Today, on September 27, 2012, Yash Chopra turns a young 80. In Diwali, he will release his 22nd directorial in 54 years,
The 'Yash' (victory) in his name is a foregone conclusion: after all, it is the madness of passion that drives Yash Chopra. He is India's most successful filmmaker ever, if one considers his astonishing connect with audiences from 1959 (when his debut directorial
released) till 2012 (when his company Yash Raj Films' 55th production in 40 years,
, released and now approaches the historic 200-crore mark).
Yash Chopra is an institution probably even bigger than his banner - Yash Raj Films - in sheer stature. And when we note that YRF is the Numero Uno banner and studio today in India - we will perhaps understand what that entails! It is said that success in Hindi films has no formula, but Chopra would probably contest that statement. There are certain key aspects to his films that guarantee his resonance with five generations of film buffs - his obsession with romance, emotions, relationships and human interactions for one. Universal sentiments that have made the films he directed or produced/presented find appreciative resonances across social strata and age groups, down to NRIs and even foreigners.
The years of grooming under, first, actor-director I.S.Johar and then elder brother B.R.Chopra, and his late independent start - his debut film released when he was 27! - have ensured an incredible longevity made possible only by the fact that Yash Chopra single-handedly pursued excellence and that unique mantra common to all long-distance runners - constant self-assessment and reinvention.
From his elder brother, he also learnt crucial chapters in the 'textbook' of filmmaking that helped him become
Yash Chopra, including the lessons that films were something to be seen with families and so must eschew unpalatable ingredients, that they should touch lives and if possible have a subtle message, and that filmmaking was a 24-hour obsession.
Thus, even when narrating the moving story of a criminal (
), the saga of a murderous spouse (
), the story of an illegitimate son's revenge on his father who ditched his mother and him (
) or even an Indo-Pak romance (
), Chopra never forgot to explore their psyches or the reasons why human beings loved or hated each other. These universal qualities mixed with a progressive, youthful approach, made his films what they are even when Chopra merely produced (like the cult
) or presented (
) a movie.
The other strength of his cinema lay in his brilliantly-etched characters - check Shashi Kapoor in
, Raakhee in
, Nirupa Roy in
, Amitabh Bachchan in
, Sanjeev Kumar in
or Shah Rukh Khan in
. When you meet Chopra, what comes across is a quiet self-belief, laced with a dollop of humour and down-to-earth warmth. Not for nothing has the man been so decorated - a Dadasaheb Phalke award for one, a Padma Bhushan for another, and myriad Best Director awards and other national and international honours adorn his cap.
"God must be kind to me!" he had smiled when we had met many years ago: true, because such exceptional talent and mindsets are not bestowed on all! But Chopra - almost reluctantly -admitted to his own role in his sustained success. "I have always moved with the times and made films I believed in." (There were a couple of exceptions,
for another). He added that he "shunned senseless violence and morbidity" (are today's media-hyped Czars listening?). "From my guru and brother I learnt that films are to be watched with one's family, and there should be nothing to offend one's sensibilities or embarrass your parents, spouse, children or siblings. I have preferred to deal with human relationships, and if possible, inculcate a subtle message. Even in a film like
, I stressed that we can change people with love, but we cannot harm those who disagree with us."
The veteran's victory-studded career can be divided into four clear phases: in the first, which began with his grooming and his debut, Chopra rapidly proved his Midas touch, giving hard-hitting socials like
(arguably the most underrated and hard-hitting film on communal harmony),
(a quickie shot in a month with its own subtle social message) and
. In 1971, this phase ended when Yash Chopra, with the support of Rajesh Khanna and later financier friend Gulshan Rai, moved out of BR Films to launch his own banner, Yash Raj Films.
Phase Two saw Chopra follow two streams - under his own banner, he became the high-priest of romance - especially love triangles - beginning with his bold first production
, followed by bolder films like
and Ramesh Talwar's
(his first film to launch a new director, now a regular trend with his banner). There was also the small
and the coal-miner saga
. Alongside, came films centering on crime or gray characters for producer Gulshan Rai - the trilogy of
The third phase was a dark chapter for Yash Chopra. The confused '80s saw him flounder with biggies like
(as producer) and
as well as small films like
. It is here that Chopra learnt his most valuable lesson - that conviction was the key to success, not trends - and redemption came with
The fourth phase began with
(his personal favourite),
and his productions
. It saw the arrival of his whizkid son Aditya Chopra, who then went on to assist his dad in both writing and directing yet another feel-good film,
in which director Aditya dealt with four love stories, while Chopra went into Indo-Pak zone by helming
In this phase, YRF entered its peak successful phase, pioneering Hindi cinema's smash entry into NRI terrain. Simultaneously, whiz-kid son Aditya mooted the concept of Yash Raj Studios, a complete setup from pre-production to distribution and marketing, with a comprehensive infrastructure for all departments. The company ventured into opening offices abroad and having divisions for music, youth-oriented films and TV serials.
"When I say I moved with the times, I meant that my technique and treatment were never dated," explained Chopra. "But I only did films I was convinced about." And the messiah of
also revealed the rare secret about his fondness for romantic triangles: "A pair of lovers can have many obstacles, like parents, villains or calamities, but I preferred one in the shape of a third human being who was also in love!"
It was this complete mix of dedication and self-confidence that made Yash Chopra a trendsetter. Almost every film of his, beginning with
and his first production
, boasts of a Punjabi song - decades before Chopra himself made Punjabi culture, lingo, music and weddings endemic with
. Though the subject is often referred to flippantly, he is the man who first made Switzerland and overseas locations famous and shot the
-clad Indian beauty against exotic foreign backdrops led by snowy mountains. He pioneered the genuine multi-star films - stories that actually
multiple top stars for the plotline and not for commercial gains, like
And if on the one hand he was emotionally attached to all his technicians (make-up whiz Pandhari Juker, recording engineer Mangesh Desai, cameramen Kaygee and Manmohan Singh, lyricists Sahir Ludhianvi and Anand Bakshi, editor Pran Mehra and others) for decades, he also enriched Hindi cinema with multiple talents across disciplines, giving them either debuts or breakthroughs - directors like Ramesh Talwar, Aditya himself, Shaad Ali, Sanjay Gadhvi and Kabir Khan, composers like Shiv-Hari - the legendary classical musicians - and Jatin-Lalit, Javed Akhtar as lyricist and multiple behind-the-screen writers and technicians. His star-discoveries include artistes as diverse as Poonam Dhillon, Farouque Sheikh, Farah and Sonam down to Chopra's younger son Uday Chopra, Parineeta Chopra, Arjun Kapoor, Ranveer Singh and above all Anushka Sharma.
At 80, Yash Chopra is probably more youthful at heart than filmmakers young enough to be his grandchildren! And that's what makes him one of a kind.