Usual Disclaimer: Everything I am about to say may or may not be true, I don’t know this people or have any particular insight into their lives. But this is the commonly accepted story about them, and if you are new to the films, or somehow missed this part of film history, it might help you understand better why they are talked about the way they are.
I’m dealing with the Yash and BR branches separately, and in my last section I left Yash back in the 70s with his new film studio Yash Raj taking off thanks to his star connections and directing talent. While BR Films struggled after he left, limping through the 80s and 90s with only two big hits (The Burning Train, Ravi’s action epic, and the Mahabharata TV show which was the most famous and successful product they ever had). And then in the early 2000s, BR came back with a bang and two hits, both written by BR Chopra and directed by his son Ravi, Baghban and Baabul.
But, what was Yash doing during this time? Yash Raj films struggled a bit in the 80s as well. Everyone did, it was a tough time for film. VHS was in, families were staying home while young men just wanted more and more Amitabh action. It wasn’t good for BR’s social values kind of films, but it also wasn’t good for Yashji’s swoony romances. Everything flopped, even the ones we now think of as classics, Silsila and Lamhe. But
Yash kept working, whether for his own studio or as director for hire for some other producer, he had two sons and a wife to support after all. And he stayed cheerful, and people still loved him. In Rishi’s bio, he talks about a string of flops right after his marriage, how he got clinically depressed and blamed everyone around him, and then finally got over it. Yashji also had a string of flops, but he got over it by just smiling through and always planning on the next film.
(Smiling through! Also, my goodness is Boney Kapoor tall!)
Rishi also talks about how during this period Yashji would talk about how he was so impressed that Raj Kapoor (Rishi’s father) had managed to build an actual physical studio by the time he was 24. that was Yashji’s dream, to have something solid and permanent, instead of just a banner that struggled through film to film.
Enter Aditya! I mentioned in the last section that Aditya was born the same year as Yash Raj films, and grew up on film sets. Everything I have ever heard about Aditya confirms that he was a bit of a child prodigy and a film savant from a very young age. Pam Aunty remembers watching a movie with him when he was a toddler, one and a half maybe, and him pointing and saying “Mommy, look at that crane shot!” Another story I’ve heard from multiple sources is how at around age 10 he started going to see every new release every Friday. And then he would write in a notebook his guess for what box office it would get. And then make a note of how close he was. By the time he was in high school, he was hitting over 90% accuracy.
Also in high school is when he started assisting his father. His mother wanted him to finish his college course before he officially started in films, but he was spending every second he could on sets, all his vacation and free time. Lamhe was the first film he was involved in start to finish, from the first clap to the editing. He was 19, and it broke his heart when it flopped. One story I have heard is that the weekend it came out, when it was clear it wasn’t going to work, Aditya shut himself in the editing room, and then came out and told his father he had figured out the problem, they need to cut the childhood portion right after the interval, and the film will run. And Yashji had to break the news that there are no take backs, once a film is out there, for good or bad, you have to live with it.
The next Yash Raj film was Darr. By now Aditya was done with school for good and he was able to devote 24 hours a day to the film. This was also Yash Raj’s first film with Shahrukh Khan. Yashji, as he had before for Amitabh and Rajesh and Shashi and Anil, came up with a perfect role to best utilize Shahrukh’s star power at the moment. His sweet baby face and over the top method acting created this indelible character for the audience, still one of his most famous.
More importantly, during filming Shahrukh was lonely and struggling with insomnia (as he still does). Juhi would later become one of his closest friends, but at the time she was a top heroine and he was shy around her. Sunny was a top hero with no time for Shahrukh. Yashji was busy with a million and one details. So during the location shoot in Switzerland, Aditya ended up being the person who Shahrukh landed on to keep him company through the days and nights. By the end of the shoot they were firm lifetime friends.
