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Sculpting YRF women through contrasting visions of Yash and Aditya Chopra

Koral Dasgupta @KoralDasgupta

Updated: June 8, 2015, 11:21 AM IST
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Actor Anushka Sharma says women from Yash Raj Films (YRF) are a brand.There would be hardly any Bollywood enthusiast who wouldn't agree to this. Yash Raj women are most definitely a style statement, with beauty-personality-attitude-aptitude-intelligence all assembled together in right proportions to create the perfect Women of Substance with a predominantly Desi flavour. And every leading lady who romances the big screen at Bollywood aspires to grace themselves with the YRF stamp in their CVs for obvious reasons.

It would hence be interesting to understand what the Yash Raj heroine is all about and how the father-son duo at YRF has painted the image of a woman through the films they envisioned. I will consider here only the films that are directed by Yash Chopra and Aditya Chopra because they would reflect an immediate understanding of the makers, for the women they created on screen! Of course there are 22 films directed by Yash Chopra as against only 3 directed by Aditya Chopra, which might make it sound a little unfair to compare or contrast. But the trends that show upright even with a lesser filmograph are strong enough for me to base an argument. Also, Aditya Chopra's gross unavailability to the media did not allow me to find enough quotes on him during the research; however, I most certainly trust that the readers would find sense in my analogy in the paragraphs that follow.

Though the basic film-philosophy of the father-son duo is quite different, it is pretty interesting that their portrayal of women speak of an entirely different story. When Yash Chopra's films talk about "love" as an ethereal experience that can arouse innermost turmoil dissolving the thin line between right and wrong, Aditya Chopra's focus seems to be the youth and a portrayal of its characteristic restlessness that make the hero run through fields of fire to win over his lady-love! Yash Chopra could convincingly explain Amitabh Bachchan's prolonged affection for his objects of desire in films like Kabhie Kabhie or Silsila even when the ladies were married off to someone else; the audience experienced his courage as a film-maker with plots like those in Lamhe (a man in love with a lady has her daughter falling for him) or Darr (a man goes to criminal extents chasing the woman of his dreams). And he managed to justify all unconventional conflicts through just one simple Shakespearean philosophy which says "All is fair in love and War"! In comparison, Aditya Chopra's choice of films introduce him as the mastermind of a generational leap where the turbulence of many socio-economic and political changes of the country were reflecting in his content and yet he chose to remain grounded in his basic understanding of "love" and "lovers"!

This background serves as the root against both these film-makers' understanding of women and the corresponding reflection in their respective films.

Rakhee, the Yash Raj heroine predominantly from 1970's, has the following to say about him. "He (Yash Chopra) went by the heart. His approach to filmmaking was lyrical. There was no vulgarity about his presentation. And he was fascinated with femininity. He had a certain image and vision of the ideal woman. You won't find his heroines behaving, dressing or talking loudly."And there is not a single human being who has known the stalwart and doesn't reiterate the same about him. The emotional Yash Chopra presented women as sensuous, beautiful, surreal! There was a rhythm and poetry in the way ladies conducted themselves in his films. The use of white in the costumes of heroines exhibited peace and purity as per his own declaration. His understanding of women thus lied in their tenderness and innocence that are supposed to be their traditional qualities and has been repeatedly explained in novels and poems of literary geniuses. He coupled such visuals of beauty with pristine locations and natural elements like rains or sunshine, and tried to equate his women with nature. In the same interview (as above), Rakhee also recollected how their unit would sit together enjoying lunches while actors today hardly eat to maintain their body! Kajol, a top actor from '90s too told Times of India that Yash Chopra never asked his heroines to lose weight. Apart from harping on the good-naturedness of the film-maker, this fact also sufficiently summarizes the way he visualized women. Chopra probably found beauty in a woman's fullness, and not necessarily in the perfection of her measurements! Rather, his woman was bounteous and spontaneous, not trimmed by artificial interventions just like nature appears in its beauty all by its inherent qualities. Even in character, Chopra's women were spontaneous and dignified! However, he broke away from portraying his women as weak, timid or powerless. Rather, he voted for strong women with a voice of their own. Lost in the sublime white chiffon saris, on the peaks of Alps, in gardens full of colourful blooms, and torrential downpours turning the scenes into a dreamlike sequence, Chopra could have easily transformed his women into a trophy-heroine and audience probably wouldn't have complained. But the film-maker refused to give in to that temptation. Rather, even though clubbed with heavenly beauty and heart-touching sensuousness, what shone unapologetically was the Woman In Dilemma! Most of Chopra's films were about love triangles, where the leading lady had to take a decision and she firmly went ahead exuding enormous strength of character and no hesitation, even if her actions were not quite in line with the conventional practices. With solid script-backed characteristics, Chopra's women were demurely head-strong, free-willed, independent and had this eternal quality of taking risks. Both Rekha and Jaya Bachchan took that risk in Silsila, Sridevi in Chandni and Lamhe, Karishma Kapoor in Dil To Pagal Hai, Rakhee in Kabhie Kabhie, Rani Mukherjee and Priety Zinta in Veer-Zara; and even before he left his mortal form the director ensured that his last two women - Katrina and Anushka - exhibited the same strength of mind and risk-taking abilities while facing their dilemmas in Jab Tak Hain Jaan.

