This profile is an extract from Rachel Dwyer's
biography on Yash
Yash Chopra is arguably India's most
successful director of commercial films. His position in the Hindi film industry is unique. Yash Chopra has been at the top of his profession for forty
years. No other director of his generation has manifested such creative and box-office staying-power; indeed the careers of most directors of popular Hindi
films rarely last more than a decade. He is also one of the richest and most powerful producers in Mumbai, now financing his films from his own pocket and
arranging some of his own distribution both in India and overseas. His position was enhanced recently by his production, directed by his elder son, Aditya
Chopra, of one of the greatest commercial successes in Indian film history, Dilwale dulhania le jayenge ('The brave heart will take the bride', 1995).
Yash Chopra was born in 1932 in Lahore, to an accountant in the PWD of the British administration in Punjab. The youngest of eight children, the oldest of
whom was almost 30 years his senior, he was largely brought up in the Lahore house of his second brother, BR Chopra, then a film journalist, but subsequently
one of India's great movie moghuls, known for his films on social topics, and later maker of the record-breaking TV serial, Mahabharata. Yash Chopra went to
Jullunder in 1945 to continue his education while BR stayed on in Lahore, migrating to Bombay just weeks before partition in August 1947. A large part of the
Lahore-based Punjabi film industry also migrated and BR used his contacts among these people to set himself up as a leading director in Bombay and soon
became an independent producer. He made some of the great classics of the Indian cinema, including Ek Hi Raasta, Naya Daur and Sadhana among others. He is
known to a younger generation as the maker of the TV serialisation of the Mahabharata, whose place in the history of television is assured. Yash Chopra soon
joined him and worked as his assistant, while another brother, Dharam Chopra, worked as his cameraman.
BR gave Yash Chopra his first directorial opportunity in Dhool Ka Phool ('Blossom of dust, love child', 1959), a story of a woman betrayed by her lover and
the subsequent fate of their illegitimate child. The film argues that it is the parents who are 'illegitimate' not the children. This big box-office hit and
its music remain popular today. Mahesh Bhatt, described its lovemaking scene as typical of the representation of sex in the Indian cinema. '...the real thing
is made possible by a studio downpour and the library shots of lightning and thunder.' Further sexual symbolism was threatened by the censors: when the
couple take shelter in a hut from a storm, their bicycles fell on top of each other. Yash Chopra made another four films for BR, notably 1965's Waqt
('Time'), which is acknowledged as a 'found film' of the 'lost and found' genre. Setting many other trends, it was one of Indian cinema's first
multi-starrers, a mode which became increasingly popular among the producers during the 1970s where films had three heroes, three heroines, three villains
etc. It also began the now obligatory style of depicting wealth, using the advantages of colour to the utmost. (Incidentally, BR modelled his palatial living
room on the set of Sadhana's house). An unusual moview was Ittefaq ('Coincidence', 1969), a suspense movie based on a Gujarati play, depicting the events of
a single night, shot in a month on a low budget, and one of the few commercially successful Hindi movies which did not have any songs.
In 1970 Yashji married Pamela Singh, in whom he has found strength, relying on her not only to provide him with a traditional yet modern Punjabi home, always
open to friends, but also to play an important role in his work at all levels in his films from administration to costumes to storywriting to music. This
joint commitment to family and to work is seen in their two children, Aditya and Uday, born in 1971 and 1973.
Yash Chopra founded Yash Raj Films in 1971, setting himself up independently from BR. From 1973 he produced many of his own films but also made films for
Gulshan Rai's 'Trimurti Films'. His first film for Rai, Joshila ('Passionate', 1973), an action-oriented movie fared only averagely at the box office, but
his first independently produced film Daag ('The stain' or 'The stigma', 1973), a melodrama about a man with two wives, was a great success. He then made a
number of the classic Amitabh Bachchan movies, scripted by Salim-Javed, notably Deewaar ('The wall; I'll die for mama', 1975) and Trishul ('The trident',
1978) were great hits and remain popular today. These movies set the trend for the late 70s and 1980s, establishing Amitabh as the biggest star of all time
in India, in his role as the angry young man, showing also the rise of the writer as star, in particular Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar.
Other Amitabh-Salim-Javed movies were made by Prakash Mehra (Zanjeer, Muqaddar ka Sikandar) and Ramesh Sippy (Sholay), leading to Amitabh becoming
stereotyped in these roles. However, even during the height of his fame as the angry young man or industrial hero, Amitabh Bachchan also starred in two
films, produced, directed and scripted by Yash Chopra (Kabhi Kabhie, 1976 and Silsila, 1981), in which he played a romantic hero, a lover, a writer or poet.
