When one watches the sugar-coated confections Yash Raj Films dishes out these days, it is difficult to believe the man behind the company, Yash Chopra, was a successful risk taker. In a career spanning over 50 years, Chopra took calculated chances that were spectacular successes at the box-office.
In “Waqt” (1965) a 33-year-old Chopra set the template for the lost-and-found formula of multi-starrers. In 1969, during the golden age of film music, he made the taut thriller “Ittefaq” with the phenomenon Rajesh Khanna with no songs.
“Deewar” now seems like the perfect movie with all the aspects of a blockbuster. Chopra, however, was again bucking the trend by making a movie with no comedy and hardly any romance. — Shashi Kapoor and Neetu Singh are already a couple and in Vijay (Amitabh Bachchan) and Anita (Parveen Babi), we got to the first live-in relationship in commercial cinema.
“Kabhie Kabhie” immediately followed “Deewar” and the angry young man, Vijay, morphed into a poet. who morphed back into the Karna actor once more in “Trishul”. At a time when everyone was riding the Big B wave of anger and violence, Chopra cast him again as a poet in “Silsila” (1981). The film was considered a casting coup of the time as it featured Jaya Bachchan as the long-suffering wife and the ravishing Rekha as the other woman. The film dealt with adultery in a mature manner, and if only Chopra had not copped out with the resolution, would have been a classic.
Then there was “Chandni” in 1989. After two decades of violence in the movies, the film marked the return of the romantic musical. The movie, with its focus on the big fat Indian (Punjabi) wedding, gazillion songs, foreign locations (director Karan Johar called the film a show reel for Switzerland!) was also responsible for creating a template, the Yash Raj film, which is used to this day. Post “Chandni”, Chopra stayed with romances. — for all its violence, “Darr” is about an obsessed lover. The cross-border romance “Veer-Zaara” (2004) was Chopra's last release.
We caught up with Chopra in Switzerland where honours were heaped upon him by the Swiss government for his contribution to the tourism industry. The 79-year-old director spoke of his new project, romance in movies and the joy of shooting in Switzerland. Excerpts.
Why haven't you made any films after ‘Veer-Zaara'?
I was not getting the right script. We were also involved in organising and developing the studio. I am an old-fashioned man. I cannot make just any kind of film. Now we have finalised a story and my son, Aditya, will write it. We will start shooting this year.
Will you shoot in Switzerland?
Emotionally, I like to shoot here. The first film I shot here was ‘Faasle'. It was with the smallest unit possible — 19 people. I couldn't afford greater numbers. I drove around Switzerland for a reccé for three days. We shot in October as there is good light. Whenever I enter Switzerland, I feel it is so peaceful, so romantic. Also, there is no interference from the government, no nakharas. You want to shoot in a train? No problem! When you want to shoot, shoot!
I remember I was shooting in Interlaken, and by the time the shot was ready, the light had changed. So, I requested the traffic policeman if he could change the flow of traffic for five minutes, and he obliged willingly.
All these honours that the government has given me by naming a train and suite after me and making me the Ambassador of Interlaken, has made me very proud to be an Indian. I will never forget the ceremony. The Swiss are very closed people, and for them to open their hearts to me is very touching.
Whether I will shoot the new movie in Switzerland depends on the script. All I can say as of now is that it is a romantic film, a love story with Indian values.
You directed the thriller ‘Ittefaq', which had no songs, and out-and-out action movies such as ‘Deewar', ‘Trishul' and ‘Kaala Patthar'. Are you planning to return to the genre?
No. I feel I cannot do justice to an action film now.
When you were making ‘Deewar', did you know that the film was going to have such a huge impact on our collective conscience?
I knew it would be a special film. Even though the film didn't have the mandatory ingredients for commercial success — there was no comedy and not much romance apart from the track between Shashi and Neetu, the film worked. ‘Deewar' was a very emotional film with human relationships at its core. Apart from great acting and writing, that core was what ensured the success of the film.
When shooting, did you believe the line ‘Mere Pass Ma Hai' from ‘Deewar' would take over public imagination the way it did?
While the line forms the emotional core of the film, I never imagined it would become so famous.
Did ‘Silsila' turn out the way you envisioned it?
‘Silsila' was controversial, not because of the script, but because of the casting. It was too realistic, and people expected fireworks. ‘Silsila' had no villains or vamps. I am, however, very proud of the way the movie turned out. All the actors — Amit (Bachchan), Jaya, Rekha and Sanjeev (Kumar) performed very well, and it will remain immortal for me.