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Yash Chopra Retrospective: Australia
- Lidia Ostepeev           Let us know what you think about this feature article

YASH CHOPRA RETROSPECTIVE: AUSTRALIA

Sydney 6-18 October / Melbourne 11-25 October

Seven of Yash Chopra’s romantic films are being screened in the Australian cities of Sydney and Melbourne as part of the Indian Film Festival 2006 presented by MG Distribution. In its fourth year, the festival aims to reach beyond the NRI audience. The Yash Chopra Retrospective includes – Kabhi Kabhie (Sometimes-1976), Silsila (Continuity-1981), Chandni (1989), Lamhe (The Moment-1991), Darr (Fear-1993), Dil To Pagal Hai (The Heart is Crazy-1997) and Veer-Zaara (2004). With magical moonlight, tinkling bangles and postcard vistas of Switzerland, these films are sure to charm movie buffs willing to indulge in some Bollywood nostalgia. Although there may be the potential for a chuckle or two at the fashions of the day and some of the coincidences and excesses arising from the storylines, Chopra’s themes are essentially timeless. Strong screenplays, memorable songs and wonderful performances spotlight love in its multi-dimensional glory. According to Chopra, “love is the only emotion that can never go out of fashion.”

The word “retrospective” can be applied to three vantage points from which these films can be viewed. Firstly and most obviously, these Chopra classics are a rich sample or overview of the director’s work in the romantic genre going back some three decades. Secondly, the protagonists of these works are often caught up in retrospective reveries of their own, giving the narratives a melancholy flavour and lastly, Chopra’s most recent film - Veer-Zaara can be viewed as a retrospectively tuned tribute to his earlier films. Characteristic patterns, preoccupations and motifs emerge from these perspectives.

Ranging from the obsessed lover in Darr to the happy-go-lucky dreamer in Dil To Pagal Hai, Chopra’s protagonists are a love-struck lot; sensitive young men who succumb to the callous or capricious demands of time and destiny. Amit stops writing poetry (Kabhi Kabhie); a disabled Rohit locks himself in a tomb-like room (Chandni); Veer is imprisoned in Pakistan (Veer-Zaara); Viren is held in limbo by a memory (Lamhe) and Rahul is trapped in his own crazy mind (Darr). The denouement often finds the leading male characters reflecting on loves lost; sometimes reclaiming them; sometimes moving on.

Love is nearly always personified as a beautiful girl in a sari who dances in the rain or in the sunlight on a grassy slope; who sways on a floral swing or gazes wistfully at the moon. It doesn’t matter if she’s called Chandni, Zaara, Pooja or Pallavi. Whoever she is, her bangles, anklets and attributes are the subject of songs and dreams. Sadly though, she is often relegated to the past by arranged marriages, accidents or vindictive deeds; to become a memory which is stored away in the recesses of the male psyche. Viren reminisces about Pallavi as he contemplates a portrait of her. Framed by multi-coloured bangles, Chandni smiles enigmatically at Rohit from her photo. Zaara runs through the golden field of Veer’s dreams and Pooja is captured in Amit’s love poems. Time is thus momentarily frozen, as Chopra’s damaged males gaze retrospectively at their fractured lives and acknowledge the beauty of the romance that was, or exists only in the mind. Nearly all the films in the retrospective have nostalgia and retrospection imbedded in their themes.

It’s interesting that Chopra’s most recent directorial venture Veer-Zaara can itself be regarded as a mini-retrospective of his work – a kind of retrospective within a retrospective if you like. With a screenplay written by his son Aditya Chopra, this film can be seen as a tribute to Yash Chopra’s brand of cinema. To begin with there’s its message of harmony between India and Pakistan. Chopra explored this idea back in the late 50s and early 60s in both Dhool Ka Phool and Dharamputra. These and subsequent films expressed his belief that love is not beholden to political boundaries, age, custom or religion.

