The Romantics Documentary Review: A rose-tinted take on the YRF stronghold on Hindi cinema romance
The grandstanding is par for the course but could have definitely been reined in to accommodate a more balanced approach to the show
The late actor Rishi Kapoor kickstarts The Romantics, Netflix’s love letter to Yash Raj Films, by saying, “For Indians, after sex, cinema is the best form of entertainment.” The series, backed by the Chopra family, is less an ode to Bollywood, I mean Hindi cinema, and more an exaltation of the vision of the legendary filmmaker Yash Chopra, and his son, the reticent yet prolific Aditya Chopra. There is no doubt that their story is fascinating because the rise and rise of the Chopra family is synonymous with the changing landscape of Hindi cinema. If Yash Chopra's Waqt is billed as one of the earliest multistarrers, we have the birth of the Angry Young Man through the Amitabh Bachchan-starrer Deewaar. If there is a change of guard in Mashaal, we have the resurgence of romance through Silsila. Considering the documentary is titled The Romantics, there is a fair bit of romanticisation about the legacy of not just the Chopra family but Hindi cinema as well.
Director: Smriti Mundhra
Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Aditya Chopra, Hrithik Roshan, Uday Chopra, Madhuri Dixit
Streaming on: Netflix
Just like the films of Yash Chopra, and of course Aditya Chopra too, The Romantics is a glossy representation of one of the most successful film families in India. The grandstanding is par for the course but could have definitely been reined in to accommodate a more balanced approach to the show. However, there is no doubt that the documentary is a rather fun exercise to see how films were being made and received in an era long before social media came into existence. Seeing how premiere shows used to happen, how the box-office results used to be discussed, and the kind of camaraderie that was shared among the prominent film families of Hindi cinema is a rather heartwarming exercise. The repository of old photos and videos is fun to watch, and it is a peek into a kind of showbiz that is almost non-existent now. Social media has brought stars closer to us but has moved the idea of stardom far away. To hear even star kids talk about legends like Amitabh Bachchan and Yash Chopra is a throwback to a bygone era where films were indeed the best form of entertainment.
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Director Smriti Mundhra and her team ensure that the series is always engaging by dividing The Romantics into just the right chapters to keep our interests piqued. It is wonderful to see insights into the minds of Yash and Aditya, who figured out a way to make Yash Raj Films into the juggernaut it is today. It is lovely to see the way these two filmmakers approach success and failure. In fact, it reminds us of the vagaries of success, and how even the great Yash Chopra is affected by failures. The makers criss-cross real-time interviews with the likes of Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Kajol, Katrina Kaif, Rani Mukerji, Uday Chopra, Karan Johar, and the unbelievably reticent Aditya Chopra, with snippets from older interviews of Yash Chopra with SRK and Karan. It gives a sense of old-school charm to the documentary, which is enriched by visuals of the legendary filmmaker's wedding with Pamela Chopra. We also see speeches of former Prime Ministers Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, and how Yash Chopra almost Forrest Gump-ed the times through his cinema.
While it is clear that The Romantics is indeed an ode to Hindi Cinema and Yash Raj Films; tryst with romance, the true highlight of this documentary is the conversations that revolve around films. We see how narratives about Pamela making Yash Chopra a better man, and how she influenced the romantic films that came from Yash Raj Films. There is a definitive conversation about nepotism, and how YRF is trying its best to promote new talent. We see how someone as influential as Uday Chopra opens up about how even the powers behind him couldn't make him the star he wanted to be. And of course, the talk of the town will certainly be Aditya Chopra's no-holds-barred conversation about the highs, lows, the bigger highs, and the deeper lows of Yash Raj Films, and the vision he has for the company, and Hindi cinema. It is exhilarating to hear him say Dhoom was a Manmohan Desai meets Michael Bay kind of film. This unabashed openness works in favour of the documentary because it is his interview that runs the majority of The Romantics. Yes, we have the likes of Shah Rukh Khan, Hrithik Roshan, Abhishek Bachchan, and Kajol talk about the legacy of Yash Chopra and YRF, but the documentary is about two men — Yash Chopra and Aditya Chopra — and it is very clear that the baton of YRF is in safe hands. It is also nice to note how YRF is thinking inwards and moving away from the West, and going all desi.
The derision towards the 80s cinema, notwithstanding, The Romantics definitely works for people wanting to herald a time when people made the cinema they wanted to, and were allowed their share of mistakes. The perceived slump of Yash Raj Films received an upward swing after the blockbuster success of Pathaan. The timing of The Romantics is just right, and it gives a much-needed image boost for the company, and it almost successfully portrays YRF as the studio that gave it all for cinema and continues to be the independent voice amidst the corporate cacophony. One can contest these claims, and even blame it for taking undue credit, but it is all about being the first ones to do something, and with The Romantics, Yash Raj Films have done what they always do best... say a story, however, complicated it is, fill it with the biggest stars in Hindi, gloss it up with utmost flair, and of course... a yellow sweater here, a chiffon saree there, and a lot of Switzerland.