Yash Chopra was much more than just the king of romance

Vivek Kaul
Yash Chopra launched his banner Yash Raj films in 1973. The second film produced under the banner was Kabhie Kabhie. It released in 1976 and had Amitabh Bachchan playing the role of a sensitive poet named Amit Malhotra. All the fantastic poetry that Amit recites in the movie was written by the poet Sahir Ludhianvi.
One of the couplets goes like this:
Kal koi mujhko yaad kare,
kyon koi mujhko yaad kare,
masroof zamana mere liye,
kyon waqt apna barbad kare. 

main pal do pal ka shayar hoon…
(yaad = remember. masroof = busy. pal = moment. shayar = poet).
The above lines were the thoughts of a poet who deeply felt that when he was gone, the world would forget him and move onto other things. And he was right. The world at large is too busy to bother about someone who is no longer there. Nobody remembers Sahir anymore. But there are always exceptions that prove the rule. Yash Raj Chopra is that exception.
His death has led to a tremendous outpouring of grief and sorrow from India at large and the Hindi film industry in particular. Very few film directors in the Hindi film industry have lasted as long as Yash Chopra did. His first film as a director Dhool Ka Phool was released in 1959. His latest film Jab Tak Hai Jaan is scheduled to release on November 13, later this year. During this period he worked with the biggest superstars of Hindi cinema from Dilip Kumar to Rajesh Khanna to Amitabh Bachchan to Shah Rukh Khan.
Chopra was often referred to as the King of Romance given his penchant for shooting in beautiful locations (particularly in Kashmir earlier and later Switzerland) with his heroines looking extraordinarily beautiful in their red and white chiffon sarees and singing and dancing to some brilliant lyrics set to fantastic music.
And this sobriquet of the King of Romance has stuck to Chopra even in his death. A random search on Google on his death throws up the following headlines:
Yash Chopra: King of Romance leaves void in Bollywood
King of Romance: Yash Chopra dies at 80
King of Romance: Yash Chopra no more
Yash Chopra, Bollywood’s King of Romance passes away
An important part of justifying the tag of being the King of Romance lay in making his heroines look beautiful on screen especially when they were singing songs. Raakhe has never looked as beautiful as she did when she was singing Kabhie Kabhi Mere Dil Main Khayal Aata Hai in the movie Kabhie Kabhie. Rekha was at her sexiest in the random shots that make the song Ye Kahan Aa Gaye Hum Yun Hi Saath Saath Chalte in Silsila. Sridevi outshone even Switzerland in Chandni. 
Juhi Chawla in the rain dance in Darr made millions of hearts go K K K K Kiran…. Both Madhuri Dixit and Karishma Kapoor danced their hearts out in Dil To Pagal Hai. And Preity Zinta and her dimples last saw success with Veer Zaara.
But just calling him a King of Romance would be doing a great injustice to the body of work that Yash Raj Chopra has left behind. In fact romance and candy floss cinema was something he discovered only in the latter part of his career.
His first film as a director was Dhool Ka Phool in 1959It was produced by his elder brother BR Chopra (who later went onto produce and direct the Hindi serial Mahabharat among other things). Dhool Ka Phool is a very sensitive story of an illegitimate child, whose parents happen to be Hindus, being brought up by a Muslim man. The film also had the brilliant song Tu Hindu Banega Na Musalman Banega Insan Ki Aulad Hai Insan Banega among other things.
Chopra followed it with Dharmaputra in 1961, one of the first movies to deal with the horrors of partition. Some of the riot scenes were too real for the audience to handle and caused problems at the cinemas the movie was playing in.
As film journalist Subhash K Jha wrote in a 2004 piece about the movie “The film about Hindu-Muslim relations, touched on the raw history pertaining to the happenings which were just 12 years old. The re-construction in Dharamputra of the carnage during the post-Partition riots opened up raw wounds in the audience, and sparked off riot-like situations at theatres screening the film. Yash Chopra vowed never to go into the thorny communal issue again.”
