The man behind it all Yash Chopra began his career by assisting filmmaker-comic I. S. Johar before assisting his own elder brother B. R. Chopra right from Ek Hi Raasta (1956),the BR banners first film.
His debut film as director,Dhool Ka Phool (1959),was a blockbuster,and so were most of the films he directed Waqt,Indias first multi-star film in the real sense,Ittefaq,the classic suspense thriller and Aadmi Aur Insaan,Deewaar and Trishul outside his home banner. He also was justifiably proud of his second film,Dharamputra,probably one of Indias most hard-hitting films on communal harmony,which did decent business.
In 1971,Yash Chopra decided to branch out independently and forge his own identity. By 1972,his first production,Daag,with the suffixed tag A Poem Of Love,went on the floors with then-top names Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore,glamour-girl Raakhee as the third angle to an unusual love story with a social twist,and Laxmikant-Pyarelal,the reigning names for music. The film released to stupendous box-office endorsement in April 1973 with the music,too,becoming a rage. The film,for the first-ever time,showed a man settling down in domesticity with two women for legitimate reasons!
Interestingly,Chopra has been majorly instrumental in making Punjab and its culture omnipresent in Hindi cinema,especially from the 90s,but the first hit Punjabi folk-based song heard in a YRF film was the popular and zingy Lata Mangeshkar-Minoo Purshottam duet Ni main yaar manana ni penned by Sahir Ludhianvi for this film.
Chopra believed in giving new talents a break or breakthroughs right from the beginning. It is a barely-known fact that the first protégé of YRF would have been BR loyalist and Chopras own editor Pran Mehra who was to be introduced as a director with the next film to be announced from the YRF stable Gardish,which was to star Amitabh Bachchan and Parveen Babi and repeat the magical LP-Sahir team. The film,however,was shelved and LP-Sahir were shifted to YRFs Kabhi Kabhie,but for various reasons,Khayyam came in and with this 1976 blockbuster entered the most successful phase of his career. The film also introduced Naseem,Mumtazs cousin,in a love triangle with Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh in the ensemble cast that marked the beginning of Waheeda Rehmans second innings as a character artiste. It was also the breakthrough of and the first complete film written by Sagar Sarhadi.
Doosara Aadmi (1977),the third film from the YRF banner,continued the tradition with Chopras assistant and future stage bigwig Ramesh Talwar being introduced as a director. The bold film on a widow who falls for a younger man who resembles her dead husband and so disrupts his married life was a modest success. The film introduced Chopras wife Pamela Chopra as a playback singer in two popular Rajesh Roshan tracks,Angne aayenge saawariya (a duet with comedian Deven Verma!) and Jaan meri rooth gayi (with Kishore Kumar).
All this while,Chopra was directing three films for distributor and friend Gulshan Rai,from which Deewaar and Trishul had proved box-office whoppers and only Joshila,a slick crime drama,had not worked. Trishul had introduced Poonam Dhillon. In 1979,Chopra gave his near-permanent character artiste Manmohan Krishna a break as a director with Noorie (1979),along with television host Farooque Shaikh as the hero with Poonam. This small film emerged as a Golden Jubilee and was one of the top three hits of that year. And Nitin Mukesh got his first chartbuster in its title-track Aaja re with Lata Mangeshkar.
Oddly enough,the biggie that Chopra directed the same year,Kaala Patthar,Indias first disaster film on a coal-mine tragedy,flopped at the box-office despite its top-heavy cast and a popular music score. And from here began a decade-long ebb of Yash Raj Films,with even the pathbreaking Silsila (1981) not being able to recover its high costs.
All through this dull phase,Chopras penchant for introducing or giving career-defining breaks to newcomers in all fields was in full steam. Silsila itself introduced Javed Akhtar,who had co-scripted Deewaar,Trishul and Kaala Patthar as part of the Salim-Javed duo) as a lyricist,as also Hasan Kamaal,later a BR favourite. Above all,Silsila introduced santoor ace Pt.Shivkumar Sharma and bansuri legend Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia as Shiv-Hari. The duo was to later deliver hit soundtracks like Chandni,Lamhe and Darr in the 90s for the banner.
Nakhuda,the same year,introduced Miss India Swaroop Sampat and another assistant Dilip Naik as director. Very few know that this also contained Huq Ali,the first Hindi film song recorded by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan with his brother Mujahid Ali Khan,which was recorded when the duo had come down to perform at Rishi Kapoors wedding in 1980! The song had been composed by Khayyam and written by Nida Fazli.
And so the human discovery channel went on: Mashaal (1984) was a major breakthrough for Amrish Puri,Faasle introduced Rohan Kapoor and Farha,Tabus elder sister,while Vijay introduced Sonam (now Rajiv Rais wife) and Neil Nitin Mukesh as a child actor.
From turnaround to big time
The turnaround film,Chandni (1989),a mature romantic triangle with Vinod Khanna,Rishi Kapoor and Sridevi,brought Switzerland into the Hindi film limelight. Besides being one of the three films that year (along with Ram Lakhan and Maine Pyar Kiya) that resuscitated the comatose music label HMV,it was one of the earliest Hindi films to do business in crores. For decades until his death in 1980,Sahir Ludhianvi had been a fixture with Chopras directorial enterprises. But Chandni began his next memorable association with Anand Bakshi. With the chartbuster classics like Mere haathon mein nau nau chudiyaan hai,Chandni o meri chandni and Lagi aaj saawan ki phir woh jhadi hai in particular,Chopra found his ideal replacement in the Numero Uno songwriter.
