From the archives: A conversation with India’s last movie mogul

Yash Chopra was the last of the movie moguls who passed away at the age of 80 following a dengue fever in 2012. Khalid Mohamed recalls a conversation he had with the legend

Yash Chopra and Adi Chopra
Yash Chopra and Adi Chopra

Khalid Mohamed

The golden jubilee of movie production company Yash Raj Films, founded in 1970, was meant to be celebrated two years ago.

Late Yash Chopra’s scion, Aditya, had planned an elaborate function for the banner’s golden jubilee year. The onset of the pandemic prevented that. In a thoughtful gesture the budget of the celebrations was donated to the film industry’s daily wage-earners, at a juncture when the world was battling with the second wave of Covid-19.

Yash Chopra – the last of the movie moguls who passed away at the age of 80 following a dengue fever in 2012, would have been a proud father.

He was a socialist at heart but after the failure at the box office of his second film 'Dharmputra' (1961) which revolved around the theme of the Partition, he went on to design the glossiest romances Bollywood has ever seen. His tremendous oeuvre was accentuated by moonlit interludes, excursions to the Swiss Alps, clusters of roses and trend-setting chiffon saris. He believed in the tender and the understated.

Here’s a conversation with him with the still unrivalled monarch of romances:

On the Yash Raj banner

I can’t brag. My sons Adi (Aditya) and Uday have worked tirelessly towards running a family banner and studio. Besides direction, Adi and I have been producing films, introducing directors, and most of them have done big business, especially Fanaa, Dhoom and its sequel. Once in a while we do end up making losses like Neal ‘N’ Nikki, which starred Uday as its hero. But that’s okay, we learn from our mistakes.

Overall, God has been kind. I respect all religions. If I pray at the Siddhi Vinayak temple, I also pray at Ajmer Sharif, the Mount Mary and Mahim churches. I believe there is someone up there who is looking after us.

Shift to escapist cinema

I never shifted gears totally. After Dhool Ka Phool, the first film I directed, there was Dharmputra which commented on the after-effects of Partition. But decades later, Veer-Zaara had a social base too, didn’t it?

I come from the school of bhaisaab (elder brother B.R. Chopra) who dealt with social issues ranging from widow remarriage to securing justice for wronged women. But yes, with time, I have made mainly clean, romantic movies.

If I was disheartened by the failure of Dharmputra I was as depressed by the flop of Lamhe which was purely romantic. Perhaps my failures were ahead of their times. Otherwise, how can you explain the fact that the highest sales of DVDs have been of Dharmputra, Silsila and Lamhe?

On audience response

That will always be unpredictable. But I derive solace from supportive words which have meant more than money. Minister Mufti Mohammed Syed once rang me up to say that Veer-Zaara and Fanaa had said something progressive about Indo-Pak relations. Fanaa, he said, was a strong statement for patriotism and against terrorism. While retaining such elements in our Yash Raj films, we have also made 100 per cent pure entertainers like Hum Tum and Salaam Namaste.

I’ve directed over 20 films. Of them, frankly I was dissatisfied with Parampara and Joshila. I was trying to cater to the producers, not the audience. Gulshan Rai had just produced the huge hit Johnny Mera Naam. I wanted to make Joshila as big a hit for him and that’s where I went wrong.

On the highs and lows

When Faasle crashed, I went through a phase of insecurity. While making Chandni, I saw every movie hoarding and poster in town highlighted heroes with guns and daggers. I asked myself, “Am I in touch with the times? What’s going on here?”

I tried to incorporate action in Chandni. But on seeing the rushes, my sound designer, Mangesh Desai said, “Yash, have you gone mad? This looks absurd.” So, I asked Vinod Khanna for a day of reshooting. His action scene was deleted. But the distributors, Khazanchi Films, objected vehemently. I told them that they could back out. When the film released, they had the courtesy to say, “We made a mistake, you were absolutely right.”

On music composers

I find out who suits a particular film best. And there is my family’s contribution to the music also. We have worked with Khayyam saab, Shiv-Hari, Dilip SenSameer Sen, Jatin-Lalit, Uttam Singh, ShankarEhsaan-Loy, Vishal-Shekhar and A.R. Rahman. Hridaynath Mangeshkar’s score for Mashaal had one or two brilliant songs but the compositions didn’t get the attention they deserved.

For Veer-Zaara we had tried out Adnan Sami and Uttam Singh... that’s when Sanjeev Kohli said there were hundreds of tunes of his father Madan Mohan with him; at least 20 of them went well with the film’s theme. Not a note of Madan Mohan’s original tune of Tere Liye was changed and Lataji (Mangeshkar), at the age of 75, sang it so beautifully.

Predilection for stars over new- comers

That’s not accurate. Poonam Dhillon (Noorie), Sonam Rai (Vijay) and Tulip Joshi (Mere Yaar Ki Shaadi) were introduced by us. Saif Ali Khan had his first solo hit (Hum Tum) with us. Abhishek Bachchan also with Dhoom. We’re not allergic to newcomers. I even wanted to take an entirely new star cast for Veer-Zaara from Pakistan but this idea wasn’t practical.

Plus, there’s a certain rapport with stars, as with Amitabh Bachchan right from the Kabhi Kabhie, Deewaar, Kaala Patthar, Trishul and Silsila days. When I needed him for a few days for Veer-Zaara, he said yes even without asking for a narration. Shah Rukh Khan is my other jaan, he is family. He did Veer-Zaara and Chak De! India no questions asked. Amitji and Shah Rukh have never asked us about what they will be paid.

I’m an emotional fool, there has to be a personal connect. I met (lyricist-poet) Sahir Ladhianvi saab when I was a student, and that meeting developed into an everlasting friendship. He would not charge me a single rupee till a film was released. If the film succeeded, he would be glad with the cheque I sent him. And with Lataji, my relationship has been of a sister-and-brother.

On reclusive son Aditya Chopra

Some have even asked me if Adi exists at all. Jokes aside, Adi has made his own space. He’s not a party animal, he’s obsessed with films and works from 9 am to 9 pm. Karan (Johar) is his only friend. Personality wise, they are poles apart but both are my sons.

Whenever I tell Adi to be more outgoing, he says, “I am what I am, I can’t change.”

On son Uday

Uday is a mastikhor. I didn’t know we had an actor in the house till Uday told me he wanted to act before Mohabbatein was scripted. Tomorrow, he may want to produce or even direct films which is fine by me.

On Wife Pam Chopra

Pam’s in charge of everything in the house whether it’s a glass of water or the menu of our meals. She’s into folk music and has been an important contributor to our music scores.

(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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