Bridge to the platinum age
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It was only the other day that we saw Shah Rukh Khan interviewing Yash Chopra on the occasion of his 80th birthday celebration. What came through was what people saw when they met him in person: simplicity and directness, a dedication to film-making and an abiding concern and care for his artists and associates.
In the 1950s, the Chopra making headlines was his older brother B.R. Chopra, who made films with a serious purpose that were also box office hits. There was Ek Hi Raasta with Meena Kumari, Ashok Kumar and Sunil Dutt on widow remarriage, Kanoon with Ashok Kumar and Rajendra Kumar on the theme of injustice — also a film without songs — and Chandni Chowk with Meena Kumari, Shekhar and Sohrab Modi on the issue of feudal snobbery ruining young lives. For Sadhana, a film about prostitutes starring Vyjayanthimala and Sunil Dutt, his younger brother was an assistant director. Yash Chopra joined him as director for Dhool ka Phool in 1959, starring Mala Sinha and Rajendra Kumar. This film, about an unmarried mother, was a hit.
He went on to make 50 films and set up his own company in 1971. Financiers were willing to help him even when he was hard up because he was known for quality. And he delivered. There was hit after hit as he won 11 Filmfare awards, including four for Best Director, and six National Film awards and the Dadasaheb Phalke award in 2001. His films won many more awards for the artists, music and production. He made great films with Amitabh Bachchan — Deewar, Silsila, Kabhi Kabhie — and launched SRK with Darr, making him a star with Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge.
With a career spanning six decades and 50 films, Yash Chopra most resembles that great director/producer/showman of the 1940s and '50s, V. Shantaram. Like Shantaram, although his early films had a serious bent, many were hits. But when he found himself being copied or rejected at the box office, he switched to romantic films with Chandni and a new Yash Chopra brand was created. V. Shantaram similarly surprised his fans when he made Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje and Navrang. Both films emphasised music, dance and colour, unlike his earlier films that were on social issues.