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45 years of Yash Raj Films’ Daag: Yash Chopra's conviction as a producer

On the 45th anniversary of the blockbuster's release today, we recall how Chopra passed his first litmus test as producer and made a film with a controversial plot on his own terms.

Sonal Pandya

A love triangle starring superstar Rajesh Khanna, Sharmila Tagore and Rakhee, Daag (1973) was the first film director Yash Chopra produced under his own banner, Yash Raj Films.

The film began as a typical boy-meets-girl story but then turned to explore something more. Khanna played Sunil, who marries his college sweetheart Sonia (Tagore). They are on their honeymoon at a bungalow owned by his boss when the boss's son Dheeraj (Prem Chopra) attempts to rape Sonia.

Sunil kills Dheeraj and is sentenced to death in a court of law. However, while being transported to prison, he is allegedly killed in a road accident.

Many years pass. Sonia is a single mother raising her young son Rinku (Master Raju) by becoming a teacher, but her past scandalizes parents at the school where she teaches. Chandni, whose daughter is friends with Rinku, comes to her aid and asks Sonia to live with her when she loses her job.

It is then that Sonia finally meets Chandni’s husband Sudhir (Sunil) and the emotional turmoil begins for all three characters. It was probably the first time bigamy was explored in a meaningful way in mainstream Hindi cinema.

Daag has many memorable moments with hit songs like 'Ab Chahe Ma Roothe Ya Baba' and 'Mere Dil Mein Aaj Kya Hai' and stellar performances by its three leads.

In a conversation with Karan Johar, Chopra revealed how important the film was to him. He had already directed five films for older brother BR Chopra's banner, BR Films. “Why I started Daag... I thought it was high time I fly on my own wings. I should make films I believe in where I’m responsible,” he told Johar.

Chopra collaborated with writer Gulshan Nanda on the film’s story but gave it his own distinct touch. He envisaged the second storyline between Khanna and Rakhee, including the flashbacks, and was clear on how the film should end.

He stated how he had full support from his artistes for his first production venture. Rakhee even offered her money to Chopra to make Daag. Lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi said he would not take any money until the film and its music became a hit.

Johar asked Chopra about the film’s unusual ending and the veteran director said he was warned by a few of his distributors and financier Gulshan Rai that while the film was beautiful, it might not do well at the box office. “It’s a very controversial subject with a controversial end, a man living with two wives. I said I made the film only for this, not for anything else,” he recalled.

It was just a week before the film was to be released and Chopra indicated that he could not change the ending. What's more, even if he could, he would not. Therefore, Daag (1973) was due to be released in just nine theatres in Mumbai at the time. But by the day of release, the number of theatres went up to 18 on account of the advance booking rush, thanks to the popularity of the music by composers Laxmikant-Pyarelal. And when the film was released, it became a superhit.

The Hindu newspaper reported that Daag (1973) was “the highest grosser of the year with a whopping Rs6.5 crore business in its very first run”. Chopra won his third Filmfare award for Best Director and Rakhee won the award for Best Supporting Actress.

In the same interview, Chopra revealed that his favourite song from the film was the Lata Mangeshkar solo 'Jab Bhi Jee Chahe', mainly because of the lyrics by his friend Sahir.

The director, who would go on to become the acknowleged master of romances and love triangles, thus cut his teeth with a risky production. Luckily his gamble paid off and the production house, Yash Raj Films, was born.

Today, YRF is known for its high production values and unique stories. In a way, Chopra was following in the footsteps of big brother Baldev Raj Chopra, the founder of BR Films.