Six years after Veer-Zaara, ‘the king of romance’ Yash Chopra’s last film, the director said he was "dying to make a film". The veteran director, who has iconic films like Deewar, Kabhi Kabhie and Chandni to his credit, was shooting an episode of FOX History and Entertainment’s MasterClass, a series on the lives and films of maverick filmmakers, hosted by Sudhir Mishra, when he made the announcement.
“I’m starting my next film this winter,” Chopra said. “The subject is ready and I’m writing the script. I’ll finish casting for it in a month’s time. If I start it by the end of 2010, it’ll release next year.”
Commenting on the genre of the film, Chopra admitted that he understood human relationships best. “I have a limitation – I can’t make thrillers or action films now,” he commented. “I can only make films on subjects I understand, and I understand emotions and romance the most.
“The passion of a filmmaker never dies,” Chopra continued. “I believe in my old style of making films. I think I have it in me to make a different film in my own area of romance. Films on human relationships never go out of fashion. Everyone says ‘I love you’ these days. But it’s about how you say it.”
When asked why it took him six years to choose a subject, Chopra said that no subject excited him all these years. “It takes only one line to get me excited,” he smiled. “I don’t make films with a calculator in my head. I make them when my heart gets excited. I saw six-seven scripts in these years but nothing worked for me. I wanted to direct a film which I would enjoy making.”
The director, whose production house, Yash Raj Films, is one of the most respected studios in India, confessed that he finds filmmaking “scary” today. “Seventy per cent of the business of films comes from the first week’s collections today,” he said. “The tragedy is that before the reports of the film come to you, it’s already out of the theatres, even if it has got good collections.”
Real films today
At the same time, the man who has given a break to 15 directors in the last few years said he loved the “real” films of today. “These days, most films are sensible,” he commented. “The young whiz kids are doing a wonderful job. Their films are different, and most are good. A Wednesday, for example, was a wonderful film. And that’s why we are taking a lot of chances at Yash Raj Films, by giving breaks to new actors, directors and musicians.”
Chopra didn’t say whether he preferred mainstream cinema over parallel cinema, or vice versa, but said, “There are only two types of cinema – good or bad.” He didn’t announce a cast for his next film either, but laughed, “I don’t work with anyone I wouldn’t enjoy working with.”
I’m fond of everything from Punjab, right from the colours to the food to its ambience. I’m not aware of the intricacies of other states. So whenever I read a script, I unintentionally place the setting in Punjab, and think of all the characters as North Indians. Even my music behaves and speaks the language of Punjab.
On strong women characters in his films
Though, technically, I’m shooting on location, my films are actually based inside a woman’s heart. I think women are more emotional than men, and that’s a thread I’ve explored in all my films. When I see TV these days, I’m shocked at how all the main women characters are portrayed as evil. Women are the foundation of everything, and they deserve to be treated that way on camera.
On Amitabh Bachchan
Amitabh has done better than every actor of his time, because he’s always been the most sincere, intense and honest actor. He’s worked hard in every role he’s got. Even at this age, he is hungry for a good role. He’s not commercializing his career — he wants to do different things. In my opinion, he’s one of the best actors internationally too.
Salim-Javed’s scripts worked better than those of others because they were the most professional writers at the time. Their trump card was that they had bound scripts. They’d have complete scripts and then negotiate their price, if you liked it. They knew their work critically, and that’s why their scripts have lasted beyond the time.
On repeating technicians
My technicians are my most important tools. Once I establish a rapport with them, then they would understand me in my next film. I wouldn’t have to train anyone new. I give a lot of respect to all my technicians, because I’m a technician too. I wouldn’t be able to convey a feeling if the writer didn’t write it well, and the cameraman didn’t shoot it well.
On music in his films
I think songs enhance romance and sometimes, even drama, when you have to comment on a society, like Guru Dutt did in Pyaasa. Songs are a great way of conveying the director’s imagination. People in this era don’t like to see lip-syncing, and prefer songs in the background. But I feel that an emotion can be conveyed better if it comes through the person singing it.
On working with stars
I’ve always worked with big stars, but they know that I am only honest to the script. It is my Gita and I never changed it to please film stars or their egos. We spend months in writing a film, so I wouldn’t like it if someone asks me to change it. That’s why I like to finish a film as fast as possible once I start. But as far as performances are concerned, I give full liberty to the artistes. I have full faith in them.
On if he can smell hits
During the making of the film, I don’t realize if it will be a hit. After Veer-Zaara was made, people told me it’s an important film in Indo-Pak history. But there’s no way to smell a hit. Maybe if you have a clichéd story and wonderful music, people will accept your film. A blockbuster is one that has roots in Indian traditions and parampara, and I’m well aware of that fact.
I had turned producer with Joshila, which starred Dev Anand, a big superstar at that time. But it didn’t do well. I had made compromises while make Joshila and I learnt that I needed to be convinced about a movie. I was in doubt whether the film would work or not, but I knew I had done my work honestly, and it was time for me to find my wings. And it worked.
I was standing in front of Taj Mahal Hotel in the late ’80s one day and I noticed how all the posters were of action films featuring the same faces but different weapons. So I thought I should make a film of my own choice and on my home ground of romance, where I’d have less chances of going wrong. I was going through a rough patch at that time, but I knew filmmaking is nobody’s God. No one could have imagined that a non-action film with Vinod Khanna would become such a big hit!
Veer-Zaara was my tribute to Punjab. I tried shooting in Pakistani Punjab too, but didn’t get permission. I was in Lahore before the partition, so I don’t believe that a border can truly separate Punjab. I still think of it as one. I experimented by using Madan Mohan’s best songs of that era. We didn’t have to change a single tune. That was the magic of that era.
On Dhool Ka Phool and Dharamputra
I’ve always been a romantic at heart. I would have wanted my first film to be romantic, because I was young at that time. But I also wanted to tell a powerful story of an illegitimate child. It was a story no one talked about. And that theme can be seen in all my movies, right up till Trishul.
Dharamputra was a social statement. It was the time of partition and I made a story about a man who finds out that he doesn’t belong to the religion he’s been brought up in. We were told that people would burn theatres if the film was screened. So I attended all the shows on the first day. But nothing happened, because we only stated facts.
This was a very unconventional film for that time. A film about a man with two wives is a very bold concept, even today. I actually happened to write this film when I was on my honeymoon. I had written the script with the two Bengal tigresses, Rakhee and Sharmila Tagore, in mind. I had asked them to keep their fights off the set, and I’m glad because the casting was justified.
On Silsila and Lamhe
These are two films that didn’t work too well, but were closest to my heart. Silsila was the first film dealing with extra-marital relations at the time. Lamhe was a story of a man falling for his lover’s daughter. They were both bold concepts. With Silsila, I made sure I don’t treat it aggressively. And with Lamhe, I knew it had to have a happy ending. What is the point of making the film if the man doesn’t marry the girl?
This film was touted as the ‘first ever multi-starrer’ in India or the ‘first lost-and-found’ film. But when we were shooting it, I wasn’t thinking of it that way. I initially wanted to make a Kal Aaj Aur Kal-type film with Shammi Kapoor, Shashi Kapoor and Raj Kapoor as three brothers, and cast Prithviraj Kapoor as their father. But I was advised never to cast real relations in a film. A film like that had never been attempted, and it became a big hit.