When one chooses their favorite film directed by Yash Chopra, it’s not so much about quality as it is about taste. A directorial career spanning over fifty years and a range comprised of fine of social dramas, thrillers, and romantic films, makes the task of choosing his ten most memorable a most difficult one. As anticipation builds for the release of his final film, Jab Tak Hai Jaan, The NRI pays respect to the body of work left by the prolific filmmaker.
10. Lamhe (1991)
More than a film made ahead of its time, Lamhe is an example of a glamorous package distracting an audience from appreciating what informs a character’s intentions, especially when those intensions go against societal norms and tradition. The anguish and moral dilemma faced by a man who lost his first love only to then fall in love with her daughter (to whom he is custodian) and the devotion the daughter felt for him (never thinking of him as a father-figure) didn’t resonate with the masses and the film fared poorly at the box office.
9. Kabhie Kabhie (1976)
Kabhie Khabie continues to be a paragon of romance and heartache spanning generations. Chopra explored the pain suffered when love is sacrificed in the name of tradition, and how that anguish is never quite extinguished. The film’s greatest contribution to popular culture is the title song composed by Khayyam and written by Sahir Ludhianvi, which is one of Hindi cinema’s most romantic songs. The female version is picturized during a couple’s nuptial night and is thoughtfully executed with a tearful bride singing, to her groom, the song composed by her lost love. Suffering while submitting to a man whom she has no feelings for, in the name of duty, makes the tug-of-war between societal norms and individual desire that much more agonizing.
8. Mashaal (1984)
If Chopra’s classic Deewar showed a decent man rising above poverty through crime, Mashaal demonstrated a young thug breaking the cycle of poverty through education. A young Anil Kapoor played a diamond in the rough opposite screen legend Dilip Kumar, and for Kapoor to hold his own while acting alongside the thespian translated into clap-worthy scenes. The sensitive portrayal of Kapoor’s Munna from a tough street kid to an uprights citizen was wonderfully juxtaposed with Kumar’s Vinod, who fell from grace after an ill-fated night snatched away that which he held most dear.
7. Ittefaq (1969)
If it’s difficult to choose the most memorable films of Yash Chopra, it’s quite the task choosing a favorite song from his movies, thus making the fact that he directed a dark, suspense thriller with no songs, nearly impossible to believe. Chopra accomplished such a feat with Rajesh Khanna as the leading man, who himself was known for starring in romantic films with the most melodious of tunes. Directing a film without songs continues to be on the wish list of many Hindi filmmakers, and to know a filmmaker celebrated for his glamorous romances and incredible ear for music did so over thirty years ago, further adds to Chopra’s prolific status.
6. Kaala Patthar (1979)
Chopra brought to life another gritty tale written by the legendry writing duo Salim-Javed which had romance take a back seat to action. Haunted by his past as a disgraced navy officer accused of abandoning ship, Amitabh Bachchan’s character finds refuge in backbreaking work as a coalminer to escape his past life and in some ways, repent for his sin. The class struggle between coalminers and mine owners hark back to Chopra’s roots in the BR Chopra style of filmmaking, while Salim-Javed’s writing further blurred the definition of a traditional Hindi film hero.
5. Waqt (1965)
The first major Hindi motion picture to bring together an exciting ensemble of A-listers that included Balraj Sahni, Raaj Kumar, Sunil Dutt, Sadhana, Shashi Kapoor and Sharmila Tagore, Waqt wrote the book on the premise of reunification. Predecessor to the classic Amar Akbar Anthony, Waqt is an emotional story of a family torn apart by an earthquake. The movie also explores the fickle nature of time and how man shouldn’t expect to be continually favored by the stars. Delightful music, a beautiful cast, Raaj Kumar’s classic dialogues and the chemistry between actors make Waqt a bona fide, evergreen film.
4. Chandni (1989)
This is a heroine’s show all the way. A shining example of Chopra’s famed romances with a chiffon sari-clad muse surrounded by the Swiss Alps, Chandni is a love triangle where the woman caught in the middle yields all the power, yet is rendered powerless by the intensity of her love. The heroine favoring a possessive man who sees her as a trophy is testimony to the fact that one can never forget their first, true love, making it a potential source of weakness. Virtually a love-letter to Sri Devi’s incredible beauty, Chandni celebrated femininity in a time when macho action films ruled at the box office.
3. Dharmputra (1961)
Fresh from assisting brother BR Chopra in creating socially conscious films, Chopra explored a part of history he was all too familiar with as a person who lived through the partition of India. In Dharmputra, blatant bigotry and Hindu fundamentalism were on full display while the horror of partition played out in the background. The lives of families coming to terms with their new reality, and the lead protagonist’s crisis regarding his religious identity made for a thought-provoking tale told in a classic melodramatic style. The first Hindi feature to address partition head-on was met with resistance, and it is said when Chopra learned of violence breaking out in theaters, he promised never to make such a controversial film again.
2. Silsila (1981)
Combine powerful acting, a fantastic soundtrack and crackling chemistry amongst the cast and you’ve got an unforgettable piece of cinema. A film that’s made a permanent place for itself in film lore, bolstered by off-camera rumors, Silsila is a story of faith in the institution of marriage triumphing over romantic love. The romantic love came in the form of adultery but was made palatable by the fact that the noticeably mismatched married couples were brought together by circumstances, not choice. Authentically portraying a clandestine affair with scenes of protagonists almost getting caught, while showing the distress an extra-marital affair causes family and friends, Silsila is testimony to Chopra’s talent in handling human emotions with utmost sensitivity.
1. Deewar (1975)
Often credited for skyrocketing Amitabh Bachchan’s career and forever tattooing the label of ‘Angry young man’ on the star, Deewar is another example of a man ‘s inability to escape his past by defining himself by it. Writers Salim-Javed, who themselves were catapulted to stardom with this film, retold 1961’s classic Ganga Jumna’s story of two brothers on the opposite side of the law in a bold, hard-hitting style. The writing duo upheld their reputation for memorable writing and to this day dialogues from Deewar solicit claps and whistles. Charged performances, a stellar script and Chopra’s skillful execution make Deewar not just a milestone in Chopra’s career, but also in the history of Hindi cinema.
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