Filmmakers don’t retire Yash Ji – An open letter to Yash Chopra

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ON HIS BIRTHDAY picture gallery
Dear Yashji,

Hearty congratulations on turning 80. By the grace of God you are still in fine fettle and but for your receded white hairline, and a few minor wrinkles on your face you don’t seem to have aged much. Your rich baritone voice and mind are as sharp and effective as ever. You have an upright gait, strong hands and a firm Punjabi grip, and you walk and talk like most of us who still have a long way to go before reaching your age and to achieve and accomplish what you have done. You certainly have taken good care of your God given body and mind and used it to the benefit of humanity in general and the art, craft, and business of cinema in particular.

Your zest for life was so evident in your conversation with Shahrukh Khan at YRF Studios. It was almost a two hour-long continuous talkathon, and we did not notice any trace of weariness in you. One of the senior journalists sitting next to me was not expecting you to endure more than an hour of such an exercise. He was mistaken. I felt you could have gone on like this for a few hours more. You were enjoying it, and so were we.

It’s such a treat to listen to stories from the past from an insider and getting an insight into the real life of men and women from the world of glitz and glamour and a sense of behind the scene toil and sweat that keeps it going. Shahrukh also did a great job, sans his usual grandstanding and stagey shenanigans. He was being himself and some of us in the media contingent were pleasantly surprised that the event started in time since the star reported at the dot. It shows his great respect and love for you.

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You were candid and spontaneous, and gave so many juicy tidbits to the ‘byte’ hungry media and then quietly made the announcement of your retirement in the end. While many did not seem very surprised by it, I was.

You chose JAB TAK HAI JAAN as the title of your upcoming film, and then announced your retirement. It makes no sense. And I am going to tell you why.

I believe filmmakers, like politicians, never retire or get tired. They only retire from life, when the time comes. After all filmmaking is not a job. It’s life itself, to be lived till the end. Filmmakers are like front-line warriors who fight till their last breath and ounce of physical-mental prowess. For them age is no bar. They live and die in the saddle. They are not made to sit at home and play with their grandchildren and pass away like Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) in THE GODFATHER. That’s the fate of lesser mortals.

Let me remind you the words of Elia Kazan who lived for 94 years and was shunned by Hollywood and could not make films but he rued the fact and once said, ‘I realize now that work was my drug. It held me together. It kept me high. When I wasn’t working, I didn’t know who I was or what I was supposed to do. This is general in the film world. You are so absorbed in making a film, you can’t think of anything else. It’s your identity, and when it’s done you are nobody.’ He had testified against his communist friends before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) in 1952 because he did not want to give up making films. Ironically, this act of betrayal made him a pariah of Hollywood later and the genius was forced into retirement.

V. Shantaram, one of your benefactors who provided office space to you when you launched your banner, made his last film JHANJHAR (1987) at the age of 85.

Sohrab Modi launched his film GURU DAKSHINA at the age of 86 in 1994 even while he was suffering from cancer and passed away the same year.

Raj Kapoor died young at the age of 63 but continued to make films and was working on HENNA till his last breath.

Dev Saab was busy with his next CHARGESHEET until he suddenly left for heavenly abode at the age of 88.

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This year at Berlin International Film Festival I saw the Taviani brothers (Paolo and Vittorio), both octogenarians, walking up the stage to receive their Golden Bear for CAESAR MUST DIE. The older one, Vittorio Taviani (83), even performed a vigorous jig with great joy.

Frederick Wiseman, a well-known documentary filmmaker, continues to make documentaries at the age of 82.

Clint Eastwood is 82 and this year he made TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE and is busy with his next.

Ridley Scott is 75 and he made I PROMETHEUS this year, and is working on two projects simultaneously – an UNTITLED BLADE RUNNER PROJECT (announced) and THE COUNSELOR, the filming of which is going on.

At the age of 73, Bernardo Bertolucci, though wheelchair bound, presented his latest film ME AND YOU this year at Cannes in a special screening.

Woody Allen is 77 and has been going at the pace of one film a year, the last being TO ROME WITH LOVE and he is already busy with his next untitled project.

Ken Loach (76) has been following Woody’s pace, making heart-warming films without break. His last film THE ANGEL’S SHARE was in Cannes competition this year and won the Jury Prize. He is busy filming a documentary SPIRIT OF 45 now.

The ten-time Oscar-nominated John Huston made his last film THE DEAD in 1987, the year he died at the age of 81.

Cecil B. DeMille (1881-1959) produced the most important films of his career THE BUCCANEER, THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, THE WAR OF THE WORLDS, and THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH in the last six years of his life.

John Ford died around the age of 80 in 1973. He continued to make movies in spite of his bad health, his last being a documentary made in 1970.

Alfred Hitchcock continued to work after having made his last film FAMILY PLOT (1976) on the script of his next THE SHORT NIGHT before his death in 1980 at the age of 81.

CHECK OUT: Yash Chopra shocks industry by announcing JAB TAK HAI JAAN as his last film

Federico Fellini was working till the end of his life and directed part of a documentary titled THE KING OF ADS in 1993, the year he breathed his last at the age of 73.

These are but a few examples to underline the fact stated earlier. There are no retirement benefits for filmmakers. They should leave the talk of retirement and ‘sanyas’ to Cricketers, judges, bureaucrats, business tycoons, and the rest of humanity and continue making films as long as they live.

Since you wish to have some fun and relaxation in life, here is a suggestion. Make some path-breaking films yet again, moving out of your comfort zone, fully prepared to squarely face the greatest fear that never stops haunting filmmakers, the fear of failure. It’s time to make the best films of your life Yashji.

Jab tak hai jaan, film banate rahiye, nai bulandion ko choote rahiye.

With warm regards and best wishes,

Rajesh Kumar Singh

(Rajesh Kumar Singh is Editorial Consultant for Festivals and Markets or He is a filmmaker, critic and market analyst)

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