November 10, 2012

Adieu...Yash Chopra

It's been days since Yash Chopra unexpectedly passed away and yet, I still continue to read tributes to one of Hindi cinema's most significant film-makers. For me, Chopra's cinema counted amongst my favorites, films such as Lamhe, Chandni, Kabhie Kabhie and Silsila having merited several watchings. While Chopra had been largely associated with his signature trademark of chiffons, Swiss Alps, and luxurious escapism*, I feel that one of the greatest qualities about his films and which many of his admirers have highlighted is how he depicted the textured nature of human relationships. Admittedly, he faltered in places, the representation sometimes being uneven and shallow... yet there was a powerfully identifiable element to the relationships and scenarios that he presented in his cinema, which was in deep contrast to the melodrama and excess that his contemporaries subscribed to.

I must admit that I was largely disappointed with Veer Zaara though and was not particularly looking forward to watching his swansong production, Jab Tak Hai Jaan (sorry SRK/Katrina fans!)...even though his romantic films located in a lavish, plushly padded world of spacious rooms, gleaming marble floors, blood-red rose petals, sprawling gardens, debonair men and elegant women, the backdrop nevertheless managed to remain just a backdrop, rather than overwhelming the film's protagonists and story-line. Veer Zaara was a magnificently appointed production yet I experienced a distinct lack of pathos in the narrative and Jab Tak Hai Jaan did not seem any more promising either.

His passing away has made all the difference though and I will now be curious to interpret his last cinematic thoughts...meanwhile, here are some notes on my personal favorites from Yash Chopra's stable:

i) Silsila...

I first watched Silsila during my university days, previously having only glimpsed it in bits and pieces on TV; since then, I have enjoyed re-watching it although I continue to remain hugely perplexed by its ending, which I felt was artificial and in complete dissonance with the film's overall tone. It is now but common knowledge that the original heroines for this movie were Smita Patil and Parveen Babi and they were replaced at the last minute by Jaya Bachchan and Rekha. Keeping the discussion strictly to reel, rather than real, life, apart from some great performances and scenes (Sanjeev Kumar was outstanding and made his presence felt inspite of the electric triad of Bachchan spouses and Rekha), Silsila also had a wonderful musical score. Till date, I can't help but remember the song, 'Dekha ek Khwab' whenever I see a tulip:) I also enjoyed 'Pehli Pehli Baar', which celebrated Bachchan and Rekha's incredible chemistry and 'Sar se Sarke', which is admittedly uber schmaltzy...and yet has been one of my favorite songs for years.

ii) Lamhe

I have written about Lamhe in an alternative context earlier; it's undoubtedly a film that I can repeatedly return to despite the fact that it is problematic on so many levels. A teenage girl, Pooja falling in love with a man, Viren who has harbored an unrequited passion for her mother, Pallavi for many years, the film has been touted as Chopra's most provocative venture. Nevertheless, what I like most about the film is the depiction of relationships: Viren's unarticulated feelings towards Pallavi, Viren's best friend, Prem's unstinting loyalty towards Viren, and Viren and Pooja's mirror-relationship with their mother-figure, Dai-ja are the notable relationships that Chopra fleshes out in detail. Yet, every time I watch the film, I can't help but think of the many other stories concealed within the frames and begging to be narrated: who exactly is Prem? What of Daija?

Surprisingly, even though I have watched the film countless number of times, I have never been such a fan of its sound-track; as a child though, I simply adored 'Morni' or 'Meri Bindiya' and must have listened to the tape endlessly. As an adult, the only song that really registers with me and encapsulates the essence of the film is the title track, 'Yeh Lamhe'

iii) Chandni

Chandni is a fluffier film in comparison to the ones above and yet, if you peel away the celluloid glossiness of Switzerland, wedding sangeets, Delhi languor and Bombay glamour, and ubiquitous chiffon saris, the film is full of stories of flawed characters, much like a family of cracked crystal figurines. The film is a little more shallow in comparison to the others...nevertheless, as a casual watch, though, it's pretty enjoyable as is fun musical score: the infectious 'Chandni O Meri Chandi', the haunting 'Tere Mere Honthon Pe', and the mother of wedding songs, 'Mere Haathon Mein Nau Nau Chudiyan' are undoubted classics.

iv) Kabhie Kabhie

Surprisingly, even though its title track is a long cherished one of mine (and millions of others!), I haven't watched this film too many times. In fact, I remember watching it alongside all of the films mentioned above as part of a Yash Chopra film marathon during university and while the above films certainly engaged me, I was rather disappointed with Kabhie Kabhie for sundry reasons. The reason why I am including it here is probably because I thought that the film made for an interesting exploration of the intimate relationship between writing/poetry and life. I especially liked Bachchan in his portrayal of a poet and when later having renounced his writing; his rendition of 'Kabhie Kabhie' is one of the most outstanding moments in  the film. Plus, having extensively written poetry during my childhood, I completely related to the sentiments of 'Main Pal do Pal'..but nothing beats the exquisite beauty of the title track sung by Mukesh...

 What is your favorite Yash Chopra movie?

*Yash Chopra showcased plenty of grit in movies such as 'Mashaal' and of course, the iconic 'Deewar' - I remember reading an article about the making of the film in 'Filmfare' when I was a teenager and shocked to learn that Chopra had directed strongly had he become synonymous with all things beautiful and escapist!

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