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55 years of Waqt (1965): The film that created the Yash Chopra imprint

The first colour film from BR Chopra's banner, Waqt brought together picturesque locales, cosmopolitan fashion, glitzy cars, travel and a suave style that became the hallmark of Yash Chopra.

Sukhpreet Kahlon

Directed by Yash Chopra and produced by his older brother BR Chopra, Waqt (1965), a romance with the lost-and-found theme, kickstarted the trend of multi-starrers in Hindi cinema. It was also the first film to tell of siblings separated as children, who find each other during the course of the story, a template that would be enthusiastically adapted for well over a decade.

The film tells the story of Lala Kedarnath (Balraj Sahni), a successful businessman, and his family. As he is celebrating his success with friends and family, calamity strikes. An earthquake destroys everything that he had worked for and separates Kedarnath, his wife, and two young sons, from one another. The wife (Achala Sachdev) manages to hold on to their youngest son, an infant.

The oldest son finds his way to an orphanage, only to run away and grow up as a thief, Raja (Raaj Kumar). The second son Ravi (Sunil Dutt) is found and adopted by a childless couple. The youngest, Vijay (Shashi Kapoor), grows up with his mother in hardship and poverty.

Despite the cards fate has dealt them, all three grow up to be sincere, good people, even Raja, who is a master thief but with a heart of gold.

The earthquake that tears the family asunder is also seen as symbolic of Partition, a cataclysmic event that shook up India's social fabric two decades earlier and scarred the psyche of the two countries that were born, India and Pakistan. The Chopras, who hailed from undivided Punjab (Baldev Raj was born in Ludhiana while Yash Raj was born in Lahore), had previously explored the far-reaching effects of Partition in their socials Dhool Ka Phool (1959) and Dharmputra (1961).

But while there was a lament for the days of yore, Waqt firmly had its eye on modernity as it whipped up picturesque locales, cosmopolitan fashion, glitzy cars, travel and a suave style that established the Yash Chopra imprint. The first colour film by the Chopras took us into the lifestyle of the well-heeled brought alive in resplendent colour. With Bhanu Athaiya’s designs, the stars looked their stylish best.

Sadhana’s haircut, later christened the ‘Sadhana cut’, inspired by Hollywood star Audrey Hepburn's style, had already become a rage. In this film, her impossibly tight kurti-churidar, created by Athaiya, set off a fashion storm and dominated popular style for years.

Recounting how the outfit came about, the actress said in an interview, “I wore churidars with conventional kurtis in Mere Mehboob (1963). I then asked Bhanu to create a fusion of the traditional churidar and modern kurti for my personal wardrobe. One day Yashji happened to come home to discuss my costumes in Waqt. I walked in wearing a sleeveless, gold-embroidered kurti, churidar and mojris and a chic hairstyle, and he went, ‘Wow! What you are wearing is exactly what I want for my film’."

The style went on to become a craze. Coupled with Sadhana's effervescent, youthful charm, it made Waqt one of her more memorable films.

The star-studded film featured stellar performances from all the artistes, with each role, however small, being played masterfully. Sharmila Tagore, Rehman, Jeevan, Madan Puri, Manmohan Krishna, Leela Chitnis, Motilal, the list goes on.

Speaking about the casting of the film, Chopra had said in an interview with the web portal rediff.com that he had originally thought of casting Shashi, Shammi and Raj Kapoor as the three brothers, which producer BR Chopra agreed would be a dream cast. "One day, he [BR Chopra] was travelling with [filmmaker] Bimal Roy when he narrated the script and also discussed the casting. Bimal immediately told him that the cast was a misfit! The movie was about separation and here I was casting three real brothers so anyone could recognize them. Ultimately, the film was made with Shashi Kapoor, Sunil Dutt and Raj Kumar.”

Raaj Kumar’s inimitable swagger along with the punchy dialogues written by Akhtar-ul-Iman are fondly remembered even today. Just sample a few of his run-ins with his benefactor and boss Chinoy Seth:

Despite all the entertainment, however, it is testimony to the core of the film and to Balraj Sahni’s peerless acting prowess that Waqt remains quintessentially about the terrible rupture of the family unit and its restoration. Sahni brings such gravitas to each scene that it seems to distil the pain of those broken apart by the events of Partition.

The songs by Ravi with lyrics by Sahir Ludhianvi were huge hits, with ‘Aye Meri Zohra Jabeen’, based on a composition by Abdul Ghafoor Breshna, the Afghan singer and composer, being the anthem for mature love even today. Thirty years later, Aditya Chopra doffed his hat to his father’s film in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995), which also featured Sachdev.

Waqt was a huge critical and commercial success and swept the Filmfare awards with Yash Chopra winning his first award for Best Director. It also created the archetype of the lives of the wealthy and the glamorous that was seen in the films to follow in the 1970s and 1980s.