Proma Khosla: Celebrating Yash Chopra

By Proma Khosla, Daily Bollywood Columnist
Published October 25, 2012

After two columnsdetailing my inordinate love of cheesy, romantic Bollywood movies, I had every intention of changing the pace by discussing gritty, artistic films. I had column number three ready to present to my editor ... and then I saw the news that Yash Chopra passed away on Sunday.

Chopra, who died at 80, was a living legend of Bollywood filmmaking. At barely 20, he moved to Mumbai with nothing but 200 rupees (roughly five dollars) and the dream of being a filmmaker. In addition to beloved romances like “Dil To Pagal Hai” and “Veer Zaara,” he directed some 22 films over the past 50 years, producing more than twice that.

He catalyzed the careers of megastars such as Amitabh Bachchan and Shahrukh Khan — sometimes at once — immortalizing the former in cinematic history by introducing him to a new generation, and making the latter inseparable from blockbusting romantic movies. He has always been willing to take a chance on young talent as well as tried-and-true stardom, guaranteeing the longevity of Bollywood for years to come.

Chopra’s legacy on Indian cinema is indelible. His name resonates as deeply with teenagers as with senior citizens. If you’ve seen a Bollywood movie at all, chances are it was a Yash Raj production, one of the few guarantees of a wonderful time spent at the movies.

The first Chopra-directed film I ever saw was “Dil To Pagal Hai” (“The Heart is Crazy”), a milestone made even more special when it became the first Bollywood film I saw in an American theater. This was before I spoke any Hindi, and before subtitles were required in theaters. I didn’t understand a word of “Dil To Pagal Hai” — but I understood everything.

I understood Rahul’s (Shahrukh Khan) inexperience and skepticism when he meets Pooja (Madhuri Dixit) and falls hopelessly in love with her. I understood Pooja’s desire to live in a dream world as she hopes for those fantasies to come true. I understood the wonderfully pure friendship between Rahul and Nisha (Karishma Kapoor), Pooja and Ajay (Akshay Kumar), friendships that Nisha and Ajay ultimately accept over the unrequited love they feel instead.

Also, I was only six years old.

“Dil To Pagal Hai” moved me as deeply when I rewatched it Sunday night as it did when I was six years old, listening to the soundtrack on cassette as my parents drove me to school. The themes are timeless and the emotion as immediate as any Oscar-winning effort — and more than most.

During this sentimental rewatch, I couldn’t help tweeting quotes and comments about the film (because that’s just the world we live in). One borrowed lyrics to one of the songs. “Chaand ne kuch kaha, raat ne kuch suna”: The moon said something, something the night heard.

The response to these introductory lyrics was overwhelming, coming from my closest friends as well as strangers the likes of which only social media can produce. But one friend, now working as a reporter in Bollywood, responded by completing the lyric.

“Pyar kar”: Fall in love.

“Pretty much the philosophy by which he made his movies,” my friend said fondly.

Yashji knew how to tell universal stories of love and life that transcend language and genre. He chose actors who personify human emotion with performances we won’t forget for a lifetime. Often referred to as the real “king of romance,” Chopra understood the complexities of love and friendship far more than most storytellers, and he dedicated his life to sharing those secrets.

In the wake of his death, Chopra’s final directorial effort, “Jab Tak Hai Jaan” (which happens to mean “as long as I live”) will take on unprecedented attention when released on Nov. 13. A Yash Chopra film is a pop culture event in itself, but now that it’s definitively his last it will be the most unmissable movie of the year. For one last time, Yashji will speak to us through his characters and through the bonds they form and break over the course of the film.

For me, watching the film will be an emotional experience no matter what the content. For a brief period of time, my Bollywood repertoire will be bookended by Yash Chopra romances. I plan to see “Jab Tak Hai Jaan” in theaters just as I saw “Dil To Pagal Hai” almost 15 years ago. Whether or not it influences me as profoundly, I expect to see the same passion that pervades his body of work. I will, and fall in love, as always, with the wonderful work of Yash Chopra.