His next movie was the multi starrer Waqt. The movie is still remembered for the song Ae Meri Zohra Jabeen Tujhe Maloom Nahi picturised on Balraj Sahni. It was one of the earliest movies to be based on the lost and found formula (which the likes of Manmohan Desai later perfected to an art form).
Waqt is the story of Lala Kedarnath (played by Balraj Sahni) who has three sons whose birthdays are on the same day. There is an earthquake and the family is separated and loses contact with each other (what we call bichadna in Hindi movies).
The story goes that BR Chopra, the producer of the movie, wanted Prithviraj Kapoor and his three sons (Raj, Shammi and Shashi) to portray the role of the father and his three sons. But eventually only Shashi Kapoor acted in the movie.
“My brother B R Chopra thought it was a dream cast. One day, he was traveling with Bimal Roy when he narrated the script and also discussed the casting. Bimal immediately told him that the cast was a misfit. The movie was about separation and here I was casting three real brothers so anyone could recognise them. Ultimately the film was made with Shashi Kapoor, Sunil Dutt and Raj Kumar,” Chopra said in his recent interview to Shah Rukh Khan.
Waqt also had one of my all time favourite dialogues in Hindi cinema. “Chinoi seth jinke apne ghar sheeshe ke hon wo doosro par patthar nahi phekan karte,” Raj Kumar (who plays the eldest son) tells the villain Chinoi Seth (played by Rehman). Waqt turned out to be the biggest grosser of 1965.
Four years later in 1969 Yash Chopra made the suspense drama Ittefaq starring Rajesh Khanna, Nanda and Iftekhar. The movie was largely set in one room and did not have any songs, which was a big risk at the point of time it was made. It still remains one of the best suspense movies made in Hindi cinema, and is nail biting till the very end.
In 1973, Yash Raj Chopra launched his own banner Yash Raj films with Daag – A Poem of Love. The story was written by the ace Hindi novelist Gulshan Nanda and was apparently inspired by the English novel The Mayor of Casterbridge. This was Chopra’s sixth film as a director. His first five films were all serious movies. Daag was also high on emotion and melodrama but it had a lot of romance in it as well with superstar Rajesh Khanna romancing both Sharmila Tagore and Raakhe. The movie had some superhit songs like Ab Chahe Sir Phoote Ya Maatha and Mere Dil Main Aaj Kya Hai. Chopra won the Filmfare award for the best director for this movie.
Chopra had also taken to directing movies for film financer Gulshan Rai in the meanwhile. He directed the Dev Anand starrer Joshilla which was released in 1973. The movie did not do well at the box office and is now remembered only for the song kiska rasta dekhen ae dil ae saudai, set to tune by the great RD Burman.
Chopra next directed Deewaar for Rai. The movie was written by the angry young men Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar. Chopra in a recent interview to Shah Rukh Khan on his eightieth birthday said that Deewaar was Salim-Javed’s best script. It was perfect. The movie which released in 1975, the same year as Sholay, went onto become one of the biggest hits of Hindi cinema.
Said to be loosely based on Mazagon dock coolie turned underworld don Haji Mastanit  saw Amitabh Bachchan being firmly established as the angry young man who mouths lines like “main aaj bhi feke hue paise nahi uthatha” and wears billa no 786. The movie was originally not supposed to have any song but songs were added later under pressure from the producer.  
While shooting Gulshan Rai’s Deewaar Chopra was also shooting Kabhie Kabhie. This movie Chopra’s ninth film as a director, would turn out to be his first out and out romantic film. The movie had some brilliant songs written by Sahir Ludhianvi and set to tune by Khayyam. When it comes to describing the love for one’s beloved no better song has been written in the annals of Hindi cinema than
kabhie kabhie mere dil main khayal aata hai,
ke jaise tujhko banaya gaya hai mere liye.
tu ab se pehle sitaron main bas rahi thee kahin,
tujhe zameen par utara gaya hai mere liye. 

