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Q & A: Yash Chopra

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The Scene meets legendary Indian film director Yash Chopra to look back on his career and discuss the current state of "Bollywood."

The Scene: Can you remember when you first decided you wanted to be a filmmaker?

Yash Chopra: It was 60 years ago; it's a long story. When I was in college my brother, B.R. Chopra, who is everything to me, was a director in Bombay. He taught me filmmaking. What I am today is because of him. When I was in college I had only one ambition that one day I would like to be a director. With those dreams I completed my studies and then I came to Bombay to become an apprentice and an assistant. You see me after 54 years in the industry but at that time I was just a young boy. I had two or three chances to become a hero or an actor but I had it completely fixed thing in my mind that I would become a director. My brother gave me a chance in 1958. My first film was "Dhool ka Phool." So I started off as a director, then a producer and then a distributor. But the ultimate goal, the ultimate dream, the ultimate vision, was that one day I'd like to have my own studio. But it was only dreams; I didn't have the means, I didn't have the resources. In 1995 my son Aditya Chopra's first film, "Dilwaale Dulhania Le Jaayenge," was the biggest hit ever in India -- it's still running in Bombay. That gave us so much money we thought now maybe everything will be fulfilled. So we started working towards it. Last year on the 12th of October our Yash Raj Studios opened and my dreams were completed, by the grace of God.

TS: You've spent most of that time living and working in Bombay. What does the city mean to you?

YC: Bombay means everything to me. I've been in Bombay for the last 54 years; it is a man's life. Here I came as a young boy with dreams and visions. I had lights in my eyes. This city has given me everything. My dreams, respect, money, my name. I'm proud of being Punjabi but professionally everything I've achieved is in Bombay. These roads, these places, I can't see what has changed because when you live in the same place the change around you is so slow that you don't notice. But there's been great change.

TS: What are you favorite memories of Mumbai?

YC: I'm very fond of the rains. I like to walk in the rain. Today I can't walk in the rain but when the rains come, the first shower, I must enjoy the first shower in my house. There I am in the garden. I've seen so many things. I remember when I was just an apprentice and in those days there used to be trams running. There were no cars. And my friend and I we used to sit on there, going to the cinema, enjoying talking, dreaming with your friends. There are no trams today and we can't take trains or even taxis. But, as filmmakers, we have to be close to the people. If we are not close to the people who are in the streets we cannot make pictures for them. We are making pictures for them, not just for us. We have to have contact with the audience. That is the most important thing.

TS: Could you live in another city?

YC: I don't think it's possible to live anywhere else now. Because it's not five or 10 years. It's 54 years. I'd love to go to Delhi, I'd love to go to Punjab. Even foreign countries, I don't want to live anywhere. I love London, I love America; so many places to go, but I can go for a week or 10 days. After that I miss my work, I miss Mumbai. Mumbai's infectious. Once you start living in Mumbai, working in Mumbai, I don't think you can live anywhere else.

TS: Was there a time when you made a film and thought, "That's it, I've made my name."

YC: Even today I don't feel like that. It may sound like a cliche, but with every good film or a big film your passion increases. Today I'm dying to make a fantastic film. Some subject must excite me. Yesterday is not exciting. I'm looking for something, looking for a script. I'm dying to go on the set and say, "Start, go, cut!"

TS: Which of your films is your favorite?

YC: I can't say my best film but I can say my favorite films. I've been able to make some wonderful films but sometimes you make films with great passion, great belief and these films slightly don't work at the box office and they become your favorite films. Like "Silsila" and "Lahme." When I say they are my favorites and I don't say "Deewar" or "Kabhi Kabhie" or "Chandni" I don't degrade those films. But these two films I say didn't get the success they deserved. But I also think there must be something wrong in the films, some weakness, because audiences they want to go and like the film. But these films are very, very close to my heart.

TS: How has the Hindi film industry changed since you started?

YC: There's been so much progress. The digital side, the technical side. Too many people are talking about looks, costumes and make-up; everything must be flawless. But I think we have lost something. We are not giving so much importance to content as we did before. If you ask me on the music side I think we have lost the soul. There is no soul in music now. People used to write meaningful lyrics from the heart. We are bothered more by the form and less by the content. But the thing that makes a good picture is still the story. I know very good young filmmakers -- very competent, very ambitious -- but they have to give more thought to the content than the film.

TS: There's been a lot of criticism of Hindi films for copying Hollywood films. Are there no original ideas left?

YC: I feel the greatest need today is for ideas. Someone called it complete intellectual bankruptcy. Now people are coming with new ideas but for such a big country we don't have good writers, we don't have scripts. The greatest need for our film industry is stories, scripts and actors. Only then can we make good films.

TS: Would you ever direct a Hollywood film?

YC: I don't know, maybe if somebody offers but I don't think anybody ever asked me! I'm happy in India because I don't think Hollywood is the end of anybody's journey. I am very proud of being an Indian film director.



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