Baldev Raj Chopra, also known as BR Chopra, was one of the legendary figures of Bollywood. Whether making musicals or dramatic, socially conscious films he combined quality film-making with an ability to cater to popular taste. Born on 22 April 1914 in Rahon, Chopra was an employee of the PWD who later shifted to Lahore. He was the second of several siblings. His younger brother Yash Chopra, son Ravi Chopra and nephew Aditya Chopra are also directors in the Bollywood industry today. His nephew Uday Chopra is an actor and producer.
Chopra was born in Punjab into a middle-class Hindu family which later moved to Lahore, one of the most culturally vibrant cities in India. One of seven children of a government officer, he studied English literature at Lahore University. He subsequently failed the civil service exam and turned to film journalism, becoming editor of Cine Herald magazine in 1938, a film-monthly published in Lahore.
After the partition of India in 1947, which left Lahore in Pakistan, Chopra migrated to Delhi and then settled in Mumbai, where he joined a film company as a producer.
After the first film he produced flopped, he turned to direction. BR persuaded one of the most natural actors of the day, Ashok Kumar, to star in his film Afsana (1951), which was a hit. Its title means story, which proved prophetic because Chopra was to become known as a master of the art of storytelling.
B.R. had always endeavored to make socially relevant films, which at the same time tried to cater to popular sentiment. For instance, Naya Daur (1957) told the story of a traditional rural community threatened with modernism and mechanism; B.R. perceives the mechanism as evil and has the protagonist, a horse carriage rider, defeat an automobile in a race!
B.R. has also made films that were regarded as ahead of their time - Kanoon (1960) was a courtroom drama without any songs at all (music being essential of all Hindi films, this was a novel technique); Gumrah (1963) told the tale of a woman resuming her affair after marriage; and Ittefaq (1969) showed the heroine as a murderess of her own husband!
He later took over the magazine and ran it until 1947. In the same year, he launched a film with a story by I. S. Johar, Chandni Chowk. Naeem Hashmi was the hero of this movie and Erika Rukhshi was the heroine. Just as the production of film was to start, riots broke out in Lahore and he and his family had to flee from the city.
In 1955 he founded his own production house, BR Films. His first film under his own banner, Ek Hi Raasta (Only One Path), took on the issue of widow remarriage. His later films dealt with subjects such as the after-effects of partition and the rights of Muslim women. Although he presented social issues, he treated them in a way the public would find relatable.
One of the best known is Naya Daur (New Age, 1957), which looks at the need to temper industrialization with a humane approach to labor and centers on the rivalry between pony-trap drivers and a new bus service threatening to rob them of their livelihoods.
Apart from casting the best actors, Chopra also chose the best music directors and lyricists - often Urdu poets. He directed successful films across genres after 1972, with films like suspense thriller Dhund, comedy film Pati Patni Aur Woh, Insaaf Ka Tarazu, Nikaah and the political thriller Awam.
Chopra was instrumental in developing the career of singer Mahendra Kapoor, whom he employed in most of his movies. His younger brother director-producer, Yash Chopra cast Mahendra Kapoor's son Rohan Kapoor in Faasle. One prominent thing about B. R. Chopra is the relatively low number of songs sung by Lata Mangeshkar and Mohd.Rafi in his films.
Chopra's younger brother is Yash Chopra who formed his own company YashRaj films after splitting with his brother. He forayed into television with Mahabharat, one of the most successful TV serials in Indian television history. Another of his memorable TV dramas is Bahadur Shah Zafar. He died in Mumbai at the age of 94 on 5 November 2008, survived by his son, Ravi Chopra, and two daughters.