Another star has fallen. And with it ends the era of poetic cinema. On Sunday, October 21, the film industry and film lovers around the world were heartbroken to hear of the demise of Mr. Yash Chopra. A towering figure of Indian cinema, a pioneer with the most humble personality, Chopra leaves a legacy that will remain unmatched for generations to come.
Having just turned 80 on September 27, Chopra defined many aspects of mainstream Hindi cinema. He leaves behind numerous unforgettable films, from powerful social dramas to the colorful and escapist romances that delved into complex human relationships. He started his career by assisting his brother, B.R. Chopra, and soon after his directorial debut Dhool Ka Phool (1959) about an unwed mother with an illegitimate child launched him as a director keen on social commentary.
After the success of his first film, there was no turning back. Chopra directed several social dramas, tackling issues around communal harmony, familial loyalty, adultery, economic inequality, injustice, and much more. With a vision and sensibility grounded in the ideals of an emerging India, Chopra's films contributed significantly in putting Indian cinema on the world map.
He was much more than the director of colorful romantic films, a genre he embraced much later in his career. Some of Chopra's best works were action dramas and thrillers. His 1969 songless thriller Ittefaq was the bold and experimental story of an accused murderer on the run who takes shelter in the home of an adulterous married woman. His career trajectory continued to rise, with the launch of his own production house, Yash Raj Films, in 1973.
He delivered one successful film after another, including Daag (1973), Kabhi Kabhie (1976) and Trishul (1978). However, one of his most iconic films was Deewar (1975), which catapulted up-and-coming actor Amitabh Bachchan to superstar status. After that, not only was he known for socially charged films, he also became a star-maker.
As Yash Raj Films grew to become the country's most prestigious banner, Chopra solidified the careers of Amitabh Bachchan, Sridevi, Shah Rukh Khan, Juhi Chawla, Karisma Kapoor, and Preity Zinta, among others. Once an actor had worked in a Yash Chopra film, their career graph zoomed ahead of any competition.
Chopra's tryst with the romance and family genre began with the bubbly Chandni (1989), a film that revived the musical romances of Hindi cinema. This was soon followed by Lamhe (1991), a film that was a box office dud but attained a cult status among critics and film aficionados for being ahead of its time. Never before had Hindi cinema witnessed a story of cross-generational love, and the audiences weren't ready for it still when it first released. However, Lamhe is now widely regarded as one of Chopra's best films.
Among his many existing laurels, Chopra became known for even more. He started the trend of filming in foreign locales, most notably the snow-clad mountains and pristine lakes of Switzerland. He established an ideal for the strong-willed, independent yet beautiful sari-clad women - the quintessential Yash Chopra heroine that every actress in the industry wanted to check off their list.
Through almost every single film he directed, Chopra strived to convey an unshakeable core message - that there is hope for harmony between people. Relationships may be incredibly complex, and the social binds may be restrictive, but at the very center of every human being is the desire to belong and be loved. That, in the end, has been his greatest contribution to Indian cinema.
Chopra's swan song, the Shah Rukh Khan-Katrina Kaif starrer Jab Tak Hai Jaan, is scheduled to release on November 13. On the occasion of his 80th birthday, in a special interview conducted by Shah Rukh Khan, Chopra announced this would be his last directorial venture. Little did anyone know, he wouldn't even live to see it release.
In a life rich with beautiful stories that needed to be told, and accomplishments that not only made him iconic, but helped an entire industry rise to higher standards, Chopra has left a profound impact on Indian cinema. And with his last film releasing in less than a month, he leaves yet another contribution. Never before has the title of a last hurrah been more poignant. Jab Tak Hai Jaan. Until I cease to live.