He was indisputably one of the most versatile directors, one of the greatest Indian ever who like a sculptor one day unconsciously decided that it would be better to be a specialist than being a generalist. Being a lover at heart and with successive failures with some of the heroines he started to outpour all his imagined romantic fantasies into his cinema to be called King of Romance. Actually, a quick flashback into some of his directorial ventures beginning with Dhool ka Phool (1959)—a bold take on the unfortunate child who was born a Hindu brought up by a kind-hearted Muslim or Dharamputra (1961), and touching a multistarrer, Waqt (65) which had a complicated story board with a huge divergent cast consisting of Balraj Sahni, Sunil Dutt, Raaj Kumar, Shashi Kapoor, Sadhna, Sharmila Tagore. But despite the partition in background, the story had sufficient loopholes to introduce romance which he brought in with some elegance. He was barely 32, and had some other names like Vijay Anand breathing down his neck. Perhaps, desperate to indulge in his kind of somewhat indulgent cinema, the breakaway from the stronghold of his overpowering elder brother, BR Chopra was necessitated by time. The breakaway couldn’t’ have been very pleasant, and cordial.
His first independent production under his own new banner, Yash Raj Films, creating a coup by not only casting the reigning super star, Rajesh Khanna and pitching him against two leading ladies of the sixties Hindi cinema, Sharmila Tagore and Rakhee. It was a roaring success, and now rumoured that his ready-to-release, Jab Tak hai Jaan, co-starring the current favourite Shah Rukh Khan, Katrina Kaif and Anuksha Sharma . The triumph of Yash Chopra lay also in the fact that he judiciously followed the box office pulse, and rather than basking in the glory of one success, indulged in yet another. Instead, he bid his time waiting for the right prey like a hawk. The eighties decade, turned out to be no different for Yash Chopra, as it had, indeed, been for many of his other illustrious colleagues when he seemingly lost his moorings and churned out one flop after the other. With Deewar, Trishul, Kala Pathar behind, the Bachchan magic no longer spelt box office jingling. Confused, he decided to fall back on the dependable talent of his ‘mother-father fucker’ friend, Ganga Sagar Talwar (better known in the industry jargons as Sagar Sarhadi) to come out with a hit.
It was a sheer matter of chance that this columnist accompanied to the narration. It was a triangular love story with a million turns and twists. Standing tall, Bachchan had been the obvious choice. Powerhouse performer Smita Patil being a Sarhadi favourite shortlisted for Shobha’s role while Parveen Babi as Chandni was to be the love interest of younger writer-brother Amit. The game had been set for a straight mate for the audience until Chopra turned greedy and sold the sensational idea of roping in wife Jaya, and supposed girlfriend, Rekha on board. The script went into redrafting many times over, every new draft incorporating more gimmicky. The box office outright rejected the indulgent script, Sagar and Chopra parting company and the columnist followed suit.
To retrieve lost ground, Chopra reverted to action genre. Sawaal (82), Mashaal (84) with Dilip Kumar, Rakhee; Faasle (85) Vijay with Rajesh Khanaa (88) flopped, and Yash Chopra started groping in the darkness of his living room when wife suddenly put all the lights on, literally, with an elegant lady called Kamana Chandra. Her narrative had a somewhat different and suspenseful dramatic angle to the triangular love story. Two more writers were added to work with Kamana but it really hadn’t been up to them to jumble up the jigsaw puzzle, and Sagar Sarhadi brought back on the scene. Chandni turned out to be a film that set screen romance on fire—as never before, providing Yash Chopra with a new road which will eventually take him out of his earthly journey. He was now literally back on song, a new world followed. Lamhe (91) that followed in its wake, which for some reason failed to work with the audience, was yet another turning point in the maverick director’s indulgent career.
He now suddenly broke free from the claustrophobic world of starlets, a whole hoard of writers and assembly line producers of one’s own generation in particular, as if they were segments of an invisible umbilical cord. Rumour mills started to work full time. Lamhe proved too mature a story for generations of mindset Indians who will take nothing but the beaten track. But it had so far been his most mature attempt at exploring different cinema. So one is sometimes surprised that despite having media’s connections one should direct to films land bigwigs, or their managers should seek any information from an ordinary pen-pusher in the capital. Many do go around with half-baked information without really be aware of the ground reality. It happens when a celebrity dies, more so if he or she is from the glamour world. So one had hardly touched home grounds when the phone bells started ringing seeking vignettes about the man who has come to be hailed as glossy big budget extravaganza, conjuring up usual romantic moorings, almost never missing the main line that no matter where a film is planned, its end will make the box office window open eventually in India, conjuring up unending, unbelievable romance at locations never seen in Mumbai.
For many, many years in the past two decades Yash Chopra sat like a monarch in his kingdom, seldom indulging in things that would thoughts that resulted into definite planning. He had created a huge Yash Raj Studios in suburban Mumbai with an ethical work culture, stopping for a suggestion here or there, if someone sought it—otherwise directing his two sons looking in opposing direction. I rarely visited him once he made himself a prisoner in his new citadel. We had never really been friends though we did nod our heads in acknowledgement, of another presence. His old friend and collaborator Ganga Sagar Talwar, better known in film and literary circles as a powerful writer, and serious cinema director whose subtle touch made something like Bazaar, an all-time cult classic
In a tele-recording with Shah Rukh Khan on his 80th birthday, the veteran film maker said: “This (Jab Tak Hai Jaan ) will be my last film as a director. There are some calculations that you do with your heart and now I have decided that I won’t direct a film after this. I think the time has come for me to take a back seat.” He had a similar observation after Darr (93), subsequent to which the actor became an inseparable part of the Yash Raj Films, but went on to direct another, Dil To Paagal Hai (97) blockbuster four years later, and yet another time Veer-Zara (04) after a seven year hiatus, succumbing to the dictates of the big boss, Aditya Chopra who had taken full control of the production house by then.
In a career span spread over more than five decades, he directed 22 movies several of which were indeed trendsetters, there hardly seems any consensus on a single film that can define the quintessential Yash Chopra, the spin of coin wavering between Chandni and Lamhe, but ultimately it will be Kabhi Kabhie that will get singled out as his most mature work, unless Jab Tak Hai Jaan has some unusual, unexplored layers that have not been invoked in his cinema.
By Suresh kohli