This week on Flashback, we take a look at the journey of one of India’s most respected film personalities, Baldev Raj Chopra, better known as B.R. Chopra. He has been an architect of what is now known as the golden era of the Bollywood industry. Having converted offbeat stories into immortal classics like Waqt and Naya Daur, he commands high regard in the world film fraternity.
B.R. Chopra was born in Lahore, 1914, to an accountant in the PWD administration of the British Punjab administration. After graduating, he did his M.A. degree in English Literature from Lahore University. Having a deep-rooted fascination for films, he switched over from a higher education to film journalism. He began his celluloid career writing and editing film reviews for the Cine Herald journal.
When the partition of India occurred in 1947, B.R. Chopra migrated to Bombay to live up to his dreams. In 1951, he produced and directed the film Afsana (1951) which was a hit. His movie, a tale of mistaken identity with Ashok Kumar in a double role, was a runaway hit and went on to celebrate its silver jubilee. Encouraged by this success, B.R. formed his production company, B.R. Films, in 1955, and started off on a roll with the release of Ek-Hi-Rasta in 1956, a drama about widow remarriage. He churned out a string of successful films, the most notable being Naya Daur in 1957, which told the story of a traditional rural community threatened with modernism and mechanism; B.R. perceives mechanism as evil and has the protagonist, a horse carriage rider, defeat an automobile in a race.
B.R Chopra has also made films that were regarded as ahead of their time, Sadhna, Kanoon, Gumrah, and Hamraaz. He also gave his younger brother, Yash Chopra, his first directorial opportunity with the box-office hit Dhool Ka Phool in 1959 and in the subsequent years, Yash made four more films for B.R Chopra, including Waqt in 1965 and Ittefaq in 1969.
B.R. has always endeavoured to make socially relevant films, which at the same time try to cater to popular sentiment. For instance, Kanoon was a courtroom drama without any songs at all, Gumrah told the tale of a woman resuming her affair after marriage, and Ittefaq showed the heroine as a murderess of her own husband.
B.R. continued to make films into the 1970s and 1980s, and met success with Insaf Ka Tarazu in 1980, focusing on the issue of rape, and Nikaah in 1982, a Muslim love triangle. However, B.R. Films turned to television in 1985 and made several successful television programs, the most successful of the being the serial Mahabharat in 1988, based on the Hindu epic. Perhaps the most popular serial in the history of Indian cinema, it entered the Guinness Book of World Records by registering 96% world viewership. In 1999, B.R Chopra was awarded the Dadasaheb Phalke Award for his contribution to Indian Cinema.
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