Mahen Vakil

‘Yash ji would consider everyone equal!’

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 filmmaker started his production house, 50 years back. Mahen’s journey with YRF and Yash ji saw him being promoted to become an Executive Producer at 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.”