Shradhanjali — B R Chopra (22 April 1914 – 5 November 2008)
Baldev Raj Chopra’s films always posed a question to society. On morals, ethics and social issues. The questions raised were such that society didn’t know how to respond to them, at times not wanting to answer his questions and at times not completely understanding how to. Asking questions may have been a trait that he developed from his days as a film journalist with ‘Cine Herald’ in Lahore, but instead of asking the film industry questions, he changed track to asking society questions and making society think about the world they were living in.
A career that spanned over six decades allowed Chopra to release an extensive number of movies that covered a broad range of themes “that were perhaps a little ahead of their time” according mentioned Vidya Sinha, who worked with him in his 1977 film Karm and Pati, Patni aur Woh. Sinha went on to say, “He was always socially conscious.” This is evident from the body of work which explored issues from widow remarriage in his 1956 film Ek Hi Raasta, the industrial revolution with Naya Daur in 1957, infidelity in Gumraah and perhaps most famously Nikaah, the 1982 film which looked at the sharia laws of divorce and its misuse among the Indian-Muslim society.
Chopra was known in the industry for taking risks with his films be it Kanoon, a 1960’s songless film, which was unheard of at the time, or for casting Zeenat Aman as a rape victim in the 1980 jubilee hit Insaaf ka Tarazu at time when she was being cast in roles as a glamour quotient. It was a major box-office gamble because the film also had a new hero (Deepak Parashar) and a new villain (Raj Babbar).
In the late Eighties, Chopra ventured into television with the production of the 94 episode epic Mahabharat directed by son Ravi Chopra. He took a risk by selecting Dr. Rahi Masoom Reza for dialogues, which many questioned, but his commitment to the script paid off as Reza’s dialogues turned into one of the highlights of the 45 minute episodes. “Chopra saab’s honesty of intentions was transparent in everything he did. He was totally committed to the script,” commented Nikaah and Insaaf kah Taraazu star Raj Babbar. The series was later telecast in the UK by BBC where it achieved audience figures of 5 million, which was unheard of for a subtitled series being aired in the afternoon.
Lyricist Yogesh worked with Chopra in 2 films titled Chhoti Si Baat and Agni Pariksha. He says, “[Chopra’s] films saw some of the finest songs in Hindi films.” Chopra worked closely with Urdu poet Sahir Ludhianvi who provided the famous lyrics “Aurat ne janam diya mardon ko, mardon ne usey bazaar diya in Sadhana.” He was also instrumental in developing the career of playback singer the late Mahendra Kapoor and employed Kapoor in most of his movies (Dhool Ka Phool, Gumraah, Waqt, Humraaz, Dhund).
A recipient of the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, the highest honour in Indian cinema presented by the government, B R Chopra guided his brother, Yash Chopra of Yash Raj Films, during the early part of his career, helping him on his journey to becoming the illustrious filmmaker we now know. Few people know that he was also behind the 2003 family drama Bagbhan. It was the story that he penned that son Ravi Chopra went on to direct. Always faithful to his work, he raised the question regarding the treatment of elderly parents by their children.
The one thing that I am certain about is that his presence in the industry will be missed — and no question needs to be asked here.