From Yash Chopra, With Love: The Man Who Convinced India Dil Toh Pagal Hai

Bollywood

From Yash Chopra, With Love: The Man Who Convinced India Dil Toh Pagal Hai

Illustration: Aishwarya Nayak

If you’re a ’90s kid, chances are the phrase “someone somewhere is made for you” immediately conjures up the image of an incandescent Madhuri Dixit, clad in all-white, being embraced by Shah Rukh Khan under a spotlight. This phrase, while it is from Dil Toh Pagal Hai, could well be attributed to the world’s go-to source for romantic fiction, Mills & Boon. But for us desi millennials, it will always be reminiscent of Yash Chopra, Bollywood’s original king of romance and a man who showed us that love comes in many, many forms.

Romance, that great staple we all need in our lives, is the grease that keeps the machinery of Bollywood churning. Yash Chopra was – remains? – the overseer of this machinery. In an industry littered with sagas of love, some great and some not-so-great, Yash Chopra emerged as a filmmaker who gave us the feels. He told honest stories of love, that defined the convention – and then proceeded to demolish that convention. From Daag: A Poem of Love (1973) to Jab Tak Hai Jaan (2012) his movies span the range from run-of-the mill “boy meets girl” tales to complicated, multi-faceted and thought-provoking stories, each with a different treatment of love. 

People world over got their dose of romantic fiction from Mills & Boon. With a wide range of novels and genres, each dealing with a different aspect of love, these are a rite of passage for most teenagers and even grown-ups. Back when Yash Chopra started to explore romance, M&Bs were too foreign for us. Chopra took these so-called “foreign” ideas of romance and Indianised them, complete with beautiful locations, melodious music, and much drama.

For most Indian millennials, Dil Toh Pagal Hai (1997) was our first brush with Yash Chopra. The film came at a time when Bollywood was largely focused on violence, revenge sagas, and machismo. The overnight sensation reignited SRK’s career, and accorded him his most popular tagline: “Rahul… naam toh suna hoga?” This was also the first time most of us saw a sensitive, urban romance on the big screen, for we were otherwise watching either sprawling family sagas, Govinda one-liners, or Suniel Shetty and Akshay Kumar’s roundhouse kicks. Most heroines were relegated to the fringes of a script, but with Madhuri Dixit and Karisma Kapoor under the spotlight, Chopra changed that. DTPH is often called a soppy romance, and maybe it is one too, but it glitters with the fairydust of Yash Chopra’s magic.

yash_chopra

Back when Yash Chopra started to explore romance, M&Bs were too foreign for us. Chopra took these so-called “foreign” ideas of romance and Indianised them, complete with beautiful locations, melodious music, and much drama.

Photo by Ferdaus Shamim/WireImage

Here’s the thing about Yash Chopra – despite the cliché that he is associated with, he never could be pinned down to a stereotype. Even as he defined the romantic canon, he went about redefining it with each film. In some of his older films, he tackled subjects that were considered too radical for the mainstream audience. While love was always at the core of all his movies, with every release, he reinforced the notion that it is not one-dimensional. 

Much like Mills & Boon, Chopra’s films deal with different types of romances. The ideas that no two love stories are alike (even if they seem so on the surface) and there is no single formula to romantic fiction are paramount. Sometimes love is defiant and not something that is considered “agreeable” by social standards, but that is not something to be ashamed of. As long as it is honest, no love is tainted.

In what could be considered one of the first mainstream Bollywood films to do so, Yash Chopra handled the controversial and delicate theme of bigamy in Daag (1973). A film about a man’s struggle to choose between the wife he thought was lost forever and the woman he married under the same illusion, it has an unusual end, where he continues to live with two women. In a time when making films that agreed with social conventions was the norm, Chopra proved that unconventional love is not always besmirched, a feat he repeated with Silsila in 1981. Amit (Amitabh Bachchan) and Chandni (Rekha) are star-crossed lovers who can’t be together. Once married to their respective spouses, they meet again and the old flame of romance is rekindled. Adultery forms the central theme of Silsila also, a love story apparently inspired by the “real-life romance” of its lead stars. Although the “right thing” is done in the end, with everyone returning to their spouses, Silsila is viewed as a cornerstone when it comes to unorthodox relationships. 

What’s important to note is the milieu in which these films appeared. With a host of “ghar-parivar-sanskaar” films being produced every day, the focus was largely on keeping things conventional. Women were self-sacrificing and men were upright. In such times, to show women and men who followed their hearts and disregarded society was commendable, and if the success of Daag and Silsila is anything to go by, the audience agreed wholeheartedly.

Dil Toh Pagal Hai is often called a soppy romance, and maybe it is one too, but it glitters with the fairydust of Yash Chopra’s magic.

And then came Lamhe (1991). We always knew of love that bloomed between two young lovers, but with Lamhe, Chopra made us realise that ishq knows no limits. A film way ahead of its time, it completely disregarded oft-reinforced boundaries like age: A man falls in love with an older woman and years later, the woman’s daughter falls in love with him. “Mohabbat ne umar ke farq ko kabhi nahi maana.” Sridevi’s memorable dialogue sums it all up for us. It didn’t really sit well with the audience in the early ’90s, but today it is considered a milestone in Indian cinema. 

Two years later, Yash Chopra once again turned the idea of romantic love on its head with Darr, a psychological thriller that explore the dark, obsessive, scary side of love. At a time when romance in Bollywood was essentially the story of two kindred souls struggling to stay together while the world conspired against them, with dollops of melodrama and violence, Darr reminded us that “love stories” aren’t always beautiful and harmless. While the film has a conventional hero in Sunny Deol, the only thing we remember about Darr is a maniacal Shah Rukh Khan stammering, “I love you, K…K…Kiran”.

In a career that spanned over 50 years, Yash Chopra introduced to us every dimension of love… love that has no rules, love that cannot be contained by societal pressure, love that is one-sided, love that is crazy. Much before we let our cynical side get the better of us, he assured us that it’s okay to follow our hearts. And today we might have become swipe crazy, but we all have that moment of despair when we tell ourselves, “Kahin na kahin, koi na koi mere liye banaya gaya hai … aur kabhi na kabhi main usse zaroor milongi.” We only have Yash Chopra to thank for that hope.

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