|But when my parents died, I got the shock of my life and understood that death is the biggest reality of life. It happens to everybody. Ditto was the feeling when Yashji passed away.
The news of his demise came as the second biggest shock to me because he was like a father to me. Whenever I saw him or met him, I felt he was immortal and nothing could happen to him. I am still not able to believe that he’s no more. I still feel that he will call me and talk to me. Every day, I think about him – his working style, his teachings, his sense of humour, his humble nature, his love for food, his penchant for detailing and of course, the time I spent with him while working on Chandni and Lamhe.
The first time I met him was for Chandni. The meeting was purely professional and work related. He had come to Chennai to meet me to offer Chandni and I was completely floored.
I hadn’t met Yashji before. It was my first interaction with him. Yes, I had watched almost every film of his and had been a fan of his body of work, but hadn’t got an opportunity to meet him. When I met him, he was like a debutant director. He was extremely passionate about the film. I will never forget that day. His nature and behaviour didn’t match his personality and physical appearance.
For once, I was offered a film that had no melodrama, loud and over-the-top scenes and dialogue, which I was used to doing in almost every other film then. Chandni, a lively and vibrant girl in the first half, becomes quiet and goes into a shell in the second half. I loved that transformation and when you have a director like Yash Chopra at the helm, you can be sure that he will make the best out of everything.
Chandni started the trend of wedding scenes and showing traditional Indian marriages on screen. And above all, Chandni was Yashji’s first film to be shot in Switzerland. He later shot so many films in that beautiful country, but I am proud of the fact that Chandni was his first film to be shot there. We never missed our country no matter which part of the world we worked in. Yashji used to take Punjab with him wherever he went. We enjoyed the paranthas that he served us even in Switzerland.
He used to pamper me to the core and had spoilt me. I still remember we were working on the taandav dance sequence in Chandni, which was supposed to be shot in Switzerland. I heard the music, but was not quite happy with it so I told Yashji, ‘Mujhe yeh theek nahi lag raha hai. Zyada dramatic nahi hai.’ He didn’t take even a minute before saying, ‘Koi baat nahi, ise change karte hain.’ So the music was re-recorded and we shot the song later in Mehboob Studios in Mumbai. Even in case of the rain dance sequence, I was quite reluctant because I hate rains and Yashji loved rains. There was this scene wherein it’s raining heavily and I had to dance on the street with some of my friends and Vinod Khannaji comes in his car. And of course, the solo rain dance that was filmed on me was so beautifully and elegantly shot.
He ensured that I was comfortable doing that and only then went ahead with shooting it. Initially, I didn’t want to do that scene but when I saw the way Yashji was enjoying the rains, I got charged up and did the scene. That was his magic. If that film wouldn’t have come my way, my career wouldn’t have shaped up the way it did and things would’ve been quite different today. Yashji played a dynamic role in making Sridevi a household name. Today, I feel so proud to show that film to my children and when people walk up to me and compliment me about my looks and my work in it. But the entire credit goes to Yashji.
People always thought that he was serious and strict as a person, but he was like a child. I was totally amazed by his energy levels. For the first time in my career, I worked with a director who gave as much importance to the looks and the costumes of his heroine as the script and the screenplay. Bhanu Athaiyya was the costume designer for Chandni and those days, I used to do about five to six shifts a day and after all that, I used to sit with Bhanuji and Yashji to finalise my costumes for every scene.
Every day, they would come and discuss about the detailing of something as simple as a salwar-kameez and I used to feel why he is giving so much importance to salwar-kameez. It was only later that I understood why he was so particular about the costumes and my look in every scene of the film. Today, when any girl wears a white salwar-kameez, she gets compared to my look from Chandni.
Everybody loved him so much that nobody could say no to him. I had never sung a song in my life so when he asked me to sing the title song of Chandni along with Jolly Mukherjee, I was extremely reluctant and felt very awkward. But he insisted that I should sing. And after hearing what I had sung, he started feeling awkward. I am sure he regretted his decision of forcing me to sing. He had no idea what he was getting into.
I requested him, ‘I can’t sing Yashji. Please don’t make me sing.’ But he said, ‘Aap yeh gaana gaaogi. I know you can do it. If you decide, you can do it.’ And later, while recording the song, when he heard me singing, he said, ‘Mujhe lagta hai isko chhod dete hain.’ But then I was not ready to go back. I said, ‘Yashji, ab nahi chhodna hai. Now I will sing it. You asked for it.’ Thankfully, that song didn’t get as bad a response as I was expecting.
I remember while shooting for Lamhe, for even the smallest scene, he would make me wear so many different costumes till he got the right look. I had tried over 50 costumes on one day that was dedicated only for finalizing the costumes and the looks. He would sit with the photographer; ask him to take my picture in a costume and say, “Yeh look aur yeh dress hum is particular scene mein use karenge.” For every scene, the costume would get finalised and tagged. Costumes were always pre-decided so that no time would be wasted once the shooting was on. For example, if scene number 57 was to be shot, the costume for that would be ready in advance with the tag of no. 57 on it. So the assistant would just have to go and get that dress. He was an absolute perfectionist.