In the years to come Chopra would make Trishul for Gulshan Rai. He would also make Kaala Pathar under his own banner along with TrishulKaala Patthar released in 1979 was set around a coal mine and had Bachchan at his brooding best, even though it did fairly average business at the box office. Both Trishul and Kaala Patthar were multi-starrers which revolved around the angry young man played by Bachchan and had very little scope for romance, though they did have the mandatory romantic song.
The year 1981 was a landmark year in the history of Hindi cinema. It saw the release of Silsila starring Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya Bachchan and Rekha, which was a rather inspired casting. The story goes Smita Patil and Parveen Babi were supposed to star in the film originally opposite Amitabh Bachchan.  But as Yash Chopra explained in a recent interview to Shah Rukh Khan. “Smita was going to play the role that was ultimately played by Jaya Bachchan. I was not very convinced with the casting. I always wanted Rekha and Jaya Bachchan. Amitabh was shooting for his film Kaalia in Kashmir. I went to meet him. He likes to read the bound script. He read the script and asked me, ‘Are you sure you have made the right casting.’ I told Amitabh (Bachchan) that I wanted Jaya and Rekha in the film. He paused for a moment and then said, ‘Bombay jaake unko mil lete hai‘ (Lets go to Bombay and meet them). The very next day we took a flight and during the whole journey we didn’t even speak a word. I met Jaya and Rekha and both of them agreed to do the film.”
Another version of the story goes that Smita Patil pulled out at the lost moment and thus Jaya Bachchan had to step in.
The movie was beautifully shot in Kashmir and Netherlands. Dekha Ek Khwab to Ye Silsile Hue shot in the background of Dutch tulips remains one of the best shot songs in Hindi cinema. It looks fresh even 31 years later. But the movie’s theme of an extra marital affair between two married individuals did not go down too well with the Hindi film audience.
Nevertheless Silsila set the template for what would become the Yash Chopra romance. Good locales, beautifully shot songs, brilliant music and lyrics, and heroines dancing in the rain. The story and the script of the movie which were strong points of Yash Chopra movies till then took a backseat.
Between Silsila in 1981 and Chandni in 1989, Chopra made box office duds Faasle (which people feel is the worst of the 22 movies that he directed) and Vijay (highly inspired by Trishul). Vijay was more in the news for a 16 year old Bakhtawar Murad Khan (better known by her screen name Sonam) cavorting in a bikini with a much older Rishi Kapoor than for its storyline or entertainment value. Chopra also directed Mashaal with Dilip Kumar and Anil Kapoor during those years. The film had some excellent performances and brilliant songs composed by Hridaynath Mangeshkar.
Yash Chopra became the King of Romance with his 1989 hit Chandni. The film had a fairly common do hero-ek heroine waala love triangle story. But it had some excellent songs shot in Switzerland, and it had Sridevi at her peak looking fresh and beautiful as ever. With this film Chopra furthered the Silsila formula and it was a huge box office success despite its weak storyline.
Two years later in 1991 Chopra made Lamhe with Sridevi and a moustache less Anil Kapoor. The movie had all the ingredients of his Silsila formula but it also had a strong storyline of a younger woman falling for an older man who had once loved her mother. The movie has found its audience since its release.
With Darr in 1993, Chopra established Shah Rukh Khan as what came to be known as the anti hero (whatever that means) in Hindi cinema. Four years later in 1997 he made the candy floss Dil to Pagal Hai which had Shah Rukh playing Rahul and saying “Rahul naam to suna hoga” every ten minutes. With a very thin storyline Chopra managed to make Madhuri Dixit look gorgeous, and that along with some great music and Shah Rukh sold tickets at the box office.
In 2004, Chopra directed the Indo-Pak love story Veer Zaara. His last film Jab Tak Hai Jaan is scheduled for release on the day of Diwali next month (I have this nagging feeling that the story line is similar to Daag – A Poem of Love,  Chopra’s first independent production). 
