'Some people have asked me if Adi exists at all': Excerpts from Yash Chopra's rare interviews


Khalid Mohamed remembers conversations with late director Yash Chopra, whose trendsetting Kabhi Kabhie, Chandni and Lamhe created new benchmarks, and whose oeuvre lives on, thanks to Yash Raj Films


Khalid Mohamed

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Published: Fri 28 Sep 2018, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Tue 24 Jan 2023, 9:11 AM

If he were alive today, Yash Chopra - the last of the movie moghuls whose tremendous oeuvre was accentuated by moonlit romances, clusters of roses and trendsetting chiffon saris - would have still believed in the tender and the understated. The lately-released Manmarziyaan, promoted as a love story from Anurag Kashyap, just doesn't compare. Alright, the triangular romance may not have spewed violence and colourful words associated with Kashyap, but is that sufficient to make the story palatable and applause-worthy?

Give me yesteryear's master of amour any day, any show. His 86th birth anniversary fell yesterday (September 27). He passed away at the age of 80 after a bout of dengue fever on October 21, 2012. Over the course of his prolific career straddling decades, Yash Chopra always struck me as a film auteur who remained unchanged, come blockbusters, successes and disappointments. For this weekend, I rewind to excerpts from his interviews.

On founding the Yash Raj banner:

I can't brag. All I can say is that my sons Adi (Aditya) and Uday have been working 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 no regrets, we learn from our mistakes.

Overall, God has been kind. I respect all religions. If I pray at the Siddhivinayak 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.

On changing from social reformist to escapist cinema:

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

I come from the school of bhaisaab (his late brother B.R. Chopra) who dealt with social issues - from widow remarriage to securing justice for wronged women. But, yes, with time, I have tried to make mainly clean romantic movies. If I was disheartened by the failure of Dharmputra, I was as depressed by the failure of Lamhe. Perhaps my failures have been ahead of their time. Otherwise, how can you explain the fact that the highest sales of my DVDs have been of Dharmputra, Silsila and Lamhe?

On audience response:

That has always been unpredictable, and always will be. But I derive solace from supportive words, which have meant more than money. Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed once rang me up to say that Veer-Zaara and Fanaa said something progressive about Indo-Pak relations. Fanaa, he said, was a strong statement for patriotism. 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. Daag and Joshila were released within a month of each other. The then Censor Board chief, M. Vyas, said, "You've stuffed all the masala in Joshila and it has been rejected outright... while Daag has worked because it had a heart. you've made it according to your own sensibilities."

On the highs and lows:

These are inevitable. Faasle had crashed. I went through a phase of insecurity. While making Chandni, I was travelling one day from my house in Juhu to the Taj Mahal hotel in town. On the way, I saw every movie hoarding and poster had 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 when Mangesh Desai (sound designer) and I were watching the rushes, he stopped a reel on the introduction of Vinod Khanna, who made an action-packed entry. Mangesh said, "Yash, have you gone mad? This looks absurd." So, I asked Vinod Khanna for a day of reshooting. He made a normal entry. The distributors, Khazanchi Films, had objected, "If you've got Vinod Khanna, there must be action." I told them that they could back out. When the film released, they asked for five extra prints immediately and 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 Sen-Sameer Sen, Jatin-Lalit, Uttam Singh, Shankar-Ehsaan-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 the original tune of Tere liye was changed and Lataji (Mangeshkar), at the age of 75, sang it so beautifully.

On the Yash Raj predilection for stars over newcomers:

That's not accurate. Poonam Dhillon (Trishul and Noorie), Sonam (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 the idea wasn't practical. Plus, there's a certain rapport with stars, as with Amitabh Bachchan, right from 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 (life), he is family. He did Veer-Zaara and Chak De! India, no questions asked. Amitji and Shah Rukh have never asked us what they will be paid.

On dream projects:

Before Veer-Zaara, everything was set for Maine To Mohabbat Ki Hai, but then Adi showed me three scenes he had written on a different subject. Those three scenes were excellent and resulted in Veer-Zaara. My scripts, right down to Jab Tak Hai Jaan, develop after tossing around ideas and endless discussions. Since I'm not computer savvy, they have to be written down by others.

On writing poetry:

I'm afraid they are for private consumption! I'm a lonely poet, I don't share my verses with anyone else.

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 9am to 9pm. Karan (Johar) is his only friend. Personality-wise, they are poles apart - but both are my sons.They were kids yesterday and are such intelligent adults today.

Whenever I ask Adi to be more outgoing, he says, "I am what I am, I can't change." I think Adi, Karan and Sooraj Barjatya are better filmmakers than me. They are directors who conceive their own stories, scripts and dialogue, work out the publicity and stay with them till the day of the release... and even after that.

Adi has always been into storytelling. When he was a kid, he shocked Shabana (Azmi): he narrated an entire story to her - complete with a beginning, middle and end. She still reminds me, "My God, Yashji, your son is something else."

On son Uday:

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 Pamela 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. The first time I saw her was at the wedding of my niece Shashi in Delhi. She had come with Simi Garewal and had sung at the ceremony. On our second meeting, Pam and I didn't even like each other. Then some days later, I had missed a flight out of Delhi, so I had stayed over at (actor) Romesh Sharma's house in Diplomatic Enclave. Romesh's mother said, "Make up your mind or do you want to die a bachelor?" (I was 38 then). "Yes, if it's okay by her," I said. A month later, we were engaged; two months later, hamari shaadi ho gayee (we got married). If I hadn't missed that flight, there would have been no Yash Raj banner... To date, I have never sacked anyone who has been employed by me. If they want to move on to greener pastures, it's their choice. Otherwise, I'm always there, my heart is their home.

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