B R Chopra The Man Who Taught Filmmaking To Yash Chopra

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.

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