After the shoot was over, Yashji gave Aditya completely free reign to come up with his own trailer for the film. A little background for this. Trailers for films traditionally showed the entire plot of the movie except, maybe, for the end twist. A few of the more popular songs might be sampled, you would get a close up on the faces of the stars, it would tell you “this is what the movie is going to be like, if you like this kind of movie, you should see it.” Aditya decided to do something COMPLETELY DIFFERENT!!! Still one of the all time great trailers from any industry, a total revolution, and Aditya was only 21 at the time.
Darr was a massive massive hit for Yash Raj, cemented their relationship with Shahrukh, Shahrukh’s status as a major up and coming star, and Aditya as a major talent on the rise.
One thing to notice is that Aditya was soooooo young at this point. Only 21 during the filming of Darr, 23 when it released. And he went right into writing and planning his first film as a director. Partly this is because Aditya is a genius who was born to make films. But it is also because Yashji trusted him. Unlike BR, who made his brother and then his son wait and wait and wait before he gave them the power to make their own film, Yashji recognized Aditya’s talent and set him free.
The making of DDLJ is a whole book on its own (this book. If you don’t like Anupama’s new reviews, hold your nose and read it anyway, it’s brilliant). But for my Chopra family purposes, I want to talk about relationships above all. There is Yashji and Aditya, they worked together seamlessly on set, as they did from then on right up until Yashji died during filming Jab Tak Hain Jaan. Aditya was definitely in control, but Yashji was there to back him up as needed, Yashji found the experienced crew to help him out, Yashji figured out the filming locations, Yashji smoothed the way.
What Aditya brought in was the young cast and artists. His chief assistants were his brother Uday and best friend Karan, along with similarly young Manish Malhotra and Nikhal Advani and various other 20-something recent college grads who went on to run the industry for the next 20 years. It’s not just that he gave them a chance, it’s that they gave him a chance. Any other star would have ridden right over this 23 year old kid trying to give him directions, but Shahrukh was young and fresh enough to trust Aditya’s vision. And then same was true for Manish doing costumes and Nikhal behind the camera and all the rest of them. Yashji built his career on relationships, and Aditya did the same thing, and some of the most important were formed in his very first film.
(I don’t recognize any of these people besides Karan, Uday, Shahrukh, and Kajol. But don’t they look like they were having a good time?)
After DDLJ became what it is, Yashji seized the moment and started giving Aditya more and more control. Again, I can’t help but compare it with what BR did with Yash. After Waqt, he had a chance to take BR Films in a whole new direction, to build on that success. But instead he held back, he tried to move them to the same old path. And BR Films ended up fading away, while Yash Raj grew and grew.
In 1999, Indian film was finally granted industry status. Which mean they could sell stocks and more easily borrow from banks. Yash Raj was, and is, one of the few studios to resist this, to stay a purely family owned company. But they still benefited from bank loans and new funding options. Even before then, they had benefited from the general economic liberalization which brought in new audiences and new sources of funding outside India’s borders.
Aditya took all these opportunities, and the massive profits that kept rolling in from DDLJ, and capitalized on them. Their follow up movie, his father’s Dil To Pagal Hai was one of their most ambitious films ever. While still feeling like a “Yash Raj” film, down to the Stars and the chiffon saris and Switzerland. Aditya also branched out into distribution, snapping up the rights to both Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham. And that was just the beginning. The distribution profits fed back into the studio and paid for that massive physical lot that Yash had always dreamed off. And then DVDs came in, and suddenly Yash Raj was in the DVD business too, buying up the rights to not only all of Yashji’s old films (even the ones not originally produced by Yash Raj), but to classics from other studios, like RK Films. Within a decade, Yash Raj had gone from being just another banner struggling film to film, run by a charming and brilliant producer/director, to the biggest studio in India, completely vertically integrated from the lot where the films were made all the way to the DVDs sold on their website.
And with all of this, Aditya hasn’t lost track of what makes it all work, the original artwork. He set up a structure of 2-5 smaller budget films a year and one big budget production. The risk is split, if one hits and one flops, they can still survive. He has the same method with his creative team. Mentoring multiple up and coming directors at once, waiting for that one who will have the really great idea. And mentoring multiple stars too. Ranveer turned into a great investment, Ayushmann not so much, but they balance each other.
