The passing away of the ‘King of Romance', Yash Chopraji, has been a great loss to the world of cinema. His films had a deep emotional connect, many being way ahead of their times. My connect with Yashji was not work related and I never approached him for any such matter, either.
The first time I met Yashji was in the late seventies during my concert at the International Film Festival in Bangalore's Ashoka Hotel. There was a host of directors like Satyajit Ray, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Roman Polanski, Ramanand Sagar and Shyam Benegal.
Over the years, Yashji and I met at award ceremonies, events, concerts and there was always mutual love and respect. In fact, he messaged me on the arrival of my grandchildren a few months ago. The last time I met him was at Amitabh Bachchan's 70th birthday celebration. I had the honour of sharing the table with him and his wife, Pam Chopra, who is a wonderful singer. So many occasions, so many memories! May his soul rest in peace. What he had done for cinema is timeless.
Speaking of cinema, my guru and father, an old-timer and a purist, never wanted me to go to Mumbai to play for films. In those days it was common for the youth to escape to Mumbai, chasing quick money and instant popularity. If you read the history of Bollywood stars, you will realise that most of the artistes had wanted to become actors but ended up as music directors, lyricists or playback singers.
Because of my responsibilities of a long lineage and legacy of Indian classical music, I did not have the courage to take the risk of joining films. But great filmmakers and actors have been at my concerts. In 1994, a French filmmaker asked me to act in a film of his as an Indian guru. But he wanted me to grow long hair, which I refused. He was very disappointed. I told him it was not necessary to grow a long beard or hair to portray the guru! Show me as I am, I said. Today, my children say I should have accepted the film.
The iconic Amitabh Bachchan's love for the fine arts, literature and music has always inspired me deeply. His literary background and passion for music have enhanced his identity and stature. He has boundless creativity and genius. On one occasion in Mumbai, I played dholak as he sang the highly popular song, Mere angne main. I also had the honour of giving a musical tribute to the legendary Harivansh Rai Bachchan on his 80th birthday along with his wife, Teji Bachchan, in New Delhi in the mid-eighties. Harivansh Rai Bachchan had an aura of dignity and grace. I used to feel embarrassed by way he would address me with extravagant titles and appellations. In spite of my requests to call me just by my name, the great man continued to express his love to, as he would say, “the musician in me”.
In recent times, many renowned artistes from the world of music have had very sad endings as they are impoverished at the twilight of their careers. We need agencies and banks, like the PRS and PPL in the United Kingdom, which can guide artistes to save and invest money for a secure future. Artistes, usually, are marzee ke maalik (happy-go-lucky) and don't live in the real world. By the time they realise this, it's too late. We also need to give a serious thought to the system of royalties and profits for artistes from recordings, mobile phone downloads and iTunes as most of them are totally unaware of what they can gain.