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Yash Chopra, storyteller to the end

Last updated on: October 22, 2012 14:54 IST
Shah Rukh Khan and Katrina Kaif in Jab Tak Hai JaanYash Chopra's five-decade career definitively moved with the times and ushered in eras, and gave us enough kinds of cinema for us all to have our own favourites; it is a filmography hard to remain unmoved by, says Raja Sen in his tribute.

I always had a bone to pick with Mr Yash Chopra. A longtime admirer of his work, as most of us are - for he did it all, from breathless chases through crammed by-lanes to dreamily billowing saris in unfeasibly cold Swiss climes - I couldn't help feeling that  with the way he ended things.

The way mature, thought-provoking dramas about real, fallible characters would frequently collapse in a heap of convenient 'happiness.' Even the polish visible throughout his films would seem to wane at the end, the slipshod final reel almost winking: "This is the ending that'll bring the people in and send them home pleased, but you know what really happened."

Or so, now that we've been robbed of his presence and I'll never get to ask him in person, I continue doggedly to believe.

As for the endings themselves, my complaint was primarily that they seemed too cinematic, too coincidental, too easy, too dramatic: too much for the real characters and their intensely real dynamics he'd created for us before that. And yet, I feel the morning after he's left us, that perhaps in choosing that sort of fantastical ending lay his great storytelling aim: that we would see that we - like his unforgettably messed up characters with their genuinely difficult problems - could all finish our lives with a cinematic flourish if only we believed hard enough and stuck around till the closing credits.

Yash Chopra liked his relationships murky. Inky tales of longing and complications filled his films, despite the breeziness wafting in with the chiffon and the tulips. It is this urge to torture his protagonists that led to widespread identification with the audience despite all those layers of lacquer, which, in turn, added a brightly aspirational sheen to it all. The gloss would make everything look - and, indeed, sound - beautiful par compare, but the cravings and the heartache would throb deeply, relentlessly underneath. Soaking it in perfume never drowned out the pain.

And what irresistible characters! Resplendent heroines given recklessly free rein through the narrative, as if by poetic license. Heroes with fatal flaws. Anti-heroes. Fugitives. Patriots. Murderers. Friends with an overpowering sense of noblesse oblige. A casual stroll through the Yash Chopra filmography throws up creations we would not just like to be, but - much more importantly - those we would like to befriend, those we would like to talk to, to share a drink with, and those we would want to fall for. It isn't hyperbole when people say they discovered "what love
is" during a Yash Chopra film.

He may never have worn a top hat, but the man was a magician.

Twenty-two films, most of which left us wistful.

Rekha and Amitabh Bachchan in SilsilaHis range - from Waqt to Ittefaq to Kabhie Kabhie to Kaala Patthar to Silsila to Lamhe to Darr - is remarkable. It is a five-decade career that has definitively moved with the times and ushered in eras, and given us enough kinds of cinema for us all to have our own favourites; it is a filmography hard to remain unmoved by.

Some are lesser works, naturally, but even here we see the unmistakable signs of a master craftsman. There is, for example, a playful scene in Dil Toh Pagal Hai involving facts being exchanged depending on whether or not a waiter runs out of drinks before he reaches the protagonists, and - unlike much of the Yash Chopra oeuvre - this isn't a scene that can be singled out for gorgeous dialogue or dramatic heft. But the touch of a master is evident in the lightness with which the scene is handled, casually setting the domino rolling on the Shah Rukh and Madhuri dynamic. I daresay no current purveyor of screen-ballad, no matter how shiny, edgy or young, could film it better or warmer.

To the cynical young lovers of film who haven't yet discovered all his work and judge Yash Chopra instead on the perkiness of his now ubiquitous production house: do yourselves a favour and comb through the films; there's so much to find and to treasure, and much to learn from.

A month ago, on his 80th birthday, he gifted us all a blessedly long interview conducted by Shah Rukh Khan, one that will doubtless go down as the definitive Yash Chopra conversation. At the end of the warm and informative session, as they discussed Jab Tak Hai Jaan (that releases on November 13 and may prove impossible to accurately review), the legendary director said he was ready to call it a day, that he didn't feel like making films anymore. Many called this a publicity stunt to drum up fanfare for the new film, but maybe they merely believed he'd keep making films because they didn't want to believe otherwise.

Instead the giant chose Sunday evening for his final trick, his last filmi flourish: He left us all yesterday, a month after we celebrated his greatness, weeks before his final film opens in theaters. A film titled Jab Tak Hai Jaan, after months and months of deliberation. A storyteller to the end.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the definitive Yash Chopra finish. If it sounds too cinematic to be real, it's because he truly was.
Raja Sen in Mumbai