The late producer-director created waves not only with his films, but also the actors he cast in them. Without his magic touch, would Rajesh Khanna, Shashi Kapoor or Amitabh Bachchan be the evergreen heroes that they became in Yash Chopra’s films?
They don’t respect, admire and adore Yash Chopra for nothing. Rajesh Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan, Shahrukh Khan and Sridevi, among several aspiring and established actors, learned to excel in their craft after working with the master filmmaker. Chopra was often criticised by those who felt that he preferred working with big stars. But that was not the case, as history will tell. For Yash Chopra, his script was always his first priority and he worked with actors he thought were apt in the roles of now-iconic characters. In a way, he had the knack of choosing the right actor for a roles – he believed that nobody else but Rajesh Khanna could be both Dilip Roy in Ittefaq and Sunil Kohli in Daag. The same goes for Amitabh Bachchan as Vijay in Deewar, Trishul and Kaala Patthar (interestingly, the same name in all the three films), and Shahrukh Khan, Rahul in both Darr and Dil To Pagal Hai.
Yash Chopra’s Waqt, considered to be India’s first multistarrer film, not only established him as a filmmaker, but revived the careers of his actors – Balraj Sahni, Raj Kumar, Shashi Kapoor and Madan Puri, who played the villain’s henchman. Yash demanded to be taken seriously with his first success, and soon became a force to reckon with. He signed Shashi Kapoor on for his second film, Dhool Ka Phool, knowing that Shashi was still struggling to make his mark as an actor. The film proved to be a profitable venture for Shashi – after its success, he went on to sign several big projects.
In 1969 Yash directed Ittefaq, his last film under his brother B R Chopra’s banner. He decided to cast Rajesh Khanna in Aradhana, which became his first superhit film in the same year, though Khanna was still a few films away from superstardom. While Aradhana gave Rajesh a loverboy image, Ittefaq proved his versatility as an actor. Four years later, Chopra established his own banner Yash Raj Films and made Daag. It was a difficult subject, and Yash wasn’t sure whom to cast as the male lead. He zeroed in on Rajesh again. And his gamble paid, off big time! Khanna had the best dialogues and songs in the film.
Chopra directed Joshila in 1973 for producer Gulshan Rai. The film starred Dev Anand and Hema Malini, and was considered to be his first flop. But Gulshan didn’t lose faith in Yash and signed him on to make Deewar with Amitabh Bachchan, Shashi Kapoor, Parveen Babi and Neetu Singh. Amitabh had already acquired his ‘angry young man’ tag by then, courtesy Prakash Mehra’s Zanjeer. But Deewar polished AB’s image, since the Salim-Javed script was full of maar-dhaad with exceptional dialogues like Main aaj bhi pheke hue paise nahin uthata or Khush to bahot honge tum. Again Chopra made the perfect choice by casting Amitabh in the eternal role of Vijay Verma; he knew what Big B was capable of. The actor-director developed a strong liking for each other’s work and went on to make musical blockbusters together – Kabhi Kabhie, Trishul, Kaala Patthar and Silsila.
Soon, Yash was known as the ace romantic storyteller of Bollywood. Sridevi, who was relegated to doing B-grade Hindi films, bounced back with Chopra’s Chandni. The director felt that she was truly a director’s actor and called her an ‘acting machine’. Though Sri worked with directors like Shekhar Kapoor and Subhash Ghai, among others, it was Yash who brought out the best in her. Two years later, when Yash decided to make a hatke film called Lamhe, he chose to cast Sridevi again. Though the film failed, it is still considered to be one of Chopra’s best works.
In 1993, he came up with the concept of an ‘anti-hero’, with Darr. Yash offered the lead role – a completely negative one – to every big male star, including Aamir Khan. None of them wanted to take the risk. But Yash was adamant and decided to cast one-film-old Shahrukh Khan, who had already made it big with Baazigar. Yash’s gamble paid off! SRK’s stammer and the film’s music ensured that Darr was a mega success. From then on, it was a partnership; Shahrukh Khan ensured bumper box office collections in YRF films like Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (directed by Aditya Chopra), Dil To Pagal Hai, Chak de! India, Veer Zaara and soon, Jab Tak Hai Jaan.
Career revivals are also part of Chopra’s credit list. Karisma Kapoor wanted to save her dipping film career after films like Judwaa, Hero no 1, Lahoo Ke Do Rang. So without wasting time she jumped at the offer to play second lead to the reigning diva Madhuri Dixit in Dil To Pagal Hai. The film fetched her a second National Award as Best Supporting Actress and resurrected her actor status.
Yash Chopra reached a peak no filmmaker in India ever managed. He made megastars out of actors, be it Amitabh or Shahrukh, Anushka Sharma or Parineeti Chopra. Chopra was a favourite with all generations. He was very fond of SRK, so much so that he gifted the star Jab Tak Hai Jaan before his death. But will the Chopra magic work for Shahrukh now that the star-maker is no longer alive?
PS: Now all eyes are on Aditya Chopra. All that will happen at Yash Raj Films depends on the decisions taken by Aditya, who has been trained by his father. We wonder if JTHJ will be able to light up the screen this Diwali. It would be what Yash Chopra wanted…