Like he was in his life, in his death, Yash Chopra has been christened the King of Romance. But romance was something he discovered in the second part of his career. Rather ironically some his best movies from Dhool ka Phool to Waqt to Itefaaq to Deewaar to Trishul had very little romance in them, though his later romantic movies like Chandni, Darr, Dil to Pagal Hai and Veer Zaara, definitely made more money. And his latest movie Jab Tak Hai Jaan might very well be the next Rs 200 crore superhit.
The obituary originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on October 22, 2012. http://www.firstpost.com/bollywood/for-yash-chopra-romance-was-a-much-later-discovery-498079.html/2
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He can be reached at [email protected]

Barfi! is about paisa vasool, not an entry for the Oscars

Vivek Kaul
So it’s fashionable to criticise Barfi these days. My wall on Facebook is full of acerbic updates on the movie with a link to this YouTube clip. The movie borrows liberally from a host of other movies without giving them any credit.
Here is a list of few such scenes in the movie.  One of the most hilarious scenes in the movie is the scene where Barfi (played by Ranbir Kapoor) is trying to avoid getting caught by the Inspector (played by Saurabh Shukla) via a sliding door. This scene has been lifted directly from the1917 Charlie Chaplin film The Adventurer. Another scene where Barfi wakes up from under a statue in front of a crowd is a copy from Charlie Chaplin’s 1931 classic City Lights.
The ladder scene where again Barfi is trying to avoid the police is borrowed from the Buster Keaton’s 1922 film Cops 1922. Another scene where Barfi grabs onto a bus to run away from the police is borrowed from the same movie.
There are clear influences from early Jackie Chan movies in the chase scenes in the movie. The overall plot of the movie is said to be inspired from the Hollywood film Benny & Joon (1993) and Korean film Oasis (2002).
The inspiration doesn’t end here. A small scene where Barfi is trying to entertain Jhilmil (played by Priyanka Chopra) with a dummy on a sofa is copied from the hit 1952 Hollywood musical Singin’ in the Rain. (For a more detailed list click here).
But the beauty of Barfi is that all the copy-pasting fits into a coherent whole which is backed by some good performances (I thought Saurabh Shukla was fantastic in the movie), great music with some really soulful lyrics, stunning visuals of Darjeeling and an end which makes women cry (Well, at least when I saw the movie First Day First Show, I saw red eyed women all around me.  The only other explanation I guess could be conjunctivitis). All this made the movie a total paisa vasool experience.
But does that justify the copy-pasting? Hindi cinema has always had a culture of borrowing liberally from other sources without giving them credit. Sholay, the biggest Hindi film hit of all time is a very good example of the same. As Anupama Chopra writes in Sholay – The Making of a Classic “They wanted to create a big action adventure, an epic confrontation between good and evil. The inspiration was the Hollywood western. All three (Salim-Javed, the writers and Ramesh Sippy, the director) had been greatly influenced by films like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Magnificent Seven, Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns, and of course, the mother of the mercenary movie, Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai.”
The basic plotline of Sholay was borrowed from The Magnificent Seven which in turn had been inspired by Seven Samurai. A lot of scenes in the movie have been shot like scenes in the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The water tank scene featuring Dharmendra is a straight lift from the 1969 Anthony Quinn movie The Secret of Santa Vittoria.
Mehbooba-Mehbooba  the movie’s most famous song featuring Helen was a copy of Demis Roussos’s ‘Say you love me’. (You can listen to it here). The entire Veeru ki Shaadi scene is copied from a book called The House of Fear written by the grandmaster of Urdu crime fiction Ibn-E-Safi. The book was originally published in Urdu in 1955 as Khaufnak Imarat. (you can read about it in detail here).
And there was more. As Chopra writes “Raj Khosla’s 1971 hit, Mera Gaon Mera Desh, the story of a one-armed man who reforms a petty criminal and uses him to protect their village against dacoits, loomed like a ghost in the background…The Bimal Roy classic, Madhumati, has a scene in which a boastful servant is caught by his master much like what happens with Soorma Bhopali (played by Jagdeep). And the coin motif – Jai (played by Amitabh Bachchan) tosses the coin before making any decision – came from Gary Copper starrer, Garden of Evil.”