Aditya taking charge didn’t mean that Yashji retired. He was still the heart of the studio, appearing at every party, talking to every new star, representing the family at every important event. And Uday was there too, occasionally listed as associate producer. And Pam Aunty, in her quiet way, in the background making nice and making food and giving opinions.
The only conflict this little family ever had was personal, not professional. And it was kept very very quiet. Back in 2001, Aditya Chopra married his college sweetheart, “Payal”. She started being listed on the credits of a few films as a co-producer, was welcomed into the Yash Raj family as well as the Yash Chopra family. I can’t find a picture of her, and the only story I ever heard about the marriage is that Aditya used to fast with her for Karva Chauth, just like Shahrukh did for Kajol in DDLJ.
(The Internet claims this is Payal, but I don’t know if I believe that)
And then in 2002, a year after the wedding, Rani Mukherjee made her first Yash Raj film, Saathiya. And Mujshe Dosti Karoge. And then Hum-Tum and then Veer-Zaara and then Bunty Aur Babli and then Ta Ra Rum Pum Pum and then Laaga Chunari Main Daag and then Thoda Pyar Thoda Magic and then Dil Bole Hadippa and then Mardaani. And in 2009, Aditya Chopra got divorced. Between Thoda Pyar Thoda Magic and Dil Bole Hadippa.
Now, the official version is such a transparent lie that they almost aren’t even bothering. Rani claims that all the “rumors” about them having an affair is what brought them together. Sometime post-divorce, they had their first real conversation when they met at a restaurant and bonded over how silly those rumors were and then started dating. SERIOUSLY???? Rani, you’ve been in 9 movies at that point made on Aditya’s lot, including one directed by his father, and you had NEVER spoken before?
The unofficial and widely accepted version is that the affair started sometime around 2003-2004 maybe. And shortly after, the divorce proceedings started against Payal. And the divorce took FOREVER!!! Partly because it was a family studio, which meant the business and the divorce got all mixed up together in a very messy way. A profitable way for me, they had this massive clearance sale right around the time of the final settlement and I cleaned up on DVDs.
Once the divorce came through, everyone started waiting for Adi and Rani to get married. Or at least announce their relationship or something! There were all kinds of slips, like Shatrughan Sinha accidentally calling her “Mrs. Chopra” at a public event. And some enterprising paparazzo got a very fuzzy shot of them celebrating Diwale together.
(Okay, it’s hard to see, but that’s Rani on the right feeding Adi, and then playing with the kids in the yard)
Oh! One thing you HAFT to know about Aditya Chopra. He is never ever photographed. There is the official shot he took with his father back in the 90s. And a random airport shot from a few years back. And those fuzzy Diwale shots. And that’s it! Which helped a lot with this Rani relationship. My impression is that within the industry it was totally known and accepted. But there was no “evidence” of any kind for the public, no photos of them on vacation, or even in a store together. Or arriving together at parties, or premieres or anything else. And so it existed in this odd limbo of being something we all know but can’t say in public.
Some of the rumors that the press kind of spread a little bit involved familial discord. Yashji and Pam Aunty didn’t want their son to get a divorce from the daughter-in-law they had brought into their house, they didn’t want him to marry an actress with a few scandals behind her (supposedly an affair with Govinda of all people? And a youthful launch in a scandalous role, and parents with their own little marriage issues). But, on the other hand, Rani was in Veer-Zaara right when Aditya was starting his divorce. Doesn’t seem like Yashji was against the couple if he cast her. And since Yashji’s death, even before her marriage to Aditya, Rani started going around with Pam Aunty, acting as her chaperone and companion in a very daughter-in-law kind of way.
