Yash Chopra: The King of Versatility

Last Updated: Wed, Oct 24, 2012 09:53 hrs

With the passing away of Yash Chopra to a freak case of dengue, an era has indeed ended for Bollywood. While most are touting him as the King of Romance, he was anything but that. 

In a directorial career spanning a whopping 53 years, that was just a small part of his talent. If anything, he should be called the King of Versatility and the number one trend-setter of Bollywood.

With his very first two films, he experimented with the twin ideas of secularism and communalism - Dhool Ka Phool (1959) and Dharmputra (1961). 

The former featured a Muslim father bringing up an illegitimate Hindu child. It featured the sublime lyrics: Tu Hindu banega na Mussalman banega, insaan ki aulaad hai, insaan banega. The latter touched on the sensitive issue of Hindu fundamentalism.

What brought Chopra into Bollywood with a bang was his 1965 blockbuster in the form of Waqt. This brought in two key changes into the industry. The first was that it popularised the trend of multi-starrer movies and the second was that it virtually invented the "lost and found" storyline. Both these formulae were done to death in the 1970s and 1980s.

He continued experimenting with Ittefaq (1969), a song-less thriller. In Daag: A Poem of Love (1973), Rajesh Khanna sported with a big moustache and played the role of a murderer and bigamist.

If the mantle of the superstar passed from Khanna to Amitabh Bachchan, then Chopra had a major role to play in it. After having a tiff with Khanna, the great director decided to hitch his wagon to Bachchan and the rest they say is history.

While Bachchan burst into the scene as the angry young man with Zanjeer in 1973, it was with Chopra that his role gained great character. What followed was probably the peak of the careers of both greats and the duo gave the following back-to-back hits: Deewaar (1975), Kabhi Kabhie (1976), Trishul (1978) and Kaala Patthar (1979).

It is difficult to imagine any other director giving such a quartet in a row. Deewaar probably has the best film script in the history of Bollywood, while Kabhie Kabhie was a love story of a totally different kind.

Trishul saw power-packed performances by the trio of Bachchan, Shashi Kapoor and Sanjeev Kumar, while Kaala Patthar was an extremely complex film that touched on a host of issues.

After the peak came the fall. The 1980s was probably the worst phase of Chopra's career. It started with the much touted all-star cast of Silsila proving to be one the biggest flops of the careers of both Bachchan and Chopra.

He came out with decent films like Mashaal and Vijay, but none of the characteristic Chopra blockbusters.

That's when he decided to re-invent himself once again and finally settled down on the title of the King of Romance. He helped Bollywood transition from the romantic age to the angry young man age in the 1970s. He did it once again when he helped Bollywood back into the romantic age with the blockbuster Chandni in 1989.

The chiffon sari and locales of Switzerland gained iconic status thanks to Chopra.

While he had blips like Lamhe (which was way ahead of its times) and Parampara, he came back with a bang with Darr. That's when he entered into another golden partnership, this time with Shah Rukh Khan. 

King Khan and the King of Romance got together and delivered blockbuster after blockbuster.

This is his sequence of SRK movies which he either produced or directed: Darr, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Dil To Pagal Hai, Mohabbatein, Veer-Zaara, Chak De India and Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi.

That's seven straight superhits! With Jab Tak Hai Jaan, he may well make it 8 in a row. If he made Bachchan in the 1970s, he made SRK in the 1990s and 2000s.

Populariser of the multi-starrer and lost and found formula. The maker of the personas of Bachchan and SRK. Chopra was the number 1 trend setter of Bollywood, not just the King of Romance.

Add one more to the list. Media moghul. What Bachchan failed with ABCL, Chopra succeeded with Yash Raj Films, which has a hand in film production, music and distribution. It is the top film house in India today.

Bollywood is surely going to miss Chopra in more ways than one!

The author is a Bengaluru-based journalist and blogger. He blogs at http://sunilrajguru.com/

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