Aditya Chopra, on the contrary, is more grounded when it comes to portraying women. His women are quirky, mischievous, fun-loving and they believe in coming back to the family at the end of the day. Given the three films that he has directed (Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Mohabbatein, Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi), it seems that his idea of women lie in their simplicity. These are the women with a dream - a dream that very closely defines their aspirations and their being - and yet, they can sacrifice it if it comes as a barrier to the expectations of their families. Compared to those brave risk-takers whom Yash Chopra had introduced, Aditya Chopra brought to his audience the conservative, traditional women who are willing to sacrifice! Aditya Chopra's films, all three with Shah Rukh Khan in the lead, were probably explaining traditional India to the diasporic audience and to the foreigners, as much as it was served on the plates of the domestic viewers, because Liberalisation policies of '90's had just opened doors to global takers. The junior Chopra's women were thus conceived with a characteristic softness, which is the familiar picture of traditional India and directly confronts his father's ideals of unrelenting, stone-willed femme fatales. Aditya Chopra's heroines conformed to the same beauty, dignity and grace that Yash Raj Films are known for, but his women seem to be far more practical, obedient, who chose to fight their internal conflicts with their souls loyal to family-imposed restrictions and never crossed their boundaries to venture into a politically incorrect side. These women thus were righteous andresponsible, being home bound and docile compared to some brave women a decade ago who could fearlessly declare what they wanted and take non-negotiable stands!

Surprising it is, that Aditya Chopra, whose films made him a youth ambassador, actually played his women on conventional grounds when the men were breaking barriers! In Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge he got two fathers (Amrish Puri and Anupam Kher) conforming to two different generations confront each other; the traditional, bureaucratic dad had brought up a home-bound daughter while a modern, friendly dad had brought up a trendy son; and both fathers claimed to be rooted unconditionally to India. In Mohabbatein, he got the rebel of '70's to collide with theflexibilities of 2000s, when the Angry Young Man (Amitabh Bachchan) met the Change Agent (Shah Rukh Khan) and both wanted to establish their ideals as absolute. Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi was the challenge of a man to bring into existence his wife's dreams which were drastically different from what he was and wait to find whether his wife chooses the dream without him or the reality with him! And in all three films, the women sufficiently keep their fancies under wraps to suit themselves to the whims of the men guiding or orchestrating them.

Of course Aditya Chopra has a lot more to offer to the industry and we are yet to experience his vision through the characters that he chooses to explore.

In this, and next two columns for IBN Live, which are themed on "Bollywood and Women", it felt most appropriate to start with Yash Raj Films and experience Bollywood women through the creative inputs of the father-son duo, exploring feminity like no one ever did! Coming up next are Femme Fatale - Bollywood Women with a Difference followed by a discussion on "The Other Women" of Indian Silver Screen!
First Published: January 22, 2015, 4:13 PM IST
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