Indian Film Icon Yash Chopra Dies at 80

Yash Chopra
Yash Raj Films

The acclaimed filmmaker, known as "The King of Romance," is remembered by A.R. Rahman and "Silver Linings Playbook" actor Anupam Kher.

MUMBAI - One of India's most celebrated and successful filmmakers, Yash Chopra, died Sunday in Mumbai from multiple organ failure. The 80-year-old was recently hospitalized following an illness. A cremation will be held Monday. He is survived by his wife Pamela and sons Aditya and Uday.

Star-maker and studio mogul, Chopra's 40-odd films have been instrumental in shaping the iconography of mainstream Hindi cinema even before the term Bollywood was invented.

Hailed as the "king of romance" for his string of hit romantic films over a five-decade career, Chopra founded leading banner Yash Raj Films. According to YRF, 12 of its recent productions in the last decade grossed in excess of $200 million worldwide while the six highest-selling music albums of all time include soundtracks of four YRF films. YRF's latest blockbuster was this summer's hit action caper Ek Tha Tiger (There Was A Tiger).

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Chopra had just celebrated his 80th birthday on Sept. 27. The milestone also saw a televised special conversation between the director and one of his most successful stars, Shah Rukh Khan, who will appear in what will be Chopra's final film, Jab Tak Hai Jaan (Till There is Life) slated for release in November.

In the TV special, Chopra announced his retirement stating, "I have always done what my heart has told me. I have done enough and I won't be making any more films after Jab Tak Hai Jaan."

The youngest of eight children, Chopra was born in 1932 in undivided India's Punjab state in Lahore (now in Pakistan). Following the end of British rule in August 1947 and the onset of partition, like most Hindu Punjabis, Chopra's family also migrated to India. Chopra worked as an assistant to his elder brother B.R. Chopra, a former film journalist who moved to Mumbai and went on to become a successful director-producer with his socially relevant films.

Chopra's career was nurtured by his brother's banner B.R. Films, which produced his first five movies starting with his successful 1959 debut Dhool Ka Phool (Blossom of Dust). That film tackled the offbeat subject of a betrayed woman and her illegitimate child, and also established Chopra's talent for nurturing music -- crucial for any Indian film.

YRF was established in 1970 and, in the decades that followed, Chopra delivered some of Indian filmdom's biggest hits such as all-time classic Deewar (The Wall, 1975) which catapulted then up-and-coming actor Amitabh Bachchan to iconic status. The director-star combo went on to deliver musical hits such as 1976's Kabhi Kabhi (Sometimes) and 1981's love triangle drama Silsila (The Affair), among others.

YRF was again instrumental in revitalizing Bachchan's career in the late 1990s as the star battled bankruptcy caused by the financial failure of his ambitious multimedia venture ABCL.

As one of the first directors to literally take Indian cinema global by pioneering overseas shoots – especially his unique romantic songs filmed in Europe and the U.K. -- Chopra was honored by the Swiss Government for “helping rediscover Switzerland” and was presented a special Award by Ursula Andress. A lake in Switzerland has even been unofficially named "The Chopra Lake."

Chopra was the founding trustee of the ongoing Mumbai Film Festival that concludes Thursday, organized by the Mumbai Academy of Moving Images. As news of his death made headlines, festival organizers announced a gesture of condolence by observing a minute of silence before screenings of all festival films.

Chopra's death was extensively covered on primetime network news with condolence messages pouring in from people including India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. He said: "Mr Chopra was an icon of Indian cinema. ... He had an aesthetic talent to make his films look larger than life. His flourish to essay romance and social drama was unmatched. He established the popularity of Indian cinema internationally and was honored by many governments."

"I am shocked beyond words. We just finished working together on Jab Tak Hai Jaan," said Oscar-winning composer A.R. Rahman (Slumdog Millionaire).

Leading veteran actor Anupam Kher, who also stars in his first mainstream Hollywood film Silver Linings Playbook, posted a message on Twitter, "My mornings will never be the same. My learnings of life will never be the same. Love never be the same. And cinema will never be the same."

"With Yash Chopra ends the age of innocence and lyricism of Hindi Cinema. Now is the age of angst," director Shekhar Kapur (Elizabeth) posted on his Twitter account.