When I heard that Yash Chopra had died, among the many thoughts in my head was a line from the title song of Om Shanti Om – "Roya tha pyaar uski maut par". It came to me so suddenly and so clearly that I felt like it could have been written for him. Love wept when he died.
And so did I. I don’t think I’ve ever cried about the death of a movie director before; movies, especially in Bollywood, are usually spoken of in terms of the actors, so our association with directors is never as strong. But this man changed that. He became a brand, he changed the way we see human relationships, and he did it in such style. Busting the stereotype that sweeping romance and beautiful chiffon-clad women dancing in the Alps could only mean superficial, feel-good candyfloss, Yash Chopra dared, in the 1990s, to make Lamhe, with its shades of incest; and Darr, which had us all simultaneously repulsed by, and somehow, sympathetic to, an obsessive psychopathic lover. He made Veer-Zaara (one of my favourite movies), about the quietly selfless love between a Hindu Indian Air Force officer and a Pakistani Muslim – and he made it with no jingoism and a genuine appreciation of both countries and the similarities between their cultures. And these are just movies from my generation. For decades before, he’d been taking risks, making movies about illegitimacy, infidelity, bigamy, communal riots, economic disparity. He used every mainstream Bollywood cliché in the book to tell us the most non-clichéd stories about human nature. About what that one emotion, love, can do to us, what it can make us do. Not just the king of romance, then, but a progressive, unconventional film-maker.
As a producer too, Yash Chopra was a visionary who constantly encouraged new talent, whether in front of the camera or behind it. Yes there were many insufferable disasters from Yash Raj Films, such as Neal n Nikki, Pyaar Impossible, Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, Ishaqzaade. But there were also Chak De! India, Band Baaja Baaraat, Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year, Saathiya, Hum Tum. And no superlative will ever be enough to describe Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, a movie that released 17 years ago and is still running at a theatre in Mumbai. But whether the films worked or not, no one could accuse Yash Chopra of not trying to do different things and work with different people. No one could accuse this 80-year-old of not moving with the times.
By the time I write this, every paper, every news channel will have said it all – an era, an icon, an institution, a legend. But for me, for anyone who loves movies and believes that they make the world a better place, he was, above all, a guy with a lot of love to give.