16 years of ‘Veer-Zaara’: “It was a fantastic tribute from a son to a father,” says cinematographer Anil Mehta
Celebrated cinematographer Anil Mehta, who has collaborated with Yash Chopra on his two timeless romances ‘Veer-Zaara and ‘Jab Tak Hai Jaan’, opens up about how Aditya Chopra wrote the story and screenplay for ‘Veer-Zaara’ as a tribute to his legendary father, Yash Chopra’s style of cinema.
On the 16th anniversary of the blockbuster romance ‘Veer-Zaara’, Anil says, “The incredible thing about working on Veer-Zaara was the way Adi and Yash-ji worked together. The fact is that Adi wrote the screenplay and Adi once, in one conversation, I remember telling me that how when he was writing, he was trying to think through Yash Chopra’s mind.”
Anil adds, “He (Adi) was trying to, you know, see what kind of film Yash Chopra would make. So, that’s giving a lot of credit, I think, to the filmmaker. And coming from his son, it was a fantastic tribute, I thought. You know, to try and write scenes and give this film a spirit of the old soul, was, I think, much to Adi’s credit. Even on set, Adi would be like a big support system for pretty much everything that needed to be done.”
Every film is seen from a different lens and a cinematographer brings life to the written words. About his creative vision for ‘Veer-Zaara’, Anil says, “Veer-Zaara in its language was, you know, quintessentially a classical love story told with that epic speech, and that was the grammar and the language of the film.”
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Talking about how he loved to collaborate with the iconic Yash Chopra, Anil says, “You know, when you work on a Yash Chopra film, everyone is an equal, and that is a very important quality to have on set. So, whether it was the biggest stars, the really bigtime director on set, when work started, everybody was an equal and everybody contributed in the best way possible and, you know– which actually also brings me to Sharmishta (Roy, art director) because she also contributed to the look of Veer-Zaara in a very big way.”
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Shah Rukh was the hero in both ‘Veer-Zaara’ and ‘Jab Tak Hai Jaan‘ . Anil tells us what makes him the king of romance and how he works the camera so effortlessly. He says, “Shah Rukh, as an actor, I have always found quite incredible. I mean, the ability he has to just take up everything as a whole. I remember the poem reading in the court in Veer-Zaara. And he just sat with those lines for a few minutes, maybe five or ten. And then, when he came on set, he had the whole thing packed. He ran it as a continuous take many times for us, and every time it had the same emotional ring. For an actor to have that level of control and that finesse actually in his performance was quite incredible to see.”
‘Veer-Zaara’, which starred Shah Rukh, Rani Mukerji and Preity Zinta, was a blockbuster romance. The film’s beautiful story was a rage among audiences and this catapulted the movie to a timeless love story status. The film’s music too is iconic as audiences were treated to late Madan Mohan’s unreleased and brilliant soundtracks like ‘Tere Liye’. Yash Chopra loved the song so much that it remained his ringtone till he breathed his last.
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Yash Chopra wanted an old world score for the film which was set 22 years earlier. He had sittings with various composers but felt it was not working. In a chance moment, Madan Mohan’s son Sanjeev Kohli, who was CEO of YRF at the time, mentioned that his late father had left behind some unused/rejected dummy compositions. Yash and Aditya heard them and immediately decided that ‘Veer Zaara’ would have music by the maestro!
Sanjeev Kohli, recounts in the book Veer-Zaara, The Memoirs of a Love Legend, “Veer-Zaara for me was the realization of a dream that I could never believe would ever come true. When my father, the late composer Madan Mohan, passed away in 1975, he was only 51 years old. A lot of music still to be created, a lot of tunes yet to be shared with the world, a lot yet to be achieved! He was widely acknowledged as a great composer but big banners, films with big stars and popular awards always eluded him, and in fact this hurt him deeply. The tapes remained safely kept away, though, over the years, they were suffering damage and with technological developments, they would soon be obsolete.”
He adds, “In 2003, one day Yashji told me that after 6 years he had decided to direct another film, but a film that needed old world music that was away from the western influences that had crept into the scene today. Instinctively, I blurted that I had some old world melodies on tape, now not heard for 28 years. He seemed excited at the idea and very surprised that I had never mentioned this before. His son, Aditya Chopra was scripting the new film. Adi was a man of today and needed commercially acceptable songs. There was no place for nostalgia and emotions here. Only Yashji and Adi knew what they needed. I didn’t.”
Sanjeev says that the songs took a year to record and opens up about how Yash Chopra was keen to have Lata Mangeshkar sing in the album! He says, “Yashji was clear that only Lataji would sing the female songs and that thrilled me because all Madanji tunes were made only for Lataji and it would have been incomplete if she did not sing them. But at the same time it concerned me. It would be so challenging for her to sing for Madanji again after 30 years! She was keeping indifferent health and people could be unfair in passing judgment on her. But she found an inner strength to sing as only she can.”
Sanjeev was thrilled when his father’s compositions received such overwhelming love. He says, “With Veer Zaara, every fantasy of mine came true in one stroke. Madanji’s tunes formed the soundtrack of one of India’s biggest and most successful films, created by India’s most successful producer and director, Yash Chopra. The top stars of today, Shahrukh Khan, Preity Zinta, and Rani Mukherji, formed the cast of this film. And what a coincidence that Amitabh Bachchan and Hema Malini danced to his tunes again and once again his songs were on the top of the charts for almost an entire year, and he finally won many popular awards.”