Flying dupattas, lush mustard fields and Shah Rukh Khan — these are a few of the leitmotifs of Yash Raj Films (YRF), particularly Yash Chopra and Aditya Chopra’s brand of cinema. Surprisingly, Aditya’s latest outing as a director, Befikre, was devoid of all these symbols.
Days before the film release, the official Twitter handle of YRF had released pages from Aditya’s diary in which the acclaimed filmmaker explained the rationale behind the conscious decision of not incorporating the YRF trademarks in his romantic comedy.
In a note titled My Second First Film, Aditya recalled how he began filming his directorial debut Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge when he was 23. He went on to say how he is trying to unlearn everything that he attempted in his last three films and project a fresh idea through Befikre as just like Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge was the ideal love story of that time in 1995, he wants Befikre to echo the voice of the contemporary youth.
Though Befikre belongs to the same genre as his last three films, Aditya has managed to display his range as a filmmaker within the constraints of the romantic comedy genre. It was only organic for Aditya to break all the conventional YRF stereotypes and reinvent himself with time, given that it was under his leadership that the fans witnessed a change in the tone and treatment of the products offered by the banner in the last 12 years.
After Aditya released his first two films, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge and Mohabbatien, he was considered to be of the same school of filmmaking as his father. Yash Chopra also made films redolent of candy-floss and chocolaty romance such as Kabhie Kabhie, Silsila, Chandni and Dil Toh Pagal Hai. Never did he imagine that his son will go on to direct a film in 2016 that will see the lead actors rise above the candy-floss and instead treat each other’s lips as chocolate.
The geography changed from Switzerland to Paris and so did the tone of the film, from warm romance to wild, crazy passion. However, the change did not arrive overnight. Rather, it was slow and steady as is evident by the quantity and quality of films that Aditya handpicked in the capacity of a producer.
Kunal Kohli’s Hum Tum proved to be a watershed film in the history of YRF as it opened the gates to other genres, of a production house that has mostly confined itself to an oyster. Aditya infused YRF with fresh blood and diversified the four decade-old banner. While the classic love stories like Veer-Zara, Fanaa and Jab Tak Hai Jaan have been pretty much out there, YRF has also forayed into the following four genres, and sometimes even revolutionised them:
The Urbane Love Stories
What Kohli did with Hum Tum was to change the landscape of the YRF narratives, quite literally. The mustard fields or the wide expanse of the Swiss green cover started depleting in the films only to be replaced by urban locales, particularly shot in the evergreen London, Paris and New York. Also, Hum Tum established Saif Ali Khan as the archetypal metrosexual (an avatar that Farhan Akhtar first, and most successfully tapped in Dil Chahta Hai) and he went on to do similar roles in films like Siddharth Anand’s Salaam Namaste, Ta Ra Rum Pum, Kohli’s Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic, Homi Adjania’s Cocktail and Krishna DK’s Happy Ending, which we hope puts a happy ending to his stereotyped portrayal of the uber cool metrosexual.
Other films of this genre produced by YRF were Arjun Sablok’s disaster Neil ‘n’ Nikki, Shaad Ali’s musical blunder Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, Anand’s Bachna Ae Haseeno and Jugal Hansraj’s Pyaar Impossible. While the genre attributed a fresh dimension to young romance, YRF could not afford to stick to these kind of films.
The Rustic Small Town Stories with a Heart
While the increasing viewership among the NRI audience was an indicator of the wide reach of the banner, YRF feared the risk of losing out on the single screens in its fervent efforts to please the classes. Thus, came Ali’s Bunty Aur Babli which changed the setting yet again, this time from posh promenades to the modest makaans of small towns like Patiala, Agra, Varanasi and the bylanes of Old Delhi. Even the costumes underwent a drastic transformation. Rani Mukerji‘s patiala salwars in Bunty Aur Babli became a rage even in urban centres and bridged the fashion gap between India and Bharat.
Films like Bunty Aur Babli, Laaga Chunari Mein Daag, Aaja Nachle, Dil Bole Hadippa!, Band Baaja Baarat, Mere Brother Ki Dulhan, Ishaqzaade, Shuddh Desi Romance, Daawat-e-Ishq, Sultan and Dum Laga Ke Haisha captured the local flavours of the small towns or the old localities that they were set in. They reflected how the Indian culture thrives in capsules and depicted the small towners’ aspirations to make it large. The aam aadmi related to these instances onscreen and often gave a thumbs up to the films of this genre.
The Sleek Action-Packed Crime Entertainers
Dhoom. Need we say more? This cool cop vs cooler criminal film, dominated by chase sequences and sizzling vamps, made for a never-seen-before watch in Hindi cinema. The anti-heroes became the focal points of attraction in the Dhoom franchise and the role of Abhishek Bachchan got reduced to a supporting role and Uday Chopra’s, well, the sidekick of the supporting role. While Darr was probably the only time YRF had glorified its anti-hero, they went the extra mile in the Dhoom franchise. Allan Amin turned into a priceless commodity overnight as his action direction received unanimous applause.
While Tashan and Kill Dill fell before the juggernaut of expectation from the Dhoom franchise, crime films of slightly different genres, such as Kabir Khan’s Ek Tha Tiger, Pradeep Sarkar’s Mardaani and Ali Abbas Zafar’s Gunday managed to make a mark. Then, there were duds like Parmeet Sethi’s Badmaash Company, Aurangzeb and Dibakar Bannerjee’s Detective Byomkesh Bakshi.
The Experimental Cinema
Though the previous three genres were quite experimental for a traditional production house like YRF, it also dared to back certain projects which were either coming-of-age or way ahead of their time. The first of such kind was Shimit Amin’s Chak De! India. Though YRF had meddled with the theme of sports in Ta Ra Rum Pum and Dhoom, they attempted a full-fledged sports film in Chak De! India and presented Shah Rukh Khan in a brand new light. He was no longer their romantic hero running around the trees. Instead, he was an aggressive go-getter playing coach to 16 female hockey players. In his second film, Shimit Amin presented another superstar in a new shade when he directed Ranbir Kapoor in Rocket Singh: Salesman Of The Year. Kapoor, who was hitherto portrayed as a Casanova, played a jolly good Sikh salesman.
YRF also produced a full animated film in Hansraj’s Roadside Romeo. Though they expected it to fare well, it lagged way behind in replicating the impact of the animations of Hum Tum. Kabir Khan expanded the YRF offerings to documentary-style filmmaking addressing world issues in films like Kabul Express, New York and the immensely successful Bajrangi Bhaijaan. Among other experiments were Sarkar’s Lafangey Parindey, Kanu Behl’s Titli and Maneesh Sharma’s Fan, besides YRF’s foray into web content with Y Films.
Thus, while Befikre was a bold attempt on part of Aditya to reinvent himself and to paint his age-old production house in new colours, we can easily say that it was not his best attempt yet. Though his intention to present a modern take on Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaenge is evident, the film falls short not in the investment of his efforts but in terms of the narrative championing itself as coming-of-age.
The fact is, Aditya Chopra has delivered much better and fresher content as a producer. Just that, those times, he was not trying too hard.
First Published On : Dec 16, 2016 13:33 IST