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The birth of Dharma Productions with Dostana

The 1980 Amitabh-Shatrughan starrer, Dostana, launched Yash Johar’s Dharma Productions on this day (8 October) 36 years ago.

Sonal Pandya

The lyrics of ‘Salamat Rahe Dostana’ from the 1980 film state, ‘Bane chaahe dushman zaamana hamara, salaamat rahe dostana humara’ (Even if the whole world turns into an enemy, may our friendship last). The song written by Anand Bakshi and composed by Laxmikant-Pyarelal ranks up there with ‘Yeh Dosti’ from Sholay (1975) in the annals of friendship songs in Hindi film music.

Directed by Raj Khosla, Dostana was the first film to be produced by Yash Johar’s Dharma Productions. Johar was the former production controller of such films as Mujhe Jeene Do (1963) and Yeh Raaste Hai Pyaar Ke (1963) for Ajanta Arts and Guide (1965), Jewel Thief (1967), Prem Pujari (1970) and Hare Rama Hare Krishna (1971) for Navketan. He worked with Navketan for 11 years before branching out on his own as an independent producer.

The film was a success for the new production house under former Navketan director Khosla. Johar employed the hit screenwriting pair Salim-Javed and cast the top stars of the time, Amitabh Bachchan and Shatrughan Sinha with Zeenat Aman as their love interest. Johar’s early instincts proved beneficial for Dostana.

The story revolved around two friends, Vijay (Bachchan) and Ravi (Sinha) who often find themselves on the opposite sides of their professions. Vijay is a police officer who tries to jail criminal, while Ravi is a lawyer protecting the rights of said criminals. Despite it all, they remain friends through thick and thin, until they both fall in love with the same woman. Dagga (Prem Chopra) who has hired Ravi uses this information to cause a rift between the two friends.

Bachchan and Sinha were both nominated for Best Actor for their roles, but they lost out to Naseeruddin Shah for Govind Nihalani’s debut film, Aakhrosh (1980). Their next release after Dostana was Manmohan Desai’s Naseeb (1981). The two stars were seen together quite sparingly after these films.

Some rumours attributed the bad blood between the two stars to Sinha walking away with accolades on the feature, a fact that Sinha addressed in his biography, Anything But Khamosh. In it, he stated, “People say that Amitabh and I made a dynamic pair on screen but if he did not wish to work with me, if he felt that in Naseeb, Shaan, Dostana or Kala Patthar Shatrughan Sinha bhari pad gaya (having Sinha around worked against him), it didn’t affect me.”

Dharma’s first film held many of the trademarks for which the company is known today — a multi-star cast, popular songs and an intriguing story that catches the interest of moviegoers. In 2008, Dharma Productions released Dostana starring John Abraham, Abhishek Bachchan and Priyanka Chopra. Reusing the 1980 title was a homage to the company’s origins, though this tribute held no resemblance to the original. In the newer version, Abraham and Bachchan pretended to be a couple in order to share a flat with Chopra with whom they eventually fall in love with.

The studio has become one of the pillars of the Hindi film industry alongside Yash Raj Films, largely due to son Karan's leadership. His directorial debut Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998) announced the arrival of a new dynamic director and every film of his ever since has been largely appreciated by the industry and fans alike.

When Dharma Productions completed 35 years last October, Karan tweeted, “My father's goodwill and his blessings are my biggest strength....the company stands on his vision today....” Yash passed away in 2004 and his son Karan decided to hand over the directing duties to new talent. The company has launched the careers of several young directors like Karan Malhotra, Ayan Mukerji, Shakun Batra, Sonam Nair and Shashank Khaitan. In 2012, Karan’s own film, Student of the Year, featured star kids, Varun Dhawan (son of filmmaker David Dhawan) and Alia Bhatt (daughter of filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt) along with debutant Sidharth Malhotra.

Dharma’s upcoming 2016 projects are all eagerly awaited from the Diwali multi-star cast of Ae Dil Hai Mushkil to Gauri Shinde’s Dear Zindagi starring Alia Bhatt and Shah Rukh Khan. Also waiting in the wings is Ayan Mukerji’s next with Ranbir Kapoor and Shaad Ali’s remake of Mani Rathnam’s OK Kanmani with Aditya Roy Kapur and Shraddha Kapoor in the lead.