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The most important phase of Yash Chopra's life

Last updated on: October 23, 2012 19:13 IST

Image: Yash Chopra
Photographs: Abhijit Mhamunkar Sonil Dedhia in Mumbai

The last rites of Yash Chopra were carried out on October 22. The filmmaker succumbed to an attack of dengue the day before after being hospitalised for about a week.

Chopra had just celebrated his 80th birthday last month at a special event organised by Yash Raj Films, where he had a nostalgic conversation with Shah Rukh Khan, and spoke about his journey through life and films.

Here is an excerpt from one of Yash Chopra's last conversations:

On his decision to become a director

I was the youngest child in my family and my parents wanted me to become an engineer. We were staying in Jalandhar, Punjab, and I was sent to Mumbai to make my passport so that I could go to London to pursue further studies. When I came to Mumbai, I realised I didn't want to become an engineer.

I told my elder brother B R Chopra, who was a filmmaker, that I wanted to become a director. I requested him to make me his assistant so that I could learn the art of filmmaking. He didn't allow me since there would be a comfort level between us and we would take certain things for granted.

He asked me to assist I S Johar, who was making a film called Nastik (1954). When I met him, he asked me to watch the shoot. I saw his style of working and realised that it wasn't how I wanted to work. After the shoot, I went to meet two of our family friends (actors) Manmohan Kishan and Jeevan, and asked them to tell my brother to let me join him.

I did my apprenticeship with him for two years. My job was to call the actors for shots or give them their costumes.

'Meena Kumari told B R Chopra to take me in his films as lead actor'

Image: Meena Kumari in Chandni Chowk

I was very interested in poetry. I would even write sometimes.

I was assisting my brother on Chandni Chowk (1954). Meena Kumari was the lead actress in the film and she too like poetry. We became good friends.

She even told B R Chopra to take me in his films as lead actor.

Now when I look back, I realise I could have become an actor but I speak so fast that the length of the film would be very short (laughs).

'I wanted to make an impression on Vyjayanthimala'

Image: Movie poster of Sadhna

My brother was making Sadhna in 1958, starring Vyjayanthimala.

At that time I was staying in Juhu (in suburban Mumbai) and she was staying in Marine Drive (South Mumbai). Every night after dinner, I would go to her house to write dialogues because I wanted to make an impression.

Another reason was that her grandmother would treat me royally. I have always been a big foodie and she would feed me with some amazing south Indian food.

'Rakhee offered to give me money since I was producing my first film'

Image: Sharmila Tagrore, Rajesh Khanna and Rakhee in Daag

How Yash Chopra turned producer

B R Chopra was a mentor to me. I am what I am because of him. I made two films in 1969 -- Ittefaq and Aadmi Aur Insaan. The latter didn't do well.

Before my marriage, I never cared about money. I didn't even know how much money I had in my bank account. I was careless. But after I got married to Pamela in 1970, I realised I had responsibilities.

At that time, I decided to branch out from my brother's production house B R Films. I was not confident about my move and apart from my brother, I didn't have anyone to talk to.

At the same time, I came to know that my wife was pregnant. I realised I would not be able to get into production in this situation. After discussing it with her, I sent my wife to Delhi.

For two days I kept wondering if I was doing the right thing. My inner voice told me it was now or never. I gathered all my courage and called my brother and asked him to meet me at his office. I told him I wanted to open my production house Yash Raj Films, where he could also direct films for my banner.

He told me, "Be focused and do what you like. You make films under your own banner."

He also told me that from then on, I had to do all the work -- from scripting to coordinating with the actors and music and handling money. 

After our meeting, I went to meet my friend Udesh Sharma, who was the manager of Sun 'n' Sand Hotel in Juhu. I told him about my decision and her was very happy with it.

The final stroke, which made me strongest, was when I spoke to my mother. I told her about my decision of opening a production house. She was an illiterate lady and just told me, "Do what you like, my blessings are always with you and I can see the confidence in your eyes."

The first film that I made under Yash Raj Films was Daag (1973). The story came to me when I was on my honeymoon. I had watched a lot of English films and one day, I was sitting at a restaurant having dinner when I decided to modify the story because the film should be very romantic as well as bold. I spoke to Rajesh Khanna, Rakhee and Sharmila Tagrore and all of them told me our fees are according to your budget. I remember Rakhee even offered to give me money since I was producing my first film. I had declined.

The biggest help came from V Shantaram. He owned Rajkamal Studios, which had never offered an office to anybody. When he learnt that I was producing my own film and I needed a place for an office, he told me to work from his studio. His contribution is immense.

I remember distributors were skeptical about Daag but the film was my litmus test. At that time, Rajesh Khanna's films were not doing well. The film released in nine theatres only but the response was so fabulous that within a couple of days, they added nine more theatres. This was the most important phase in my life.