Undoubtedly the most successful filmmaker in Bollywood, Yash Chopra has given Hindi cinema trend-setting successes in every decade from Dhool Ka Phool in the 1950s, Waqt in the 60s, Deewaar and Daag in the 70s, Chandni in the 80s, Darr and Dil To Pagal Hai in the 90s. Now in the new millennium the indefatigably resourceful movie moghul is ready with his first directorial effort in seven years. While putting finishing touches to his ambitious Indo-Pak love story Veer-Zaara, the ever-humble Yash Chopra takes time off to discuss the recipe for his abiding success with Mr. Subhash K Jha.
From Dhool Ka Phool to Dhoom there has never been a success like yours.
God is kind. There's no other reason for all this. I don't deserve all this success. There's no formula for success, except a pure soul. Look at Lata Mangeshkar. She's a prime example. Like her, I'm completely focussed on my work. I've never looked back. I've always taken risks. When in 1995 my son directed Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge the overseas distributors started acting tough. So we opened our own offices abroad. Today we've our own overseas network all over the world. God gave me so much money for Dilwale Dulhania Dulhania Le Jayenge. I decided to invest it in a dream studio. That dream too is on the verge of completion. Now I'm ready to release my first film in seven years, and I'm as nervous as a newcomer.
Why this long hiatus?
My son Aditya made Mohabbatein, which took a lot of time and energy. Then we started looking for a script for me to direct. Nothing seemed to excite us both. There's a complete bankruptcy of screenwriting in our cinema. I wanted a very earthy and Indian subject. I was tired of the promos on television. With semi-clad girls, they all looked the same. Of course Dhoom has them too. But I'd personally not make a film like that. With Veer-Zaara around the corner I'm as nervous as I was when I directed my first film Dhool Ka Phool.
At that time I was judged as B.R. Chopra's younger brother. Then in 1973, I was again nervous as a school-boy during first day of school when I branched out on my own to produce and direct Daag. I knew I was doomed if it failed. I remember the first trial show 12 days before release. People praised me. But I could see the hesitation about the controversial subject - a man with two wives. And my leading man Rajesh Khanna had as many as eight flops prior to Daag. But to my relief, the film was a super hit on the first day. God has continued to be on my side. Now I'm scared about Veer-Zaara. I don't know what expectations people have from me!
Why this sense of secrecy about your new directorial venture?
Perhaps people are more curious than we're secretive about our film (laughs). No, the truth is, while we were shooting Veer-Zaara there was constant discussion, debate and argument between my son Aditya and me. Veer-Zaara is one of the most difficult films I've ever made. We had no time to think of anything else but how to complete the film. We needed to shoot in Punjab during a particular season.By the grace of God we got all the stars' dates. When we returned we completed the indoors shooting. So people presumed we were secretive about the project because of its sensitive (Indo-Pak) subject when in fact we never got time to make announcements. After completion my son - who conceived the project right down to writing the script story and dialogue - and I began debating on the title. We first thought of calling the film Yeh Kahaan Aa Gaye Hum. But Veer-Zaara went better with the mood of the film. My film's lovers are not bothered with the stress and strife around them. For them love is the only religion. We never knew it would evoke such curiosity. Now we don't intend to publicize the film in any way until the release of the music on September 18.
Why have you chosen to make a cross-border romance?
I'll tell you something. I had finalized another script. Even the casting was done. At this point my son Aditya came up with another idea. He told me he couldn't make this subject, that I had to do it. He narrated a few scenes, and I was hooked. Though it's a film about cross-border love, there isn't a word of politics in it. Forget politics, there isn't slap, not even a raised voice in Veer-Zaara. It's a very intense, humane and emotional story. Veer-Zaara is a humble tribute to my home in Punjab. It's my tribute to the one-ness of people on both sides of the border. Every religion preaches peace. Then why the bloodshed for the sake of religion? Why are we destroying each other? The film stars Shah Rukh Khan who's like my `gharka` hero. He has given his career's best performance in Veer-Zaara. Though he's cast with two leading ladies it isn't a triangle. Shahrukh's love interest is played by Preity Zinta. I wanted a girl whose look and entire personality could be transformed. She's always presented as tomboyish and westernized. In Veer-Zaara I wanted to change her into something different. 'Lekin different lagna' isn't enough. She should look good too. I took four-five screen-tests. I knew she would be fine. I hope I've succeeded.
The music of Veer-Zaara is composed by the late composing genius Madan Mohan. How did that happen?
