The visionary filmmaker who directed Indian cinema’s first multi-starrer Waqt …If Baldev Raj Chopra had lived longer he would be 106 years old on April 22. History has been a little unkind to Chopra Saab , granting a lot of credit to his younger brother Yash Chopra for the cinematic glory of the Chopra clan , when in fact it was BR Saab who taught his sibling everything about filmmaking. The Senior Chopra was a trueblue reformist filmmaker way ahead of his times, who addressed issues while entertaining the multitudes.Yash Chopra directed such landmarks of Hindi cinema as Dharmputra, Dhool Ka Phool, Waqt and Ittefaq for his brother’s banner before branching out as an independent producer-director with Daag in 1973. The parting was a severe blow to B R Saab. He never recovered from the separation from his brother,though he went on to make very successful films without his brother. A list of B R Chopra’s best directorial ventures:
1. Afsana(1951) : The father of double-role films, Afsana featured Ashok Kumar as two brothers Ratan and Chaman with totally different aspirations. To shoot a double role during those days was not as easy as it is today. B R Chopra had to shoot with one AshokKumar first, then with the other and coalesce the two shots together to make them look like one. Afsana is rightfully the pioneer of all famous double-role films that followed like Ram Aur Shyam, Seeta aur Geeta, Haseena Maan Jayegi and Judwaa.Ashok Kumarwas B R Chopra’s favourite male actor. They later collaborated for Kanoon(a songless courtroom drama in 1960) Ek Hi Raasta, Gumrah, etc
2. Naya Daur(1957): One of Indian cinema’s most influential films, Naya Dauraddressed the impact of the industrial revolution on rural India. It was a work of tremendous power and strength but got talked about more for its controversial casting when Madhubala was sacked and replaced by Vyjanthimala,apparently on the film’s leading man Dilip Kumar’s say-so. He didn’t want to work with Madhubala after their romantic association ended. Among its other vital assets Naya Daur is remembered to this day for O P Nayyar’s chartbuster songs.
3. Sadhana(1958): A remarkable reformist drama about the rehabilitation of a prostitute,it spoke of gender empowerment long before it became fashionable to do so. Sahir Ludhianvi wrote the song: Aurat ne janam diya mardo ko, mardo ne ussey bazaar diya/Jab jee chaha masla kuchla, jab jee chaaha dhutkar diya/Mardo ne banayee jo rasme, unko haq kaa farmaankaha/Aurat ke zinda jalane ko, kurbaanee aur balidaan kaha/Kismatke badle roti dee, aur usako bhee ehsaan kaha aurat ne janam diya mardo ko…..’Sahir Ludhianvi’s words on the status accorded to women in our society rings true to this day. B R Chopra’s reputation as a reformist filmmaker hinged on an impressive body of work. While Sadhana concerned the powerful theme of a prostitute’s rehabilitation Dhool KaPhool which Chopra produced a year later,dealt with unwed motherhood. Much later Nikaah focused on Islamic laws and how they affect a woman’s marital status.Recalling B R Chopra’s commitment to reformist progressive cinema Vyjanthimala , his leading lady in Naya Daur and Sadhana said, “I learnt so much from him during Sadhana and NayaDaur.Both were progressive socially relevant subjects. There was nothing exaggerated and overdone in his cinema. I played a village girl in Naya Daur. But there was no exposure. Today when heroines play village girls, directors take advantage of their costumes and gestures. When I did my two best films with Chopra Saab we were like one big family. He was not only a great filmmaker but also a wonderful human being. I was fortunate to be in two of his finest and most successful films.”
4. Gumrah(1963): The first mainstream Hindi film to go headlong into the theme of marital infidelity, a subject that Adrian Lyne dealt with 40 years later in Unfaithful with Richard Gere as the husband, Diane Lane as the cheating wife. In Gumrah Mala Sinha who was B R Chopra’s favourite actress played the gumrah(straying) wife. Mala Sinha’s best performances were in B R Chopra’s cinema. She recalls fondly, “Chopra Saab was like family. I was an integral part of their team. I did my most powerful progressive parts in Chopra Saab’s Dhool Ka Phool where I played an unwed mother, Gumrah where I was an unfaithful wife, Dharamputra about communal relations.” Gumrah was a bold film with great songs written by Sahir, composed by Ravi and Sung by Mahendra Kapoor, the centerpiece being Chalo ek baar phir se ajnabee bann jayen hum dono. Interestingly B R Chopra preferred Mahendra Kapoor and Asha Bhosle to Mohammed Rafi and LataMangeshkar to sing the songs of his films.
5. Nikaah(1982): The film that dared to challenge the Sharia laws of India. Salma Agha, freshly imported from Pakistan, played wife to Deepak Parasher who divorces her by saying Talaq thrice. Boldly the film questions the male spouse’s right to discard his marital duties on a whim. Salma Agha not only played the lead but also sang Ravi’s chartbusting compositions which went a long way in making this film a superhit during the year of Amitabh Bachchan’s Nalam Halaal , Khuddar, Satte Pe Satta and DeshPremee.Wonder what happened to Ms Agha’s career! B R Chopra had similarly launched Vimi in the hit suspense thriller Humraaz. She too vanished after a successful start.