of love itself. A dream merchant couldn’t be bigger than him. What Sahir said in Kabhi Kabhie, perhaps, best expresses his life:
Kal aur aayenge naghmon ki khilti kaliyan chunne wale
Mujhse behtar kehne wale, tumse behtar sunne wale,
Kal koi mujhko yaad kare, kyun koi mujh ko yaad kare
Masruf zamana mere liye, kyun waqt apna barbaad kare
Main pal do pal ka shayar hoon
Love is life, Life is forever….