From the 90s,the suddenly au courant Yash Chopra went from strength to strength despite the debacle of his only outside film as director,Parampara,a compromise to various prevailing trends. It is significant to note that Chopra always failed on the rare occasions when he tried to pander to trends (Kaala Patthar,Mashaal,Vijay and Sawaal as producer),but enhanced his reputation when he did something different or bold (Dharamputra,Ittefaq and Daag). After Chandni,YRF came up with what still remains his own favourite,the very revolutionary and sensitive Lamhe (1991),a film at least 15 years ahead of its time,which also marked the debut of writer Honey Irani,mother to Farhan and Zoya Akhtar. Lamhe was the first Hindi film to succeed internationally but not do well in India,because of its theme of a man falling in love with a woman half his age as she was the lookalike daughter of the woman he had loved and lost to another man.
After this film came Chopras only tryst with the dark side of love obsession in Darr (1993),a film significant in his career for beginning an association with his all-time favourite and most repeated actor,Shah Rukh Khan. In the same year,his assistant Deepak Sareen was given a break in another love triangle,Aaina (produced by Pamela Chopra) followed by Naresh Malhotra also getting a break in the Sabrina adaptation,Yeh Dillagi,officially produced by his younger son Uday Chopra. Both these films were the major breakthroughs for Dilip Sen-Sameer Sen,with Abhijeet breaking through with Ole ole and Kajol being noticed as a skilled actor who could carry a film for the first time. Both films were made under the banner of Aditya Films,named after the future wunderkind of YRF Aditya Chopra.
An institution in global cinema
It was (almost) Diwali 1995. Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge,directed and co-written by Aditya Chopra,released to a rare rave mix of commercial and critical acclaim. Composers Jatin-Lalit consolidated their career and today,this Mughal-E-Azam of contemporary romances is not only an unparalleled romantic classic in its genre but still running in matinee shows beyond the 800th week in Mumbai. DDLJ set the trend for Diwali bumper hits besides foreign locations,feel-good romcoms and more. But above all,it opened for all time the huge overseas territory that Hindi cinema has today. And yes,Karan Johar was assistant director and was spotted on-screen in a brief cameo.
Around this time,Yash Raj Films also diversified by producing the music talent hunt on television,Meri Awaaz Suno,and producing the telefilm that also featured the finalists of Meri…,Humko Ishq Ne Maara with music by Aadesh Shrivastava. The eventful 90s closed with the success of Dil To Pagal Hai,which brought back Uttam Singh as composer after the death of his partner Jagdish Khanna,and was directed by Chopra and scripted by him along with wife Pamela,son Aditya and Tanuja Chandra making her scriptwriting debut.
The formidable pair
The post-1995 evolution of YRF is known to almost all. Aditya Chopras global vision and innovative creative and marketing skills synergised potently with his fathers convictions,experience and goodwill to make the banner the biggest institution in Hindi cinema a self-sufficient production house with its own huge studio for every stage of filmmaking. Today,YRF,as it is known worldwide,works like the best corporate firms in the world as well as the biggest studios of Hollywood,coming up with two or more films a year. It has its own music label and talent-spotting and marketing departments,has boldly experimented even if a few forays (like Y Films,their youth-oriented production house,the animation film Roadside Romeo which was a collaboration with Walt Disney or a television software alliance with Sony) did not meet with expected success. With offices around the globe and their own distribution network,YRF is unstoppable as an independent production house amidst the corporate overdrive.
While Aditya directs the rare film (Mohabbatein/ 2000 that started Amitabh Bachchans second innings and Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi/ 2008) and Yash Chopra even rarer (Veer-Zaara/ 2004,which experimented with Madan Mohans unused songs as a hit score – and his forthcoming film with Shah Rukh Khan,Katrina Kaif and Anushka Sharma),the banner experiments today with contemporary (New York),off-beat (Chak De! India),niche (Kabul Express) and new-age (Badmaash Company,Mujhse Fraaandship Karoge) fare even as it sticks to the core strengths of YRF romance (Band Baaja Baaraat) or the out-and-out masala films that are the USP of Hindi cinema (the Dhoom franchise,Fanaa).
The scouting of new talents continues unabated. Among the significant YRF proteges are todays hotshot composer Pritam (who signed Dhoom first after his split with ex-partner Jeetthe duo Jeet-Pritam also got a breakthrough in YRFs Mere Yaar Ki Shaadi Hai),Anushka Sharma (Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi),Ranveer Singh and director Maneesh Sharma (Band Baaja Baaraat),directors Kunal Kohli (Mujhse Dosti Karoge!),Siddharth Anand (Salaam Namaste),Kabir Khan (Kabul Express) and Nupur Asthana (Mujhse Fraaandship Karoge). Salim-Sulaiman (NealNNikki) and Prasoon Joshi (Hum Tum) also got their first solo outings.
With the December 2011 Ladies Vs.Ricky Bahl being their 51st film,YRF is also set to launch Boney Kapoors son Arjun Kapoor in Ishaqzaade while simultaneously making three big films with Katrina Kaif Dhoom:3 with Aamir Khan,Ek Tha Tiger toplining Salman Khan and Chopras 22nd directorial with Shah Rukh Khan,yet untitled.