The name Mahen Vakil may not automatically ring a bell in the minds of the most ardent Bollywood buffs, but if we told you he was a vital cog in the production of such films as Darr (1993), Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995), Dil To Pagal Hai (1997) and Mohabbatein (2000), you would surely do a double take.
Now in his eighties and retired, Vakil is a former executive producer at Yash Raj Films (YRF) who worked with the late filmmaking legend Yash Chopra in some of the banner's most unforgettable films between 1993 and the early 2000s.
Vakil became the first employee of YRF when Chopra started his production house, which is currently celebrating its golden jubilee year.
He recalls Chopra's passion as a creative artiste. "He never compromised on his work! When he would explain a scene to an artiste, he would get so involved that you would wish Yash ji would rather perform the scene! His briefing to actors was so clear and in such great detail that he would get the best performance out from them," Vakil said.
"Love stories these days are far different than what Yash Chopra used to make. His love stories are unparalleled," said Vakil, about Bollywood's master of romance.
Chopra made expensive films, and believed in the best use of technology, Vakil says, adding that he did not believe in compromising.
"What was made in 1965, even today if you look back at it -- his set designs, costumes are unmatchable. For him, the process to making a film was extremely pure. As employees, we were empowered to do what we wanted to because he trusted us to deliver for him. He left no stone unturned to achieve the scale, to make the film he wanted to make," he said.
Talking about Yash Chopra on the sets, Vakil recalled: "Yashji was full of life! He considered everyone equal! He used to be there on set one and a half hours prior to the shift time and would stand with folded hands near the gate and notice what time everyone was entering! It didn't look nice to enter after the boss has entered, so we would all make it a point to reach earlier. Would you ever see such an atmosphere on today's set?"
"My personal favourite, any day, is Lamhe! It didn't work as much because it was ahead of its time and it was not so easily acceptable then. But it is a cult film now. Yashji made the movie so wonderfully. He made his films with all his heart!" Vakil said.
He described Yash Chopra as a man with a kind heart: "He was very close to his staff and that created a healthy environment. That's the reason his staff worked for him for several years."
Vakil also opened up about Chopra's love for food.
"Each time the shoot was extended beyond the work hours, food was organised for everyone. Yashji was a bigtime foodie. One time I told him about a parathawala in Chembur who made amazing parathas. He was called on the set along with his tandoor and other equipment and was asked to make parathas for all! Yashji got tremendous joy feeding others," Vakil recalled.
"Every time there was an outdoor shoot, the entire unit from spotboy to the actors would stay in the same hotel, which would be a premium five-star. Would any director do that in this generation? Morning breakfast was a five-star buffet with variety. On outdoors, three cooks would travel from Mumbai, including one assistant."
Vakil recalled the special bond Yash Chopra shared with iconic poet-lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi.
"Sahir Ludhianvi was a big writer back then and no one had the courage to correct him or ask him to change his writing. But somehow Yashji's knowledge of poetry was so good that he was the only one who could convince him to change a few lines," said Vakil.
He shared that Yash Chopra and Ludhianvi referred to each other as brothers. "It was quite surprising to make such a big poet change his writing," Vakil noted.