Last Saturday, one of the most awaited events of the 16th London Asian Film Festival took place at the BAFTA. ‘Remembering Yash Chopra’ was a tribute to Bollywood’s legendary director, but also to the husband, father and friend.
The director’s widow Pamela Chopra was joined by Professor Rachel Dwyer and actor Anupam Kher to share with the audience some of the most salient events in the director’s career, as well as their most cherished memories.
The evening started with the screening of The Master Stroke, a documentary directed by Vinky Singh. Inspired by the nine rasas used in Indian art forms, the film explores Yash Chopra’s career from his first work to his last.
In probably the most emotional moment of the evening, a visibly moved Pamela Chopra went on stage while singing some verses of Veer Zaara’s Tere Liye as she gazed at her late husband’s image.
Anupam Kher has starred in many of Yash Chopra’s films. However, the actor revealed that his true Bollywood “debut” was in one of Yash Chopra’s films when he was 15 years old. “I was in the crowd, in Shimla. They were shooting for a film called Daag. There was a song, Ni Mein Yaar Manana Ni, there was dancing and there was a crowd”.
The actor had gentle words for the director. “I’m a rich person today because I spent so much time with him”, he said.
Pamela Chopra shared her memories about how the Chopra and she met. She explained how their first encounter was quite awkward. By then he had already made a name for himself in the film industry. “They [the people who introduced each other] left us alone to talk, and the only thing he could say was ‘I supposed I’ve met you before’”, she said, adding “It was not a very happy beginning to our relationship”. She decided not to pursue the relationship, but they met once again at the insistence of their friends. “He looked very nice; he was sitting on the floor with his host’s daughter. She was playing the dholki and also singing”. She then discovered a completely different side of him that deeply impressed her and made her change her mind about their relationship. “I think I must have decided instantly that yes, this is fine”, she said.
One of the questions that Pamela Chopra has probably been asked more times than any is which her favourite film is. She explained an anecdote when someone asked her, expecting that the answer would be one of her husband’s films. “At that time he had not made Kabhi Kabhie, Silsila, Dil To Pagal Hai, Veer Zaara. It was much earlier. So I said my most favourite film in the world is Sangam (Raj Kapoor, 1964), she said while laughing.
Anupam Kher revealed some of the funniest stories about the director. Although the soundtracks of his films were specially acclaimed, it seems that Yash Chopras’s talent for music was limited. “Yashji produced some of the most amazing songs but he was the worst singer on Earth. He used to make every song into a bhajan”, the actor exclaimed, making the audience burst into laughter. Pamela instantly agreed. “He would sing every song in the same tune”, she added.
Beyond the director, Yash Chopra was also a father. Pamela remembered when their son Aditya narrated to them the story that would later become Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. They were so surprised that their son, in his twenties at that time, was able to develop such a story that the director unconditionally supported him to make his directorial debut. “He had strong faith in Adi’s ability”, Pamela proudly said.
The event also included a musical tribute offered by Ash King. The Bollywood singer, born in London, sang two of the most emblematic songs from Yash Chopra’s films, the title song of Kabhi Kabhie and Main Yahan Hoon from Veer Zaara.
Bollyspice had the opportunity to talk to the singer before his performance. “It’s so nice to be called to perform as a tribute. I get to do my tribute to a person who has pioneered Indian film industry to another level”, he said. As for the film that most impacted him, the answer was easy for the singer. “I remember Darr with Shah Rukh Khan. For me that was the pinnacle of what Bollywood films are”.
After the music performance, members of the audience had the opportunity to ask questions to the guests. Pamela was asked about the most recent incorporation into the Chopra family, Rani Mukherjee, who recently married Aditya Chopra. “We are very happy that she is now a member of the family. She makes my son happy, so I’m very happy”, she said.
As the event finished, the audience was left with the feeling that they had been given the opportunity to know more about the figure of Yash Chopra, not only the greatest director that he was, but also the person that his family and friends got to know.