(Here they are at Madhuri’s father’s funeral in 2013)
The actually marriage FINALLY took place in 2014, a full 5 years after the divorce. The “official” version is that Rani’s father had a health scare and, although he recovered, he asked that his daughter be married before he died and they all agreed. The unofficial logical version is that Rani was getting up there if they wanted to have kids, and her career had hit a slow point, and it was a respectable 5 years since the divorce, so why not? The wedding was in Italy, it was just family plus Karan Johar and his mother. And then they got pregnant about a year later, and Rani had baby Adira.
To finish off the less important Chopras, Uday was launched by his big brother in Mohabbatein. And then got a follow up in Mere Yaar ki Shaadi, and Dhoom, and Mujshe Dosti Karoge. But his acting career never quite took off. He wrote his own role for himself in Pyaar Impossible (one of my guilty pleasure movies!), and it still failed to take off. In his personal life, he was dating Tanisha (Kajol’s little sister, Rani’s second cousin) for several years, and co-starred with her in Neal n’ Nikki (another of my guilty pleasure movies). After they broke up, he moved on to Nargis Fakhri, the actress who somehow keeps getting work even though she is TERRIBLE. And even she didn’t seem that interested in him, Uday kept posting this transparent tweets directed her way and she never responded. They seemed to have broken up around the time Rani and Aditya got married. And Uday was shipped off to America to run the LA branch of Yash Raj, where he co-produced one of the worst films of all time, Grace of Monaco. And then came home again, to hang around Dhoom 3 and start helping out around the home studio.
(Here he is with Tanisha, who went on to a gross reality TV show relationship with a much older man.0
(Here he is with Nargis before she dumped him)
(And here he is with Nicole Kidman before Grace of Monaco bombed at Cannes)
Besides Uday’s little failures, and Aditya’s marriage, things were pretty smooth for the Yash Chopra branch. It was the BR’s that started to have serious trouble around 2010. BR Films hadn’t had a hit since Baabul in 2006. BR died in 2008 and Ravi had to take charge. And he did not do well. As was traditional for these production houses, the fate of the studio was all tied up with a mortgage on the family home, the jewels, the everything. Word started going around town that Ravi Chopra and his mother and wife and children were about to be on the street, the banks were preparing to take the house in Juhu along with everything else.
The remarkable thing about this story is how close it came to actually happening! This was in 2013, just a year after Yash had died. BR was dead 5 years at this point. You would think the family would be closer than ever. But instead Aditya just sat and waited and watched until the absolute last minute. And then, according to rumors, he went around to the banks and the other debtors and worked out a deal, and presented it fait accompli to BR. I’m assuming Aditya didn’t go full “Your father threw my parents out of this house 42 years ago, and this paper now gives me the right to throw you out of it!!!!” Doesn’t seem like his kind of behavior. But I do imagine that he held off for a long long time because they really weren’t that close to the BR’s, and Ravi had run the studio into the ground on his own miss-management, and it must have been awfully tempting to let them just sink down through their own incompetence instead of opening up that door. And I am positive that those secret deals with the banker mean that Adi gets to call the shots at BR Films for a good long while.
Ravi Chopra died in 2014, very suddenly. Although he’s Adi’s first cousin, there is a big age gap (mirroring the big age gap between BR and Yash). But he was still young, and the last on that side of his generation. His sons were not ready to take over. At least one of his sons, can’t remember which, was best friends with Ranbir Kapoor all through grade school and they seem to have stayed close. That also means they are just in their early 30s, kind of young to run a studio especially if the last movie their family made was in 2006 and their father never really was the best role model.
And that’s why I find the latest twist in the Chopra family story so interesting, a remake of Ittefaq that is being co-produced with Red Chillies and Dharma films, starring Siddharth Malhotra and Sonakshi Sinha, and directed by Ravi’s son. Yash Raj films and Aditya Chopra are nowhere in sight. But here are Aditya’s two closest friends, and his father’s film is the being remade. Could just be a coincidence, or it could be that Aditya quietly controls everything, handpicked the film, the promotional strategy, the producers, the stars, and trained his cousin to be able to direct it. And then finally get these deadbeats off his back and on their feet! Everyone has those relatives, you know….