The Romantics on Netflix: A star-studded Bollywood family drama
It has the life-story of Hindi cinema patriarch Yash Chopra, who made dreamy love stories that became blockbusters
Watching The Romantics, a new docu-series streaming on Netflix, is like being part of an opulent, Bollywood drama. It has the life-story of a much-loved patriarch of Hindi cinema, Yash Chopra, who made dreamy love stories that became blockbusters.
This director with the Midas touch passes the baton on to his elder son (Aditya Chopra), who turns out to be a natural, when it comes to the movie business and carries on the Yash Raj Films (YRF) legacy. The second son (Uday Chopra) flounders unable to find his footing on the silver screen or outside it. And, he cannot break free from the shadow of his extremely successful elder brother and father.
There are flops and downslides the family has to deal with but they pick themselves up and move on, as the show business has to go on. And, their close extended family is a bunch of film stars, who work with them to laboriously craft their aspirational movies that bring audiences hot-footing to the cinema halls.
Candy-floss and cherry
This four-episode series, The Romantics, is like slurping on candy-floss topped with a cherry, much like being inside one of Yash Chopra’s movies, with his chiffon-clad, ethereal looking heroines frolicking on Swiss mountains – be it ‘Kabhi Kabhie’, ‘Chandni’ or ‘Dil To Pagal Hai’. Though, the docu-series is meant to pay tribute to one of India’s key filmmakers, the galaxy of superstars that flit in and out make it as heady as a Bollywood multi-starrer.
Besides the Chopra family’s close friends, Shah Rukh Khan and Karan Johar, there’s Hrithik Roshan, Abhishek Bachchan, Kajol, Aamir Khan, Salman Khan, Rani Mukherjee etc., sharing their memories of working with uncle ‘Yashji’. Some facts from this ultimate world of make-believe filter in: Shah Rukh Khan never really wanted to play a ‘namby-pamby lover boy’ in DDLJ or that Sri Devi hated wearing ‘dull’ white sarees for the romantic film ‘Chandni’. Or, how Aditya Chopra (like ‘Bahubaali’ director SS Rajamouli) would go incognito to the theatres and watch his films along with the audience to know when they whistled, laughed or booed.
And, hey, the inner charmed coterie who Kangana Ranaut loves to hate, even react to the infamous nepotism charge against them. For Bollywood fans, this docu-series will be a treat – like a visit to Willy Wonka chocolate factory.
The highs of Hindi cinema
‘The Romantics’, directed by Indian-American filmmaker, Smriti Mundhra (who was behind ‘Indian Matchmaking’) allows you to relive the giddy times of Hindi cinema of the 80s and 90s.
It was the time Hindi films dominated Indian celluloid free of bhakts sniping at their heels. Directors of popular cinema like Yash Chopra, influenced by the partition and the communal bloodbath that followed, had boldly stepped forward to tackle these sensitive subjects in commercial films.
His debut film, the 1959 ‘Dhool ka Phool’, in which an illegitimate abandoned baby is adopted by a Muslim, has a song which goes like this: Tu Hindu banega, na mussalman banega, insaan ka aulaad, tu insaan hi banega. (Neither will you become a Hindu or a Mussalman, as a child of a human, you will become a human). Maybe, it was naive and an innocent form of secularism but it was significant they made them, paving the way for future filmmakers. And, what’s more the audience was loving it.
Here, Mundhra throws in a clip of Pandit Jawarharlal Nehru airing his view about the power of cinema and its influence on the minds of people.
‘The Romantics’ attempts to show how Yash Chopra, who had broken away from his elder brother filmmaker, BR Chopra, to direct his own films, was influenced by the turbulent times in a newly independent country. For his next film, ‘Dharmputra’ (1961) too, he tackled religious bigotry, fanaticism and communalism, 14 years after partition when wounds were still raw.
Yash Chopra, however, got entangled in the the matters of the heart, and trained his lens on the rocky road of true love, love triangles and soulmates, to churn out hit movies like ‘Daag’, ‘Kabhie Kabhie’ and ‘Chandni’. In between, he did the iconic ‘Deewar’ to suit the prevailing angry man action film genre of that time.
Amitabh Bachchan, who is also interviewed in ‘The Romantics’, recalls an amusing incident of how Yashji, an eternal romantic, would suddenly swerve the camera in the middle of an intense action sequence, to focus on flowers. Bachchan, meanwhile holding a gun in his hand, would be extremely perturbed by this but Yashiji would assure him it would all work out on screen.
Mom-and-pop way of making movies
The docu drives home the old-world, mom-and-pop way of making movies during that time. It is almost like a family affair and as one interviewee says, it is all about making a phone call. There’s also this story of how Rishi Kapoor (who was interviewed for the docu before his death) refused ‘Kabhi Kabhie’ because he wanted Neetu Singh’s role, who plays the illegitimate daughter of Waheeda Rahman. But, Yashji was clear that it had to be a female character.
Finally, his uncle Shashi Kapoor, who plays a pivotal role in ‘Kabhi Kabhie’ as well, dragged him off to the film set and coaxed him to do a few scenes. And, he stuck on for continuity’s sake. Later, when the film became such a huge success, Rishi Kapoor was happy his family had forced him.
Mundhra keeps the pace up (at least for the first two episodes before it turns into a PR exercise for YRF) by interspersing the docu with film clips, archival footage, shots from film sets and pictures of Bollywood’s leading actors as kids. It is all very cosy and cannot get more Bollywood-ish than this, as Hrithik Roshan reveals how as teenagers, Aditya Chopra and he would fiercely compete to win dance competitions at birthday parties.
Or, the time, Abhishek and Uday Chopra as kids would fool around with the smoke machines set up by Yash Chopra, to create the fog effect for Amitabh-Rekha’s iconic romantic song, ‘Dekha Ek Khwab’ in ‘Silsila’.
One of the highlights of this docu is when Aditya Chopra, who had helped his father while making ‘Darr’ (and struck up a friendship with upcoming actor Shah Rukh at that time), freely talks about the making of ‘Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge’. That portion is entertaining, as you get to see how the longest running film got made. Here, Shah Rukh confesses he was reluctant to act in DDLJ because he was fixated on action films. In fact, the fight scene at the end of DDLJ was included because he bull-dozed Yashji to include it.
The docu shifts to the birth of YRF studio and the corporatization of Indian cinema. Clearly, it is not an insider affair anymore, sons of stars or directors don’t matter. Incidentally, there are ‘outsiders’ like screenwriter Jaideep Sahni, Ayushman Khurrana, Bhumi Pedneker, Anupam Kher and others, who also share their experiences of working with Yashji, Adi Chopra and YRF.
But, in the end, despite the gloss, the unexpected revelations and the lack of real insights into the business, it will be a fun ride for the starry-eyed. One hopes that ‘The Romantics’ opens the doors for more ‘entertaining’ docu-series to be made on other directors of popular Hindi cinema like Manmohan Desai, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Mehboob Khan, Ramesh Sippy or even Shekhar Kapur. It may just help to bring back some of the sheen Hindi cinema has lost in the recent past.