Yash ji would consider everyone equal says Mahen Vakil !
Mahen Vakil, the executive producer of the iconic film-maker Yash Chopra, who also happens to be the first employee of Yash Raj Films
Yash Chopra is an enigma, an icon in the Indian film industry. The hailed film-maker has given audiences blockbuster films and was hugely lauded for his progressive style of cinema. His body of work includes cult classics like Daag, Deewar, Lamhe, Silsila, Chandni, Darr, Dil To Pagal Hai, Veer-Zaara, Jab Tak Hai Jaan, to name a few. For those who knew and worked with Yash Chopra, the man behind the legend was equally fascinating.
Mahen Vakil became the first employee of Yash Raj Films when the iconic film-maker started his production house, 50 years back. Mahen’s journey with YRF and Yash ji saw him being promoted to become the Executive Producer of YRF. He unravels the icon, who he says promoted an atmosphere of equality at YRF and on the film sets, a culture that YRF firmly stands by even today under the leadership of Yash ji’s son Aditya Chopra.
Mahen says, “He never compromised on his work! When he would explain any scene to the artist, he would get so involved that you would wish Yash ji would rather perform it himself. His briefing to the actors was so clear and in such great detail that you would get the best performance out from them. Love stories these days are far different than what Yash Chopra used to make. His love stories are simply unparalleled.”
Mahen adds, “His films used to be very expensive because he believed in high technology and did not believe in compromising. What was made in 1965, even today if you look back, his set designs, costumes, etc are unmatchable. For him, the process to making a film was extremely pure. As employees, we were empowered to do what we want to because he trusted us to deliver for him. He left no stone unturned to achieve the scale, to make the film he wanted to make.”
Talking about how Yash Chopra was on the sets, Mahen reveals, “Yashji was full of life! He would consider everyone equal! He used to be there on set 1.5 hours prior to the shift time and would stand with folded hands near the gate and notice what time everyone was entering! It didn’t look nice to enter after the boss has entered, so we would all make it a point to reach earlier. Would you ever see such an atmosphere on today’s set?”
For Mahen, his most favourite Yash Chopra movie is Lamhe, which released in 1991. The incredible film starred Anil Kapoor and Sridevi in lead roles and was about the power of life-changing love. “My personal favourite, any day, is Lamhe! It didn’t work as much because it was ahead of its time and it was not so easily acceptable then but it is a cult film now! Yashji made the movie so wonderfully. He made it with all his heart!” he says.
For someone, who touched the dizzying heights of success, Yash ji was an extremely people’s person. He says, “He was a man with a kind heart! One could hurt him very easily and he was very close to his staff and that created a healthy environment. That’s the reason his staff worked for him for several years.”
About his love for food:
“Each time the shoot was extended beyond the work hours, food was organized for everyone. Yashji was a big time foodie. One time I told him about a parathawala in Chembur who made amazing parathas. He was called on the set along with his tandoor and other equipment and was asked to make parathas for all, which everyone enjoyed. Yashji got tremendous joy from feeding others. Every time there was an outdoor shoot, the entire unit (including spotboy to the actors) would stay in the same hotel, which would be a premium 5 star hotel. Would any director do that in this generation?
Morning breakfast was like a 5 star buffet with lots of variety. On outdoors, 3 cooks would travel from Mumbai, including one assistant.”
Brotherly Bond with iconic poet Sahir Ludhianvi:
“Sahir Ludhianvi was a big writer back then and no one had the courage to correct him or ask him to change his writing. But somehow Yashji’s knowledge on poetry was so good that he was the only one who could convince him to change few lines. They would call each other brothers. It was quite surprising to make such a big poet change his writing.”