His films were deservedly feted, but the late Yash Chopra’s talent for music was hardly recognised

He had an ear for music. He could recognise a possibly popular tune when he heard one. More importantly, he could also tell you when a music director got it all wrong. Yash Chopra, remembered by all as the king of romance, seldom got the credit he deserved for the music of his films. Yet it could not be coincidental that most of his films had songs difficult to forget. They had lilt, they had verve, they had a message, they had a melody. What’s more, Chopra did not need a subject with a storyline dependent on songs to make the music of his films work. The youngsters might just recall “Veer-Zaara” or at best “Dil Toh Pagal Hai”, but Chopra was always like that. He knew good music, lived by it, breathed by it.

It all started with “Dhool ka Phool”, a film as likely to be strong on music as, let’s say, David Dhawan on subtleties. Yet, it was. The film related the story of a Hindu boy brought up by a Muslim man yet Chopra was able to pack in a couple of wonderful tunes by N. Dutta, a gifted music director not always given credit for his compositions. Dutta came up with a gently soothing tune “Tere pyar ka aasra chahta hun”, doing full justice to Sahir Ludhianvi’s mischievous words. The song, picturised on stage on Rajendra Kumar and Mala Sinha, became a raging hit and continues to find space on CDs giving a collection of Mahendra Kapoor’s best songs.

“Tere pyar ka aasra” was not the only memorable number of “Dhool ka Phool”. Even better was “Tu Hindu banega na Musalman banega” that was shot on Manmohan Krishna. Sahir’s lyrics were beautifully complemented by Dutta’s music. Result? A song that is sung to this day in all patriotic functions.

If “Dhool ka Phool” was far from a tailor-made subject for good music, “Dharmputra”, Chopra’s next film that came in 1961, was even farther. The film dealing with the angst of Partition had more scope for attention grabbing headlines in a society where fissures of old had not dried up, than melody. Yet Chopra was able to incorporate Mohammed Iqbal’s timeless “Sare jahan se achcha” to a simple tune by Dutta. Mohammed Rafi and Asha Bhonsle lent their vocal chords to the song that is still played in all school functions. The world remembers it for Iqbal’s stirring words; not so well acknowledged is Dutta’s gentle music!

Chopra though, continued his fascination for good music. And was soon able to bring out the best of Ravi in “Waqt”. Not many men, grey around the sideburns, would have resisted the temptation of humming along with “Ae meri Zohra jabeen, tu abhi tak hai haseen”! Ravi, too, got lesser credit than he deserved, considering he composed a truly varied score for “Waqt’.

“Yash sahib had a knack for appreciating good music. He would never say anything with respect to an antara or a mukhda. But the moment he heard a good antara, he would say, Bas! Yehi theek hai,” Ravi once recalled. A little after “Waqt” he was to prove that his association with Chopra was no fluke when he came up with a song like “O neele parbaton ki dhaara” in “Aadmi aur Insaan”, a rare Dharmendra film with Yash Chopra. The Lahore-born filmmaker then decided to spring a surprise by helming “Ittefaq”, a film without a song, before shortly reverting to type with “Joshila”. This time he worked with Dev Anand. Kishore Kumar’s song “Kiska rasta dekhe” is still remembered, and remains among the best songs in a prison setting. R.D. Burman’s work in “Joshila” though, did not translate to a more lasting bond with Chopra who had by then set up his own banner, Yash Raj Films. Khayyam stepped in as the man with the magic wand. In fact, Chopra through “Kabhi Kabhie” got Khayyam to give off his very best until then, something he bettered only once with “Umrao Jaan”. Again, Chopra’s old faithful Sahir Ludhianvi’s lyrics heightened the appeal of Khayyam’s music. “Main pal do pal ka shayar hun”, “Tere chehre se nazar nahin hat ti”, “Mere ghar aai ek nanhi pari”, “Kabhi kabhi mere dil mein khayal aata hai”; breezy romance, fine poetry, lullaby, mischief…the film’s music had it all. Yet again, the world talked of Chopra’s fascination for big stars, big canvas. Yet again, the world talked of his penchant for romance. Yet again, the world forgot that Chopra had a rare ear for music.

History was to repeat a year after “Kabhi Kabhie” with “Doosra Aadmi”, the Rishi Kapoor-Neetu Singh starrer with lilting music by Rajesh Roshan. Another romance, but Khayyam was not repeated, as Chopra — this time as a producer — sought a score with more life and lilt. “Kabhi Kabhie” was soothing, gentle; “Doosra Aadmi” was daring, energetic! Both were immensely successful!

Chopra, however, was to prove his worth a little later with “Kaala Pathhar” and “Mashaal”. Not many would have forgotten the truly inspiring “Zindagi aa raha hun main” in the latter. “Kaala Pathhar”, on the other hand, dealt with coal mining and provided zero scope for melody. Yet we did get “Ek raasta hai zindagi” with Kishore Kumar in sublime form. Give credit to Khayyam again. Or maybe, just lay a little piece at the door of Chopra. After all, he was to reconfirm his magic with music by hand-picking the peerless Shivkumar Sharma and Hariprasad Chaurasia to give music to his films! Yes, “Silsila” was the film that marked Shiv-Hari’s foray into Bollywood, something that lasted more than a decade, and included memorable films like “Silsila”, “Faasle”, “Chandni” and “Lamhe”.

As if to prove to the world once and for all that he knew his music, Chopra retrieved from the mothballs the unused tunes of Madan Mohan for “Veer-Zaara”. The music, once again, hit the bull’s eye. Need one say more about Chopra’s ear for music?

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