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Yash Chopra Birth Anniversary: A Filmmaker Who Gave Women the Upper Hand in a Man’s World

Yash Chopra Birth Anniversary: A Filmmaker Who Gave Women the Upper Hand in a Man’s World

There’s more to the Yash Chopra heroine than just chiffon Sarees and romantic songs. On his Birth Anniversary, we are revisiting his representation of women in Hindi cinema.

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Bohni Bandyopadhyay

Much before Bollywood became woke enough to demand more women-centric content, Yash Chopra was a filmmaker painting women against beautiful backdrops, telling their stories of love and longing. Yes, the hero always wore leather jackets and sweaters while the women wore chiffon sarees on snowcapped mountains, but is that really very different from wearing backless blouses to Delhi weddings in December?

When the filmmaker passed away, many A-listers regretted that they could never get the chance to become a ‘Yash Raj heroine’. There was more to the Yash Chopra heroine than just pretty sarees and romantic song sequences. Although he didn’t formally make women-centric cinema, except for the Sridevi-starrer Chandni, his leading ladies were given due prominence even in the ‘angry young man’ genre films like Deewaar and Trishul in the 1970s.

In 1981 he made Silsila, and the audience’s biggest takeaway from that film is Amitabh Bachchan’s heart-wrenching longing for Rekha, expressed in songs and poems strewn all over the classic movie. The movie is path-breaking in its portrayal of an extra-marital affair as the main plot where the ‘other woman’ is not painted as the stereotypical vamp so common in Hindi cinema. It was a refreshing, realistic portrayal of complications in man-woman relationships.

During his 80th birthday celebrations, while in conversation with Shah Rukh Khan, he had said, “God has made women beautiful. I respect all women. I don’t see any ‘badness’ in them. I am doing my duty by making God’s creations even more beautiful.” Yes, they were complemented by tasteful decor, bespoke wardrobes and picturesque locales, but the pain and emotions of those women were important and relatable.

He continued to paint women beautifully on the 70mm canvas in Chandni and Lamhe. Chandni was a romantic musical with all the hallmarks of what has come to be known as the ‘Yash Chopra style’ - heroine-oriented, romantic, emotional, with melodic music used in songs picturised in foreign locations. The success of film further reinforced Sridevi's position as the top female star of the era.

Chandni marked the first collaboration between Chopra and Sridevi. They went on to work on Lamhe, another film with the bold theme of a young woman falling in love with a mature man. The film was considered ahead of its time, and has developed a cult following. Besides giving Sridevi centrestage with double roles, he further bolstered her part with songs like Morni Baga Maa and Kabhi Main Kahoon.

In Darr (1993), while dealing with yet another modern theme of the obsessive stalker, Chopra never loses focus in portraying the right and the wrong. There is not problematic Stockholm syndrome track – Juhi Chawla remains steadfast in hatred of her stalker, who is ultimately killed because of his own wrongdoings.

His films acted as a catapult for some actresses - Sharmila Tagore in Waqt and Daag and Raakhee in Trishul, Kabhie Kabhie and Kaala Patthar. Madhuri Dixit’s role in Dil To Pagal Hai is one of her most memorable ones, while her co-star Karisma Kapoor won a National Award for her supporting role in the film.

Right from Rakhee and Rekha to Sridevi and Madhuri Dixit, the filmmaker created a celebration of womanhood in his films with flattering close-ups, powerful dialogues and song-and-dance sequences. The camera made love to the woman in frame, but never objectified her. The Yash Chopra heroine is an object of desire, one that you revere and respect, for whom you reserve and indelible spot in your heart.


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