In the early 1980s Yash Chopra made two more action-oriented films, which although they won critical acclaim, fared only respectably at the box-office:
Mashaal ('The torch', 1984) and Vijay (1988), the latter often seen as a remake of Trishul and his only film which has ever lost money, a romantic family
melodrama, Faasle ('Distances', 1985), unkindly dubbed 'Kabhi Kabhie Part II'. The reasons for this lean period in Yash Chopra's work need to be explored in
the context of the 1980s' cinema, which was largely action or violent movies, often developments of the Amitabh-style movie. Yash Chopra's action movies of
the 1970s had been hugely successful but they were part of the Salim-Javed, Amitabh Bachchan corpus and mostly Gulshan Rai productions. Yash Chopra's movies
at this time seem to be going back over his earlier successes: even his attempt at a romantic movie, Faasle, was not successful, cinematically his worst
movie to date.
Perhaps it was the change in the mood of the viewing public in the late 1980s and the revival of the romantic movie (Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak in 1988, Maine
Pyar Kiya in 1989) that allowed Yash Chopra to re-emerge not only as the only survivor of his generation but to reclaim his position at the top. It is this
group of films that accounts for his popularity with the younger generation of movie-goers; perhaps it is significant that his son, Aditya Chopra, had joined
him as an assistant on Chandni. This highly successful period began in 1989 with Chandni, a huge box-office success, a film with all the hallmarks of what
has come to be known as the Yash Chopra style: heroine-oriented, romantic, emotional, depicting the lifestyle of the super elite, with superhit music used in
songs picturised in foreign locations. It is known also for its outstanding technical values, notably the camerawork of Manmohan Singh. It also showed a
return to working with an established heroine, Sri Devi, rather than trying to introduce newcomers. Yash Chopra's own favourite film, Lamhe ('Moments',
1991), divided the audience on a class basis: it was hugely popular with metropolitan elites and the overseas market, which allowed it to break even, but it
had a poor box-office response (largely lower class, especially the repeat audience) because of its supposed incest theme. This was followed by the
indifferent Parampara ('Tradition', 1992), the last film he directed for another producer (Nadiadwalas). In 1993, Darr ('Fear'), a big hit at the box office,
had the 1990s' superstar Shah Rukh Khan starring as a man obsessed with an idealised woman who is in love with another man. Although he harasses her by phone
and in person, makes telephone calls to his dead mother, the audience response was entirely in favour of the Shah Rukh character. It was this which gave the
film its edge of danger. Yash Chopra's latest film, Dil To Pagal Hai, a triangular love story, starring Madhuri Dixit, Shah Rukh Khan and Karisma Kapoor,
develops a new visual style in Hindi cinema. It is the first film to feature jazz dancers (Shiamak Davar's troupe), has a new-look mise-en-scène created by
Sharmista Roy and Manish Malhotra and its music by Uttam Singh, a music director new to Bollywood, broke all music sales.
This overview of Yash Chopra's career surprises most people. Mostly because it is hard to think that this whole corpus of films was made by one man. Yashji
has been at the top of his profession for forty years, while most other directors in Bombay tend to have much shorter lifespans. Other directors may work in
the industry for a time but they do not stay at the forefront of current trends. Apart from a brief dip during the 1980s, Yash Chopra has always been among
the top five directors. Why is this? I think most people would agree that the 1980s represents quite a low phase in Bombay commercial cinemas. The great
films of the 1970s, the Amitabh era, is fading and violence dominates the box office. There are many reasons for this but among them lie the advent of colour
television to India along with the arrival of the VCR and video. Families stayed away from the cinemas, many of which were allowed to become run down and
were seen as places fit only for groups of young men. The increase in screen violence was partly responsible for this trend but also a symptom of it.
Directors and producers were unsure of what would run at the box office and did not want to take risks with family movies. It was only when the young Mansoor
Khan released his 'Qayamat se qayamat tak' in 1988 that we saw the return of the musical family-oriented romance. For the first time for years, film music
became cool among the college crowd with everyone singing 'Papa kehte hain' and Aamir Khan's fresh-faced good looks appealed as a role model and a boyfriend.
This was a college romance but still had feudal structures, Thakors and family disputes and, of course, its tragic ending made it unique. Yashji had made
more action oriented movies during the 1980s, his romantic film, Faasle, had flopped badly and perhaps it was this success which gave him the confidence to
return to the kind of film he really believed in. Chandni was a real return to form. A great story, performances from the top stars, a heroine-oriented
story, romance, drama, and stunning music made this film a huge hit. While this was still a film about adults and mature emotions, the arrival of the
talented Sooraj Barjatya seemed to point in another direction, to the teen romance whose defining film was Raj Kapoor's Bobby (1973). There are scenes in
this film which are a clear tribute to Raj Kapoor's film and I'd like to digress for a moment.
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