Ironically because of this, Chopra's detractors often accused him of "objectifying" the gender, forgetting in their misplaced zeal that most women in his films were ladies of substance, and that Yash Chopra made the entire cast and the film itself look beautiful. Maybe that was the reason why he also faced the other accusation – that his films almost always were about the elite or well-heeled classes.
The reel icons
Yash Chopra's first strong woman was Mala Sinha as Husn Bano in Dharamputra, who confronts her grown-up biological son (Shashi Kapoor), brought up as a Hindu by her Hindu family friends, who has turned a Muslim-hater in the post-Partition era.
But the first standout character was Nanda, portraying a cold-blooded murderess who also tries to frame the hero for her crime. This was Chopra portraying a woman for the only time in his career as a black character, in fact a black widow, and the film titled Ittefaq, was actually true to its name: a delay in the production of his big film Aadmi Aur Insaan caused the making of this quickie, made within a month. Chopra had loved a play he had watched and decided to make it, otherwise this blockbuster, so unlike Chopra's other films, would not have been made at all! And by ittefaq (coincidence) it was a woman who was responsible. "We needed dates to re-shoot some scenes, but Saira Banu was away abroad for three months!" revealed Chopra, who did not want to sit twiddling his thumbs for so long!
Of course, there was Raakhee in Doosra Aadmi, as the woman obsessed with a married young man who resembles her dead lover, throwing the spanner of discord into the happy marital bliss of Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh, and Rekha, weakened by temptation, bringing turmoil into the hero's married life and hurting her own husband as she throws herself into an affair with ex-reel flame Amitabh Bachchan in Silsila.
But for these aberrations, Chopra's women were usually beautiful women, with a mind of their own oftener than not. If Madhuri Dixit and Karisma Kapoor (Dil To Pagal Hai) and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan (Mohabbatein) were essentially beauties rather than brains, Sridevi (Chandni and her dual role in Lamhe), Rani Mukerji and Preity Zinta (Veer-Zaara) and in films he did not direct, Kajol (Fanaa), Aishwarya Rai Bachchan (Mohabbatein), Preity Zinta again (Salaam Namaste), Katrina Kaif (New York, Mere Brother Ki Dulhan, Ek Tha Tiger) were today's woman, independent and assertive. The traditional Kajol of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge and the spunky girl she played in Yeh Dillagi also were women of substance alongside the external beauty. And in Bachna Ae Haeeno and Ladies Vs Ricky Bahl, the ladies taught philandering men a lesson.
Let us also not forget two path-breaking characters that Yash Chopra presented 40 years ago: Raakhee, the 'fallen' woman from Daag, who actually rises above her circumstances of being an unwed mother, and Parveen Babi, the hooker who smoked and lived in with Amitabh Bachchan in Deewaar without any back or sob-story.
The real women
Chopra was a man who never did anything for effect. His respect for women too was deeply rooted in his being, beginning with his mother. As he put it, "My family wanted me to be an engineer, and it was my uneducated mother who, when she came to know of my wish to join films, encouraged me to follow my heart, blessed me and gave Rs 200 (a huge sum then) to travel to Mumbai from Punjab," revealed Chopra. It was the early '50s.
When he married Pamela in 1970, it was her pregnancy that turned Chopra ambitious enough to want to launch his own company to boost his income. "But I was in a moral dilemma as my brother and guru would feel hurt. Once again, my mother blessed him and told me to follow his heart (a dictum that was a recurrent leitmotif in his love stories). That's when I was again inspired. One blessing had kept me in good stead in my profession for 20 years, and I was sure that this would make me go on for 20 more!" said the director.
When he finally launched Yash Raj Films, his future favourite actress Raakhee (signed for the lead) actually loaned him some money. And with the exception of his latest film Jab Tak Hai Jaan, Lata Mangeshkar became the common musical bulwark of all his directorial ventures from Daag (1973) to Veer-Zaara (2004), and Deewaar (1975) remains the only exception in this period.
Because wife Pamela Chopra liked to sing, she not only sang in several films from Doosara Aadmi (1977) to DDLJ (1995) but also produced Aaina and co-wrote Dil To Pagal Hai. Yash never believed in gender discrimination. In the '90s, his favourite production designer was Sharmistha Roy, the hugely talented daughter of ace art director Sudhendu Roy, and his writers included Honey Irani (Lamhe, Aaina, Darr) and Kamna Chandra (Chandni). His swan song, Jab Tak Hai Jaan, is co-scripted by Devika Bhagat and edited by Namrata Rao!
Clearly, Yash Chopra's obsession with women enriched both them and his films. In his films, in the reel as well as the real sense, the women were always on top!