In an interview with his brother B. R. Chopra (1999), Yash Chopra discusses the disappointment associated with the failure of his second directorial effort - Dharamputra (1961). With its call for harmony between Hindus and Muslims, this critically acclaimed film did not appeal to the public. Forty three years later, the commercially successful Veer-Zaara has perhaps communicated the message a little more subtly or seductively; perhaps it has just come at a better time. Whatever the case, it seems as though thematically the director returns to a familiar, heartfelt issue.

In the pre-intermission part of Veer-Zaara, Chopra identifies his female lead with the land and Punjabi tradition. Of course it’s rather paradoxical because she is Pakistani but the connections made, serve to heighten the film’s message of peace. The Lodi fires and warm communal celebration in Veer’s village coupled with the sounds of folk instruments and Gurdas Mann’s voice, link Veer’s love for India with his love for Zaara. In Lamhe, Pallavi – the love interest, embodies the spirit of Rajasthan as she sings and dances around a campfire in the desert accompanied by the raw voices of folk musicians. Viren, the young man who worships her, is initially a detached westerner in his orientation but learns to respect and love the land due to her influence. The lover, the beloved and the land: it’s almost a love triangle. Admittedly, many of Chopra’s love songs have been filmed abroad but these interludes are generally fantasies or honeymoons while the place where the lovers will be happiest is still India. For Chopra “the heart [of a film] has to be Indian” even though filmmaking techniques will differ over time. “When you make a film from the heart you cannot go wrong.”

Post-intermission Veer-Zaara develops into a courtroom drama. In the earlier part of his career, Chopra worked alongside his brother B. R. Chopra to make films with social messages like Dhool Ka Phool (1959) about the problems associated with illegitimacy and Kanoon (1960) about the fallibility of the legal system. Both films contain dramatic courtroom scenes that elevate personal issues to matters of national or universal importance as does Veer-Zaara.

It is no coincidence that Chopra’s message in Veer-Zaara is delivered quietly, in the form of a poem. Poetry in lyric form and in verse is a feature of every film in the retrospective. In Kabhi Kabhie, Amit dies a spiritual death when he stops being a poet to become an engineer. In Silsila he sacrifices his artistic side in deference to his departed brother but realises that it can’t be suppressed. Art and poetry are of course synonymous with love and poems voiced over a myriad of postcard-beautiful settings are Chopra’s way of heightening the romance. Images of forests, waterfalls, morning mists, sunlight filtering through trees embellish his films.

In drawing out some of the characteristics of these classics, mention needs to be made of their entertainment value and the director’s versatility. Kabhi Kabhie is on one hand the serious story of thwarted, middle-aged relationships; on the other hand, it’s a brighter story of young love. The lyrics of the title song which are rather tragic in the context of the film, take on a comedic bounce when sung by Pooja’s eccentric father in Dil To Pagal Hai or an outrageous Anupam Kher in Lamhe. A glimpse of Yash Chopra hugging his wife appears in the charming opening montage of Dil To Pagal Hai; a little reminder that humour, lightness and grace are never too far away.

As viewers waft out of the cinema humming the likes of Kabhi Kabhie – leaving a trail of rose petals in their wake, they may take with them memories of lovers’ trysts in floral fields, on snowy slopes and near campfires by still lakes - all coloured by a touch melancholy. The Yash Chopra retrospective is an opportunity for Australian audiences to enjoy the sentimental but always uplifting cinema of a great director.

Yash Chopra opened the retrospective in Sydney and Melbourne. When introducing Kabhi Kabhie, Mr. Chopra said that it was one of his dearest creations so he was pleased to see it “alive after 30 years.” He also reiterated his belief that “pure love stories are immortal.” Other guests at the opening were directors Rakeysh Mehra, Kunal Kohli, Homi Adjania, Apoorva Lakhia and actors Simi Garewal and Dipannita Sharma. In Melbourne Mr. Chopra was guest-of-honour at a gala dinner and Indian fashion-show which raised funds for World Vision Australia’s Child Rescue Program.


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