My close friends believe, 'Yash Chopra is fond of committing suicide'. But for me there's no creativity without challenge. I've never in my life made a film that's a remake of a South Indian or a Hollywood film. True, I failed with two of my favourite films Silsila and Lamhe. But they enthused me to take up more challenges. With Veer-Zaara I've taken on another challenge. Whether we've succeeded with the experiment or not is up to people to decide. But the music of Veer-Zaara isn't what I'd call a routine music score. I feel it isn't just music, we're trying actually trying to create history here. The tunes were composed by Madan Mohan and kept away for use in the future. Unfortunately he died young. When I planned Veer-Zaara I approached a number of other music directors. 'Lekin baat kuch bani nahin'. It was then that Madan Mohan's son Sanjeev Kohli who's the CEO of my company, suggested I listen to his father's unused tunes. From the hundreds of tunes, we selected around 30 and they were dummy-recorded. The results were impressive. The music fitted my theme completely. We finalized nine tunes for the film and two bonus for the fans of Madan Mohan. Almost 30 years after his death we've recorded his tunes in his - and my - favourite voice of Lata Mangeshkar. When she came for the recording she had tears in her eyes. She said, 'Madan Mohan was like my brother. You're like my brother. I feel I've gone back in past.'
You share a very special rapport with her?
Lataji has always been so kind to me. She can never say no to me. As long as I am there and she's there she'll continue to sing for my films. And if we're creating history in Veer-Zaara by reviving the melodies of Madan Mohan 30 years after his death, how can she not be there? And she's sung like an angel. That a lady of 75 can sing like this is unbelievable. 'Unhone hamari jaan nikal lee. Who log khush-naseeb hain jinhe Lataji ke saath aaj bhi kaam karne ka saubhagya mil raha hai'. People call her an avatar of Goddess Saraswati. When others sing they follow music, but when she sings, music follows her. I truly believe that. When she sang for Dhool Ka Phool the first film I directed, I was in awe of her. Today I'm much closer to her. But the awe remains. I'm a very small player in the story of the Indian film industry. She's given so much more. Today the two of us have come together with lyricist Javed Akhtar to pay a homage to one of our greatest music composers.
You're also starting your own music company.
I'm sure you know the old saying... necessity is the mother of invention. I never intended to start my own music company. But the music business is in the doldrums. All the music companies are dictating terms on how music albums should look and sound. To keep my head high I've started my music company with Veer-Zaara. Even the music of my production Dhoom has become a hit though there're no romantic songs in the film. People wonder how this film could come from my banner. But Dhoom has nothing to do with me directly. To keep the company going we need talent from outside. Let directors come to our banner from the outside with their own sensibilities. We've to make three-four different kinds of films every year. That's the only way to grow.
How do you explain the immense success of your productions like Hum Tum and Dhoom which you don't direct?
That's my son Aditya Chopra's domain. He handles the creative side of our productions. I handle the financial aspect. When Aditya or I make film then we discuss everything in detail. But a film like Dhoom is orchestrated entirely by him. Being a romantic film Hum Tum wasn't so costly. But Dhoom being an action film was very expensive.We had to import eight-nine mo'bikes. Australian stuntmen participated. Production costs shot back. But when I saw the end-product, I knew it was going to be successful. I never thought it'd be this successful. Without major stars - Abhishek, John Abraham, Esha Deol and my younger son Uday aren't really big stars - the film is doing unbelievable business. I think Dhoom worked for its young international look. Though I'm the producer I don't have anything to do with Dhoom's creativity.
And yet in the 1970s you made action films like Deewar, Kaala Patthar and Trishul?
Those subjects came to me and I liked them. But thereafter I had a series of failures like Vijay, Parampara and Faasle. Then one day I was driving down to town from my home in suburbs of Mumbai. Every hoarding that I saw had men holding guns in their hands. I realized I was losing my way. I believed in romantic films, so why wasn't I making them? That's how I made Chandni. When I was asked about the film's highlights I said the songs are the highlights. When a distributor saw Vinod Khanna in a romantic role he left my film! When it was released people predicted it would flop in week. But its success reaffirmed my faith in my vision and my audience. That faith has stood by me all these years.
What do you feel about the films being made these days?
We're making all kinds of films - English, Hinglish, sex, horror... this and that. It's a healthy trend. But for a film to run it has to have Indian values. For a film to be a blockbuster it has to be rooted to our culture.