Yash Chopra has been synonymous with the glamour of the romantic film and a certain style of beauty within Indian culture. On Friday 23rd July, Bollywood fans had the opportunity to attend ‘An Audience with Yash Chopra’ at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, and the rare chance to ask questions to one of the most charismatic and powerful filmmakers in the Indian film industry. Hosted by Professor Rachel Dwyer, Professor of Indian Cultures and Cinema at SOAS, the Q and A was one of a series of events honoring the multi-award winning Bollywood film director and producer as he received an Honorary Degree (DLit) from the British university. In a session attended by film fans, alumni and the UK Bollywood literati, the director spoke on a range of topics from his favourite Hindi films, whom he feels is the next big superstar, and his plans to step back into the director’s chair.
How do you feel about the new global Indian cinema, with for example Bollywood premieres and overseas shooting here in the UK?
Today some of our films are doing better business overseas than in India and these films are not western in content: they are Indian films. My own film Veer Zara is a film that did better business overseas than in India. I always say you can’t make a crossover film. A film will crossover when people from other countries like it, and if it has good content. Today Hindi cinema is becoming a global market; if it is a hit overseas it will bring in a lot of money.
Are Indian films now being targeted towards the middle classes at the expense of other audiences?
If you make films in the English language or use English in Hindi films the audience will increase. Our biggest markets are the US and UK and number three is Dubai. But in Germany for example, we sold more music albums than the UK, so unexpected things happen. Films are not made for a specific class we are making films that people will connect with emotionally. People are so passionate about film and this goes beyond class.
What is that attracts you in a story and makes you say I have to make that film?
When I hear a story, or a story comes to me, or I think of a plot, first and foremost it should excite me. I ask if I would I like to make this film. It is youth and the young people that decide what is going to be in cinema, and indeed in everything. So, either you have to be young or your thinking has to be young. If the youth does not connect with it, the film will not bring money back.
Your films have inspired many people. What films have inspired you?
Different films come to mind. When I saw Mother India it impressed me, as did Sangam. I saw Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa and was impressed by the way a tortured soul expressed his feelings in cinema. Even a small film like A Wednesday, when a newcomer comes with a new idea it touches you in a big way. I like Rang De Basanti very much, as it works creatively on three different layers to make a very powerful film. The latest film I like is 3 Idiots, a simple film, yet the biggest success ever in India. Certain films remain in your mind and you think okay I would like to make films like this.
How do you balance your style of filmmaking with the way films are being watched on different formats such as mobile phones or the Internet?
The way to see a film is on the big screen. When you go to see a film in the theatre it is an event. You sit with a thousand people and you share your emotions. A big screen, a wide screen can do this.
What can then be done to stop film piracy?
Piracy is the biggest issue affecting the film industry, and the government has to make laws and implement them. In Hollywood although there are laws to stop physical piracy, they are not able to stop Internet piracy, and by the first or second day high definition pirate films are available. But if people see my films in a format such as the Internet or mobile phones and pay for it then no film can fail. If everybody who sees the film pays for it there won’t be any failure.
There are many elements of the Punjab in your film. How does this Punjabiness impact your audiences and what does it personally mean to you?
I am Punjabi and I know Punjabi culture so in my films I try to project this through the language, music, dance and so on. If I tried to make another language film I may not be able to make such a good film. From London to Mumbai there is so much Punjabi culture especially in the music and dance in Hindi film that audiences now accept it and take it for granted. Punjabiness has entered film so much and no other state language can boast of that, so I feel I should always make films, which are Punjabi-centred.
Your films are also of course synonymous with Switzerland.
It is a very beautiful country and I have made about eight or ten films there. When I first entered Switzerland it gave me a feeling of peace, romance and beauty. I have been going there for the last 25 years and nothing has changed. I shoot in the Swiss countryside and it has retained it natural beauty though the difference with shooting overseas now compared to when I first went to Switzerland is that the audiences now expect the location to be part of the story.
You have worked with Dilip Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan. Amongst the younger generation of actors who do you think is the next superstar of Hindi cinema?
The next superstar of Hindi cinema is Ranbir Kapoor, by sheer weight of his performance. In his role in Rajneeti, he gives a good performance. I have not noticed any new actress no actress has made an impression. If it about performance and not beauty, frankly I have not found any girl who can be a superstar. Kajol is brilliant and in her own class, but on that level there is no one.
What upcoming projects do you have?
I am working on a film and scripting a story at the moment. It is, of course, a romantic film. I do not know when it will start and do not know who I will cast until the script is ready. But definitely I want to do another film as too much time has passed. Sooner rather than later I will start my film.