Gorgeous heroines draped in billowing saris romancing handsome heroes on grassy knolls with arms spread wide, dancing to music that pulls on your heartstrings – Yash Chopra redefined romance for Bollywood and, over half a century, moulded the landscape of this -industry.
His films were shot in what were exotic locales for millions of Indians who had few opportunities to travel abroad. He had the main protagonists of his films traipsing through tulip fields in the Netherlands or singing and dancing near Switzerland’s idyllic lakes.
The “king of romance”, whose career spanned more than five decades and 50 films, died on Sunday after contracting dengue fever. He was 80.
From his directorial debut Dhool Ka Phool in 1959, right up until his latest project – the yet-to-be-released Jab Tak Hai Jaan – Chopra presented his audiences with an intriguing mix of experimental fare and formula films.
In 1961, he made a hard-hitting social drama, Dharmputra, based on the Indian partition of 1947. The film was a huge risk, but Chopra did it, and he did it with aplomb.
When the film industry was busy churning out action-packed films in the late 1980s, Chopra decided to make the romantic musical Chandni (1989). His third film Waqt (1965), featuring an ensemble cast led by Sunil Dutt and Raaj Kumar, gave birth to Bollywood’s beloved concept of “multi-starrers”. Both films were critical and commercial successes.
His films have catapulted actors to the dizzier heights of stardom: Shashi Kapoor in Dharmputra (1961), Amitabh Bachchan in Deewar (1975), Sridevi in Chandni (1989) and Shah Rukh Khan in Darr (1993). It was 1995’s Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, starring Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol, that established Chopra as the industry’s “king of romance”. So timeless is the appeal of Chopra’s film, it has been playing daily in a Mumbai cinema since its release, making it the longest-playing film in history.
He painted love on the big screen in myriad hues throughout his career: from innocent, young love in Dil To Pagal Hai, to crazy obsession in Darr – from cross-cultural romance in Veer-Zaara to a complex love triangle in -Silsila.
His last contribution to Bollywood – his swan song – is also a love story. Jab Tak Hai Jaan stars Rukh Khan and Katrina Kaif and will be in cinemas next month. In typical Chopra style, Kaif will wear a sari and Rukh Khan will spread his arms out for her on the Swiss Alps. This time, though, we will know that we are witnessing the end of an era.