indian cinema heritage foundation

Dharam Chopra

  • Born: 24 August 1924 (..)
  • Died: 28 September 2002
  • Primary Cinema: Hindi
  • Parents: Vilayati Raj Chopra

Prolific cinematographer Dharam Chopra is known for popular films such as Waqt (1965), The Burning Train (1980), Kanoon (1960), Ittefaq (1969), Pati Patni Aur Woh (1978), Insaf Ka Tarazu (1980), Nikaah (1982), and Amaanat (1977). He shot most of the films produced and directed by his brother B R Chopra. He won the Filmfare Award in the year 1965 for Best Cinematographer for Waqt. Later, his work in television saw him serve as director of photography for popular serials such as Mahabharat and Bahadur Shah Zafar

Born on 24 August 1924, he was one of eight children including B R Chopra and Yash Chopra, born to Vilayati Raj Chopra, an accountant in the PWD division of the British Punjab administration. On graduating from Punjab University, he came to Bombay in 1948. He went on to join M and T Studios as an assistant in the camera department. He later joined his filmmaker brother B R Chopra and worked as operative cameraman for the film Sadhana (1958). A family drama, it starred Vyjayanthimala and Sunil Dutt. It told the tale of Mohan, who lives a middle-class life with his ailing mother, and works as a college professor. His mother would like him to get married, but he asks her to be patient as he awaits his probationary period to end at the college. At the college, he lectures his students about Vasantsena, the evils of prostitution and his personal hatred of courtesans, who sell their lives for money. Things take a turn for the worse, when his mother suddenly collapses, loses consciousness, and is not expected to live long. The only way he can bring peace to his dying mother is to get married. His neighbour, Jeevan Ram, agrees to find a woman who will pose as a wife for a fee, and introduces him to a woman named Rajni, who is then introduced to his mother. His mother's health improves, with Rajni visiting her frequently. His mother is so pleased with Rajni that she even gives her the family jewels. Then the mother and son are stunned to discover that Rajni is not who she claims to be - but is actually a prostitute by the name of Champabai. However, by then it may be too late to save the family jewels, the lost of face in the community, and a possible relapse to Mohan's mother’s health.

He made his solo debut as a full-fledged cinematographer in B R Chopra's Dhool Ka Phool (1960). Directed by Yash Chopra, it starred Mala Sinha, Rajendra Kumar Tuli, and Nanda Karnataki. It revolved around Mahesh and Meena who fall in love but he marries another girl at his father's behest. When Meena takes their baby to Mahesh, he rejects her saying their relationship was a mistake.

He went on to cinematograph Dharamputra (1961), the Yash Chopra directorial which told the story of two families, that of Nawab Badruddin and Gulshan Rai, living in an India under British rule, sharing life's ups and downs together almost as one family. It starred Mala Sinha, Shashi Kapoor, and Rehman Khan

T Prakash Rao's College Girl (1960) which he cinematographed, starred Shammi Kapoor and Vyjayanthimala in the lead with Om Prakash, Tabassum, Nana Palsikar, Raj Mehra, Purnima, Randhir, Achala Sachdev, Leela Mishra, Mohan Choti forming an ensemble cast. It depicted the life of Kamala, who rebels against patriarchal norms and is determined not to bow before injustice, but to secure her rightful place in society. She makes an all-out bid to join college with the help of Dr Ratanlal, a close friend of her father’s. In college, she comes across Shyam, who helps her in many difficult situations.

P L Santoshi's Dil Hi To Hai which he cinematographed in 1963, revolved around an impoverished widowed Hindu nanny who brings up an abused and abandoned Muslim lad. It starred Raj Kapoor, Nutan, and Agha.

Next, he cinematographed B R Chopra's Waqt (1965), his work winning him the Filmfare award for best cinematography. A romantic drama, it portrayed the events in the lives of members of a family who are separated in a natural disaster. Several years down the line, they aren't united but their lives are strangely interconnected. Directed by Yash Chopra, the film starred Sunil Dutt, Sadhana Shivdasani, and Raaj Kumar. The film took the top spot at the box office in 1965, while the plot of the film revived the lost and found formula in Hindi films.

His work in Aadmi Aur Insaan (1969) won him the Nizam Hyderabad Award for Best Cinematography. Produced by B R Chopra and directed by Yash Chopra, the film starred Dharmendra, Saira Banu, Feroz Khan and Mumtaz. 

Dharam Chopra shot most of his brother B R Chopra's films including the mystery thriller Ittefaq starring Nanda and Rajesh Khanna (1969), the romantic thriller Dastaan (1972) featuring Dilip Kumar and Sharmila Tagore, Zameer (1975) which was a revenge drama starring Amitabh Bachchan, Saira Banu and Shammi Kapoor, and the drama mystery Dhund (1973) starring Navin Nischol, Zeenat Aman and Sanjay Khan which revolved around a traveller who decides to assist a woman involved in a murder.

His work for Karm (1977), Pati Patni Aur Woh (1978) and The Burning Train (1980) also won him appreciation, with his cinematography particularly in The Burning Train drawing attention. An action thriller directed by Ravi Chopra, its plot revolved around a train named the Super Express that catches fire on its inaugural run from New Delhi to Mumbai. It starred an ensemble cast headlined by Dharmendra, Vinod Khanna, and Jeetendra

Chopra was also cinematographer of Tilak Raj's 36 Ghante (1974), starring Sunil Dutt, Mala Sinha and Parveen Babi. An action crime drama, it revolved around three jailed convicts, Himmat, his brother Ajit, and Dilawar Khan who break out of prison and take over the household of editor Ashok Rai. The convicts will continue to hold the family hostage until their associate, Kamini contacts them in person.

He would go on to cinematograph the Shatrujit Paul directorial Amaanat (1977) starring Manoj Kumar, Sadhana and Rehman, which depicted an innocent man and his family getting framed in a fake murder. 

These were followed by well-known films such as Insaf Ka Tarazu (1980), Nikaah (1982), and Mazdoor (1983), which he would cinematograph. His also cinematographed Tawaif (1985), directed by B R Chopra, which depicted a courtesan who accidentally comes to the house of a humble man and lives in civil society without revealing her profession. She falls in love with the man but her past forbids a union between them. It starred Ashok Kumar, Rishi Kapoor, and Rati Agnihotri

Chopra served as cinematographer of B R Chopra's telefilms Dharti Akash (1983), Beta (1982) and Ghazal (1985), all produced and directed by B R Chopra. His work in television is prolific, as he served as director of photography for the popular and acclaimed teleserials Mahabharat, Bahadur Shah Zafar, Chunni, Sauda, Kanoon, Jhansi Ki Rani, Mai Dilli Hoon, Aurat and Vishnu Puran.

Dharam Chopra passed away on 28 September 2002 following a cardiac arrest. He was 78. He was survived by his wife and three daughters.