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Director Was Patriarch Of India's Film Industry


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Audie Cornish. A titan of Indian cinema has died. The director and producer Yash Chopra was a master of the Bollywood musical and patriarch of India's film industry.


CORNISH: He filmed sweeping romances in which actresses in chiffon saris prance through the Swiss Alps with their lovers. Over five decades, Chopra directed 22 films, many of them now considered iconic in India. He had just turned 80 and was finishing his latest movie when he was hospitalized with dengue fever and died on Sunday. Joining us now from Mumbai to talk about the man Indians call the King of Romance is film critic Aseem Chhabra. Hi there, Aseem.


CORNISH: So give us a sense of how important Yash Chopra was for Indians.

CHHABRA: Yash Chopra was really a giant in Bollywood. He started his film career in 1959, and his last film is actually opening on November 13. So there's 22 films he made over a period of 53 years. This is the year India is marking its 100th anniversary in cinema. And the last half a century, Yash Chopra was a very prominent part of that, and he was that significant. He made these sweeping romantic films which are very popular, often very unreal but very popular, with beautiful-looking stars and beautiful-looking locations. And the fact that he was 80 years old and he had just completed his last film is remarkable.

CORNISH: Now, of course, music and sort of over-the-top romance is a definitive part of Bollywood, but what made his films stand out?

CHHABRA: Well, his films were kinder and gentler in a way, the romantic films, and a lot of Bollywood films are very, very loud and very over the top. And while his films also had the same characteristics also, there were adult films, first of all, in the sense that they were - his characters were adults, sometimes having affairs outside the marriage, and the same trend sort of continued. There was sometimes like a triangle where they were two women in love with one man, and the man would love one woman.

And the songs themselves were - had such a melodious tone to them that people, you know, the last two, three days since he died, three days, the songs had been playing on television and on radio. And I'm in Mumbai right now. He obviously had a huge lasting impression.

CORNISH: One interesting quirk of his films is the travel abroad, and I read that he had a very relationship with Switzerland, apparently.

CHHABRA: Uh-huh.

CORNISH: He did all kinds of filming there. Can you tell us about that?

CHHABRA: Yeah. He filmed often in the Swiss Alps, and I think he was given some sort of recognition by the Swiss government - I'm not sure exactly what it was - for the fact that he shot quite a few films in Switzerland. He also shot one film - in fact, the song that you played, that's from a film called "Silsila," which means an occurrence, and that song was shot somewhere in the Netherlands because you have, like, these miles and miles of sweeping tulips. And in the middle of the tulips, you have these two Bollywood stars lip-synching and dancing just as people do in Bollywood films. So Switzerland and other European locations also. He connected with them, and he would place his Indian actors there and...

CORNISH: And inadvertently encouraged some tourism there by Indians.

CHHABRA: Right. Yes, yes, yes, obviously, yes.

CORNISH: Now, you mentioned you're in Mumbai for the Mumbai Film Festival.


CORNISH: How is Bollywood reacting to his death?

CHHABRA: Obviously, you know, he was such a father figure to the industry, so they were all shaken up, although, you know, he was 80 years old. But, you know, his - the fact that he passed away, clearly this is the end of an era. So I mean, television for the last two days - his funeral was yesterday, on Monday. And so television has been showing all these movie stars arriving for his funeral. And before that, his body was placed in the studio which was named after him, which his older son runs now.

And Bollywood stars tweet a lot, so there's a lot of Twitter talk going on. At the Mumbai Film Festival itself, before every screening, they had an image of his projected on the screen, a slide with his image. And then we stood up. It happened to me twice today at two films where we stood up, and there was a two-minute silence in his honor. And they left a book outside the theater, and people were sort of signing condolences and things like that. So people are moved. Now, clearly, he was 80 years old, and he lived a very full life, and he's left a real legacy of cinema, really, but it has affected people definitely.

CORNISH: Well, Aseem, thank you so much for talking with us.

CHHABRA: Thank you.

CORNISH: Film critic Aseem Chhabra in Mumbai talking about legendary Indian filmmaker Yash Chopra, who died on Sunday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.