In 1984, I was just 13 and way too young to know about a man called Yash Chopra. Having been brought up on just three films — The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady and Sholay. Mashaal was unbelievably only the second Hindi film we had been allowed to watch. Dilip Kumar was like my father, high on principles and therefore always winning enemies; and those days, I was often made to feel like the vagabond that Anil Kapoor played in the movie. The film made me feel good, for, as Anil Kapoor changed and became a hero, I felt I also had a hero inside. Slowly and steadily, over the years, we were allowed to watch more movies, especially once I had given my class tenth exams. And we started to catch up on all good movies with a vengeance.
Deewar, Trishul, Kaala Patthar, Silsila, and Kabhi Kabhi followed soon and they, along with Mashaal, became six of my top ten personal favourites! It was only in 1988, when I was watching another movie Vijay and loved that too, that I suddenly realised that all my favourite films had one factor in common — a director by the name of Yash Chopra! There were traits through all these movies which were common! They had extremely hummable songs. The movies had exceptional storylines with great love stories enmeshed within. They were all attuned to the times they were made in. As India liberalised, the theme shifted from the angry young man and the rich versus poor fight to the Swiss valley love stories of the affluent class. And all his movies always had the biggest element required for assured commercial success — the biggest stars of the day. The ones who were passé were ruthlessly dropped. Sharmila Tagore paved the way for Rekha; Rekha for Sridevi; and Sridevi for Madhuri. But they were all the most gorgeous of their times.
But what has differentiated Yash Chopra from all his contemporaries is his ability to weave original stories with original feelings. They aren’t copied as a formula for success. To me, he is a great psychologist and an intellectual more than anything else; and perhaps more than the so-called intellectual art filmmakers too. To understand the pains of the era of licence raj, to the era of liberalised romanticism — and deliver in both those times commercially successful, timeless, classic hits is exemplary. His biggest miracle was perhaps at the age of 65, when he directed Dil Toh Pagal Hai. After I watched the film, my only wonder was how he could get right the feelings and longings of an 18-year-old’s heart? Exceptional. To me, Dil Toh Pagal Hai was his most difficult creation.
Yes, many call his brand of cinema unreal and escapist. I completely disagree. And the best answer to this was given by his favourite protégé, and my favourite, King Khan during an interview, when in one sweep he defended Bollywood and the films he represented, saying, “I keep hearing that our films are escapist and unreal; but I find our films the most real in the world. We don’t have people going up in a rocket and single-handedly blowing up a meteor. Our fantasies and escapism are real. It’s just people singing and dancing in the street.”
I started loving films because of Yash Chopra and my film company is full of his fans. As he turns 80, and our hearts skip a beat again as we see the trailers of his latest spectacle; all I can say is that here is truly an enigma who is 18 at 80! My salutations!
— Author is a management guru and Honorary Director of IIPM Think tank