I will never forget one of the most emotional and tragic moments of my life. We were in Rajasthan shooting for Lamhe and my dad passed away. Yashji and Pam aunty got a call from my home informing them about the incident. They just called me and said that my dad was not well and wanted to meet me. I said, ‘I just spoke to my father a couple of hours back and he was absolutely fine.’ Yashji didn’t say a single word because he couldn’t. Pam aunty said, ‘No, but now he is not well and wants to see you.’
I said, ‘Let me call him and talk to him and inquire about his health because the entire unit is here and I can’t just leave like that to see him. I am sure there is nothing serious.’ But they just forced me to go and when I reached home, I learnt that my dad was no more. I couldn’t come back for about 20-25 days because it was the biggest loss of my life and I had to be by my mother’s side. The entire unit including Yashji and Pam aunty waited for me for so many days and we resumed shooting after I returned. After losing my father when I came back on the sets, I felt like Yashji was there by my side as my father and I need not worry about anything.
People ask me if I my miss him more as a filmmaker or as a person. I miss him more as a person simply because it’s very rare to come across a person with such great combination. He was full of love and affection. He used to enjoy watching good movies and wouldn’t hesitate to praise people for their good work. Boneyji is a food lover and so was Yashji, so when they would meet at a wedding or a party, Yashji would tell him which food item to hog. If he liked biryani, he would tell him, ‘Boney, biryani pe attack karo, bohot achchi hai.’ Whether we shot the film in Punjab or New York or Switzerland, the food was always amazing. Food always came first for him. And if I was on a diet, he ensured that there was diet food available for me all the time.
Yashji was more like a child. Whenever he got the desired result in the first take, he would get so excited like a child and dance. That’s how lively he was. I remember we were shooting abroad and it was a day off for all of us. I wanted to go shopping and so did the rest of the cast and crew. Pam aunty was not too keen to join us and wanted to rest. But Yashji was very keen to join all of us. So he, like a child, kept pestering and requesting her saying, ‘Please chalo na shopping pe chaltey hain. Sab saath mein, mazaa aayega.’
And he managed to convince her. There was such a cute chemistry between them. No wonder he could make romantic films like that and the heroes in his films could so easily convince the heroines. Who could’ve imagined executing a scene where the hero comes in a helicopter and showers roses on the heroine who is standing on the terrace of her bungalow? But he did that with me and Rishiji (Kapoor) in Chandni because he himself was a romantic person at heart. I was completely flattered after that scene was shot.
The best quality in him was that he changed himself with time and grew tremendously as a filmmaker. His films were always very contemporary in terms of their subjects. You would never feel after watching a film that an old person has directed it. He was so young at heart and that showed in his films. Yashji had no ego which was another good quality of him. He was always open to suggestions and ideas and if he felt that what the other person is saying would better his film, he would not think twice to implement those suggestions.
I have worked with him in two films and both went on to become classics. I wanted to do a film like Ittefaq in which he had cast Rajesh Khanna and Nanda with him. Again, that film was way ahead of its time. Although that film had a romantic star like Rajeshji, the film didn’t have a single song and to think of it that it was made in the era when films used to have so many songs in them. Yashji had the guts and conviction to make a murder mystery film like that which was a story of one night. If somebody plans to remake that film today and offers me to play the female lead, I would love to be a part of it.
The last time I met him was at Amitji’s (Bachchan) 70th birthday party and he was humble as always and kept praising me for my performance in English Vinglish. That coming from a filmmaker like him gave me such a high. I remember he had come for the premiere of English Vinglish and after the screening; there were lots of people coming to me and congratulating me for my work.
Yashji and Pamela aunty waited for 15-20 minutes to meet me and couldn’t stop appreciating my work in the film.
A man of his stature could have just asked Balki to arrange a special screening at his house or office, but he didn’t do that. Or after the premiere, he could’ve just left immediately and later messaged me what he felt about my work. But he not only attended the premiere, but even waited to talk to me post the screening. And that meant a lot. Just before he was diagnosed with Dengue and admitted to hospital, he kept checking with Boneyji about how well English Vinglish was doing and about its box office collections. He told Boneyji, ‘Sri ko holiday pe leke jaao… She deserves a nice, long holiday.’ That only showed the genuineness of his love and fondness for me.
A couple of months back, there were reports in the media that Yashji had approached me with a film, which I refused to do. I can’t tell you how bad I felt when I read those reports because I didn’t want to work then at all. My daughters were too small and I couldn’t afford to leave them and go to work. Also, Yashji’s films were usually shot in foreign countries and it was impossible for me to leave my daughters and go anywhere. But still, I agreed to do the film only for Yashji. Unfortunately, that film didn’t happen and now I would never get to work with him in my life because he’s not there to wield the megaphone again. It’s such a huge and irreparable loss for me.
Thankfully, his son Aditya is talented and has the skills and capability to take the legacy forward. He is intelligent, sharp and a strong individual. I am sure he will make his legendary father proud.”
As narrated to Hiten J. Trivedi