Mumbai: It started out as a promotional event for Yash Chopra’s latest movie on the occasion of his 80th birthday and ended with the grand old man of Hindi cinema announcing his retirement.
At a conversation staged between Chopra and Shah Rukh Khan, the lead actor of the forthcoming Jab Tak Hai Jaan (JTHJ), Chopra declared that he had had enough of direction, and that he would like to instead mentor younger film-makers and nurture his studio in suburban Andheri.
Like a well-scripted movie, the statement came as the climax of a seemingly casual chat between Khan and Chopra about the milestones in the director’s 53-year-long career—not quite the thing you’d except from a media event ahead of the Diwali release. In fact, the retirement announcement might well turn out to be a public relations masterstroke that sets the tone for the way in which JTHJ is going to approach the box office.
The emphasis all evening was on Chopra’s contributions to Hindi cinema, on legacy, continuity and experience. According to this spin, audiences who will line up to watch the movie on 13 November will be buying a bit of film history along with their ticket. The other movie that is taking on Jab Tak Hai Jaan by opening on the same day, Son of Sardaar, already looks like an upstart in comparison—and its makers haven’t even started promoting the film.
Jab Tak Hai Jaan is Chopra’s 22nd film as a director and his first in eight years after Veer-Zaara, a fact the press corps that had assembled at studio No. 3 at the Yash Raj Studios complex was never allowed to forget. “The main brand we’re focusing on is Yash Chopra,” one of the public relations executives at the event remarked before it started.
The assembled television and print journalists (the event was also streamed live on the Internet) were reminded of the range of subjects Chopra has tackled and the sheer number of actors he has showcased or launched. Notwithstanding the stars that Jab Tak Hai Jaan is packed with (the romantic drama also stars Anushka Sharma and Katrina Kaif), or the fact that it marks the first collaboration between Chopra, music director A.R. Rahman and lyricist Gulzar, the spotlight remained firmly on Chopra.
Some of the biggest hits in Khan’s career have been with Yash Raj Films (YRF), so it is fitting that the producer called upon his preferred leading man to drop the bombshell on those who were watching.
Khan, looking dapper in a black-and-white suit, put his emceeing skills to superb use. He claimed that his career was yoked to Chopra’s—the first film he watched in a theatre was Chopra’s Joshila; and he was watching Lamhe when he got a call from Chopra’s office to audition for Darr. The message was clear: Jab Tak Hai Jaan is a testament to well-worn relationships, between Chopra and his audiences, and between the film-maker and the star he partly helped create when he cast Khan in Darr in 1993. Chopra talked about how the release of his 1956 hit film, Waqt, was delayed by the first Indo-Pak war, why he struck away from his brother B.R. Chopra’s company and set up YRF in 1971, and how he directed Deewar and Kabhi Kabhie side by side.
Khan expertly balanced deference with his trademark irreverence—he made fun of Chopra’s baldness for instance—but Chopra had his back when he gently ticked off Khan for being late on set. He told Khan why he liked working with him. “Shah Rukh, you are one actor who never asked me, what is the story about, how much are you paying. We trust each other,” he said.
The press were fed droplets of information about Jab Tak Hai Jaan, of which they were none the wiser after today’s event. Chopra mentioned that the lead character is named Samar, and he hummed a few lines from one of the main songs on the soundtrack. Perhaps no other part of the event symbolized the accent on Chopra over his equally saleable leading man as the conversation about the casting of Chopra’s debut feature, Dhool Ka Phool, in 1959. Chopra recounted why the actor Raaj Kumar was dropped from the movie and replaced by Rajendra Kumar. Raaj Kumar had questioned Chopra’s directing chops, but rather than listening to him, B.R. Chopra, Yash Chopra’s brother and the movie’s producer, replaced the actor with Rajendra Kumar. He had guts, Yash Chopra said about his brother, as Khan grinned gamely. Like then, so now—the film-maker is the star, the actor plays second fiddle.