The end, like all ends, was somewhat sudden. I was in constant touch with my friend Karan Johar at the hospital where his dad had been admitted with what was originally a minor surgery in the urinary tract. (Also see images: from the funeral of Yash Johar)
"Don’t worry. I’ll keep you posted," Karan reassured me on Sunday evening. A few hours later Yash Johar was gone.
We all knew it was coming for some months now. During the shooting of Johar's last film Kal Ho Naa Ho in New York last year, during a routine checkup Yashji was found to be terminally ill. He had been under considerable pain in NY for some time. True to his long and winding training as dedicated soldier on a film set, Yashji suppressed his pain for as long as he could. Even his son and wife were unaware of the pain. (Also read: Bollywood`s father figure is no more!)
"He didn’t want any of us in New York to be disturbed. That’s my Dad for you," Karan confided.
Then one day quietly Yashji slipped away from the gruelling shooting schedules in NY for medical advice. He knew he was dying. A pall of gloom descended on the entire team in New York. The title song of the film Har pal yahan khul ke jiyo, kal kya pataa kal ho na ho...assumed a new meaning for everyone on the sets.
"Everyone fell into a depression. But my father continued to function normally. Not once for a day did he let us feel his pain. Completing the shooting on schedule was more important to him than his health," said Karan emotionally when he returned from New York.
The show always went on for this passionate cineaste. Yashji‘s love for the cinema extended way beyond the mere art craft and commerce of the business of entertainment. (Discuss: In the absence of his father, who was the silent strength of his movies, will son Karan be able to wield his magic wand and churn out superhits? Asks Sify user `Freaking`.)
To him the movies were the life and breath of his existence. Though he never directed a film, his knowledge of the movies far exceeded that of some of the official directors who were employed by him to direct films for his banner.
He was part of the film industry since 1952, serving as production controller for films of Sunil Dutt and Dev Anand. After years as a production controller Yash Johar launched Dharma Productions in 1976. In 1980, the banner produced the hit Dostana, directed by Raj Khosla. There began Yashji’s association with Amitabh Bachchan.
It was the last hit that renowned Khosla directed. Ironically it was also the only success that Yash Johar’s production house saw...until his 25-year-old son announced his decision to direct a film for his own banner. The announcement shocked and surprised Yashji. So far he saw his son as the bright fun-loving heir apparent who would one day take over the production reins.
Karan’s Kuch Kuch Hota Hai gave back Yashji the pride, dignity and honour which his earlier productions had robbed him off. Though not one to complain openly, it was an open secret in the film industry that Yashji was emotionally and financially distressed by his earlier mammoth productions Gumrah and Duplicate.
After Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, there was no looking back for Dharma Productions. When Johar jr came to his dad with ideas for his second film, Yashji was told Karan wanted Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya, Shah Rukh, Kajol, Hrithik and Kareena...
Yashji nodded solemnly. "Yes, Beta. But it isn’t wise to make a number of films together." He never imagined Karan would put together that mammoth cast in one film. The size of Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham bothered the man of experience who as production controller had seen and suffered every showbiz—vagary, from star tantrums to absentee directors.
I met Yashji after Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham and congratulated him.
"Oh, but I am rich in many richer ways. I’ve so many friends and well-wishers," the softspoken patriarch’s eyes sparkled with emotion.
True, I know of no other film personality who has garnered so much goodwill. Yash and Hiroo Johar are by far the most popular couple in Bollywood. Everyone from Amitabh Bachchan to Preity Zinta adores them, so much so that the Bachchan couple felt insulted when Karan offered to pay them for Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham.
"Charge money from Yashji, never!" Mr Bachchan was adamant.
I met Yashji a few months back at the Johars’ residence in Bandra. It was a sleepy Sunday afternoon and the man of the house was lounging in bed surrounded by newspapers. Apart from some bottles of tablets, there was no evidence of any illness in the bright sunny normal and healthy household.
"I’m in bed only because it’s Sunday," Yashji smiled mischievously. He then spoke animatedly on his favourite subject. His comments on some of the recent films were priceless.
I remember how relieved and happy Karan was when all those lifetime achievement awards were given to Yashji earlier this year. Everyone knew time was running out for this wonderful man of the movies who, in dealing with the rituals of escapism never lost touch with reality. The number of people within the film industry whom Yashji bailed out during a crisis, is legion.
This was a man whom anyone could count on during his hour of need.
There was a huge age gap between father and son. And Karan thought of his father more as a grandfather than father.
Grand, Yash Johar certainly was. I’ve never come across so much goodwill and love for any one personality. In recent years Yash Johar had certainly become a movie moghul. But that trademark humility never left him. He had seen too many ups and downs, too many superstars come and go to get carried away by that thing called success.
At the end Yash Johar’s actual success was the look of indescribable desolation on the face of all the film personalities who gathered at the Leelavati hospital to bid him a final farewell. It was a grand send-off. Yashji must be looking down with some satisfaction on a life well-lived.