As is the case with Barfi these influences fit into a coherent whole which the audience liked. The movie even though it started slow went onto become the biggest hit of all time. I still remember when Doordarshan broadcast the movie sometime in the early 1990s. The city of Ranchi where I grew up was deserted that day. Ranchi Express, the local newspaper, carried pictures of empty roads in the city, the next day. Such was the power that Sholay had on the audience.
Deewar, the other big Bachchan hit of 1975(the other being Sholay) was a clever re-working of Dilip Kumar’s Ganga Jamuna. But that still doesn’t take away the power and intensity of the movie. The scene where Amitabh Bachchan tells Iftikar “main aaj bhi feke hue paise nahi uthata” is simply superb. If there is one scene that summarises the entire Bachchan era of the angry young man this is it.
Raj Kapoor’s 1970 mega dud Mera Naam Joker was inspired from the 1952 Charlie Chaplin film Limelight. Then there also movies like Mahesh Bhat’s 1992 hit Dil Hai Ke Maanta Nahi. The film is a total copy of the 1934 Hollywood hit It Happened One Night. Even the dialogues (written by the master Hindi writer Sharad Joshi) have been translated as it is from the English original.
The point I am trying to make is that Hindi cinema has always had a culture of borrowing without crediting, from other sources. And it doesn’t really matter to anyone. If the copying is well done (as is the case with Barfi and was with Sholay) the audiences love it. The producer laughs all the way to the bank. The actors move onto other projects and demand more money. And so everybody gains.
All this of course does not justify copying without credit, but as they say in Indian English, we are like this only.
Now that brings me to the main question that I am trying to answer in this piece. Should Barfi have been the Indian entry at the Oscars? The answer is no.
First and foremost the movie does not have original content. But more than that while awarding movies in the foreign movie category what the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences, looks at is whether the movie could have been set anywhere else.
Barfi is set in Darjeeling and Kolkata in the seventies and eighties. But it could have been set almost anywhere in the world. Sholay is an excellent example of the same phenomenon. It was set in a fictional Indian village called Ramgarh. But similar movies had been set all over the world. Seven Samurai was set in Japan. The Magnificent Seven was setin Mexico. And Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was partly set in Bolivia.
Three Indian movies have made it to the final nominations for the Best Foreign Film. These are Mehboob Khan’s Mother India, Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay and Ashutosh Gowariker’s Lagaan. (Of this whether we can call Salaam Bombay an Indian film is doubtful. Mira Nair who directed and co-produced the film has largely lived out of India, all through her adult life.)
The setting of these movies was uniquely Indian. Also, Mother India was not an original script. It was a remake of Mehboob Khan’s 1940 movie Aurat. The Marathi movie Harishchandrachi Factory which was the Indian entry at the Oscars in 2009 was another such uniquely Indian film, even though it did not make it to the final nominations.
From the list of Hindi films made this year Gangs of Wasseypur or Paan Singh Tomar would have been better bets for the Oscars, given that they clearly fit into two genres that Hollywood loves i.e. epics and underdogs. Gangs of Wasseypur is a story set around the coal mafia of Dhanbad which plays across three generations. The movie received a very good reception at the Cannes Film Festival. Paan Singh Tomar on the other hand is an excellent biopic set around an army man turned steeplechase runner turned dacoit. An underdog story that Hollywood would have loved!
I am sure there would be many better movies which fit into the kind of criterion that the Academy looks at made in other Indian languages as well. Given this I’d like to conclude by saying that while Barfi was a total paisa vasool movie but it is just not right for the Oscars.
The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on September 29,2012. http://www.firstpost.com/bollywood/barfi-is-about-paisa-vasool-not-an-entry-for-the-oscars-473224.html
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He can be reached at [email protected] )