Bollywood and culture in an emerging India
Yash Chopra, so much more than romance
My very first Yash Chopra film was a disappointment.
I remember watching “Lamhe” as a kid, almost without blinking, on a grainy television screen on a newfangled device called the VCR and thinking to myself, what is this story about? To my young mind, it didn’t make much sense. But the memory of “Lamhe” and that lazy summer afternoon I watched it with my cousins is still vividly etched.
Of course, it took years for me to actually “get” the film and what it was trying to say. For an Indian film-maker to explore a theme as bold as that of a woman falling in love with her mother’s lover was brave, and to pull it off as he did, spoke volumes of his control over his craft.
Since then, I have watched almost all of Chopra’s films, and I must confess, unlike the majority of movie-goers who automatically seem to associate him with the Swiss Alps, women cavorting in the snow in chiffon sarees and typical Bollywood romance, for me, he will always be the man who dared to tell love stories that were different, twisted and complicated, something Bollywood shies off from, even today.
We still have the hero picking the “good” Indian girl over the “free-spirited” girl (“Cocktail“) in 2012, but Chopra made a movie about an extra-marital affair in the 70s and handled it with much sensitivity despite the heavy baggage that came attached with “Silsila“.
In a conversation with actor Shah Rukh Khan, on his 80th birthday last month, Chopra narrated the story of how “Silsila” was made, revealing that he had actually signed on actresses Smita Patil and Parveen Babi to play the roles that Jaya Bachchan and Rekha would eventually essay.
“But I knew that wasn’t the cast I wanted,” he said. He conveyed his feelings to Amitabh Bachchan, who suggested that they ask Jaya and Rekha how they felt. Rumours of Amitabh’s affair with Rekha and the tension in his marriage with Jaya were at their peak, so Chopra was taking a big risk, but the two agreed to do the film, just a couple of days before shooting was to begin.
Chopra also admitted he didn’t have the guts to tell Patil and Babi that they weren’t doing the film any more. Months later, he said Patil told him, “I didn’t mind that I wasn’t doing the film, but I wish you had told me yourself”.
Looking back, it seems deeply ironic that he spoke about his 53-year-long career in the industry on that day, talking frankly about the mistakes he had made and the struggles he went through.
But for me, the statement of that night was when he said “I don’t make love stories, I make stories”. Yash Chopra was much much more than just chiffon sarees and snow-clad alps. He told stories that no one else dared to, and told them better than any one else could.
Which is your favourite Yash Chopra film?