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Yash Chopra was the only director of the older brigade of filmmakers who has successfully moved with the times right from his first film Dhool ka Phool (1959) to his latest film Jab Tak Hai Jaan (2012). He is even today regarded as one of the hippest and trendiest directors of Indian cinema. Though Yash Chopra has done films of various sorts, it is when he is tackling love and its various elements that he has been at his best. His picturesque, poetic images often shot in Switzerland with melodious music (He has perhaps the best musical sense of all filmmakers in the Hindi Film Industry today) are charged with rich feeling, and in spite of all the gloss on screen, his films are more about life than lifestyle. To quote him, “I’m the sentimental sort. I cry easily. I cry when I see poignant films made by other directors.”
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Born on September 27, 1932, Yash Chopra began as an assistant director to IS Johar before moving on to assisting big brother BR Chopra. His directorial debut was the socially significant Dhool ka Phool, an epic melodrama about unwed motherhood, illegitimacy and a plea for communal harmony, where the old Muslim man bringing up the boy tells him not to adhere to any religion in the song Tu Hindu Banega Na Musalman Banega, Insaan ki Aulad Hai, Insaan Banega. The film starring Ashok Kumar, Rajendra kumar, Mala Sinha and Nanda was a major success and took Mala Sinha to dramatic star status.
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Dharamputra (1961), his second film, addressing communal harmony at the time of Partition, was not too successful despite having its moments and another strong performance from Mala Sinha but the multi-starrer Waqt (1965) based on the lost and found genre was his major commercial breakthrough and even went on to win for him his first Filmfare Award for Best Director.
He followed this up with a taut bold little thriller Ittefaq (1969). The film was an extremely bold film for its time. Not only was it songless, but the hero (Rajesh Khanna) and heroine (Nanda) were not even paired with one another. He just happens to be on the run and takes shelter in her house. And, she is having an adulterous affair and has killed her husband with the help of her lover! The film is mainly shot in one house with taut editing that keeps up the suspense in the film. That year he also directed Aadmi aur Insaan starring Dharmendra, Feroz Khan, Saira Banu and Mumtaz. It is said both Dharmendra and Saira Banu were not too pleased with the final film as they felt the film concentrated more on the characters of Feroz Khan and Mumtaz and not on them.
Finally breaking away from BR Films, Yash Chopra launched his own production banner Yashraj Films with Daag (1973) starring Rajesh Khanna, Sharmila Tagore and Raakhee. He then entered one of his best phases with Amitabh Bachchan – Deewaar (1975), Kabhi Kabhie (1976) – a love story across two generations, and Trishul (1978) among others.
Deewaar is probably one of the most memorable Hindi films of all time. The film is a perfect amalgamation of two older classics – Gunga Jumna (1961) that looks at the good brother v/s the bad brother and Mother India (1957) in which the mother undergoes all sorts of hardships to bring up her sons on her own only to see one go against the law. The film contains all the stock-in-trade elements of the Indian melodrama – The good and bad brother, the long suffering mother as the central moral force, divine intervention and religious symbols but what sets it apart is the taut script (perhaps the best ever Salim – Javed Script), the powerful dialogues and above all a powerhouse performance by Amitabh Bachchan as the son driven to crime – perhaps his best ever! The film is one of a series in which he plays the ‘angry young man’- the lone rebel, the man seeking personal vengeance and social justice, operating outside and more efficiently than the law, a far cry from the sensitive poet of Kabhie Kabhie.
Trishul had as its main ingredient a father – son conflict with an illegitimate son destroying his father for abandoning him and his mother. Once again the mother is the crucial emotional force of the film.
The 1980s saw Yash Chopra go through a rough patch as one film after another – Silsila (1981) (trying to capitalize on the real life Amitabh-Jaya Bhaduri-Rekha triangle), Mashaal (1984), Faasle (1985), and Vijay (1988) all flopped. However Chandni (1989), a love triangle with memorable music and a great central performance by Sridevi, brought him back in the reckoning.
Lamhe (1991), a beautiful and sensitive film of cross-generational love, however did not go down with audiences who found it incestuous though there are many who regard it to be Yash Chopra’s best film. It is certainly one of his best and most sensitive works.
Parampara (1993) done for an outside producer was a misfire, but Darr (1993), a sympathetic look at obsessive love and an emotion often overlooked in love – fear, was a trendsetter leading to several other films of the same type (Anjaam (1994), Daraar (1996) etc) having an obsessive lover! The film also led to a long time association with Shah Rukh Khan, who played the grey role superbly after Aamir Khan declined to do the film.
Dil to Paagal Hai (1997), a love triangle with the musical theatre as the backdrop, is refreshingly young and hip in parts as it plays off against the traditional beliefs of an ordinary girl (Madhuri Dixit) that she would find true love someday. Of course she does and of course he’s Shah Rukh Khan! Though a huge success at the box office, it met with lukewarm critical response.
Yash Chopra’s next film aftera huge gap was the Indo-Pak love story Veer Zaara (2004) starring Shah Rukh Khan, Preity Zinta and Rani Mukherji. A Yash Chopra film after seven years, one sees the fine aging of his art. Indeed, the right sentiments are in place and work almost to the fullest; but lapses in the screenplay and other technicalities take away from the film from being truly memorable.
Today, his son Aditya too has become a filmmaker and has kept the Yashraj Films Banner flying high first with Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge (1995), the banner’s biggest success and perhaps the best mainstream Hindi Film of the last 17 years though he followed it up with the disappointing Mohabbatein (2000) and Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (2008). He has, however since then, made the Yashraj Films one of the most prestigious banners in Bollywood today.
After 8 years Yash Chopra had returned to filmmaking with sky-high expectations with the Shah Rukh Khan, Katrina Kaif and Anushka Sharma starrer Jab Tak Hai Jaan (2012). The film, teaming him with AR Rahman for the first time, however, released posthumously after Chopra was diagnosed with dengue and admitted to hospital just after his 80th birthday. He passed away from multiple organ failure on October 21, 2012.
Among other awards, Yash Chopra has been honoured for his sensitive and poetic contribution to Indian Cinema with the prestigious Dadasaheb Phalke Award.