Things We Learned From YRF’s The Romantics

The four-part documentary on Yash Raj Films is streaming on Netflix
Things We Learned From YRF’s The Romantics

Strictly speaking, The Romantics is more a corporate film about Yash Raj Films (YRF) than it is a documentary series, but since the corporation in question is a one of the pillars of the Hindi film industry, it makes for an entertaining watch if you’re a Bollywood nerd. Over four episodes, director and co-writer Smriti Mundhra — producer of Indian Matchmaking and director of the documentary A Suitable Girl — walks us through the highlights of YRF’s five-decade-long filmography. There are charming old photos and videos from the Chopra family archive. We get montages with some of the most unforgettable scenes and songs in Hindi popular cinema history. Mundhra even shows us glimpses of the Bollywood Xanadu that is the YRF compound in Mumbai. As an introduction to YRF, it doesn’t get any glossier than this and The Romantics is a charming reminder of how Yash Chopra and his son Aditya have given Hindi cinema some of its most iconic characters and tropes. 

Since director, producer and YRF founder Yash Chopra introduced the multi-starrer to Hindi cinema, it’s fitting that The Romantics is jam-packed with big names. Among those interviewed are Amitabh Bachchan, Rishi Kapoor, Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan, Hrithik Roshan, Ranveer Singh, Juhi Chawla, Kajol and Katrina Kaif. If Mundhra had been able to include Rekha and Rakhee, who starred in some of Yash Chopra’s most memorable films, The Romantics would have felt even more special. However it seems even the all-powerful YRF can’t pull off that casting coup. The real star of the series is Aditya Chopra, director of Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (1995), current chairperson of YRF, husband of actor Rani Mukerji, and (if The Romantics is to be believed) the brain behind most of YRF’s decisions. This is the first time that the reclusive Aditya Chopra has sat down for an extensive interview. While the series celebrates his successes, Aditya also comes across as clear-sighted as he admits to having misread the Indian audience when he made Befikre (2016) and when he says YRF needs young blood to continue its legacy (cut to director and writer Maneesh Sharma). 

Ironically for a studio that has consistently showcased wonderful actors in roles that celebrated the complexity and strength of Indian women, this series on YRF is overwhelmingly male-driven. Most of the voices we hear are of men and barring Pamela Chopra, the women feel like token presences. Unsurprisingly, those who have exited the YRF fold (like Sanjay Gadhvi, who directed the first two Dhoom films) don’t get a word in and the occasional references to political incidents, like the Partition and 26/11, feel more like convenient padding than insightful commentary. The Romantics also attempts to show YRF as an organisation that has brought outsiders into the notoriously nepotistic film industry by trotting out actors from non-film families, like Bhumi Pednekar, Ayushmann Khurrana and Ranveer Singh. It also points to Uday Chopra’s unsuccessful acting career, presenting as evidence that nepotism is irrelevant (while glossing over the minor detail that no failed actor gets as many opportunities as Uday Chopra did).   

Despite the wrinkles in its storytelling, The Romantics is an entertaining love letter to both YRF and Hindi commercial cinema. Here are some of our favourite takeaways from the series. 

Yash Chopra with Aditya Chopra.
Yash Chopra with Aditya Chopra.

En Vogue

Yash Chopra used to get issues of Vogue magazine and go through them to find inspiration for his heroines’ costumes.   

Dance off

When they were kids, Aditya Chopra and Hrithik Roshan would have mini dance competitions at parties. And the winner would invariably be…Aditya Chopra. Tragically, the footage from these parties is “unavailable”.  

Spilling the tea

One of the joys of The Romantics is seeing Rishi Kapoor, with his wife Neetu, on screen. He’s characteristically blunt in his interviews and here’s our favourite quote from him: “After sex, cinema is the best form of entertainment. For Indians, at least.”

Stick to your guns 

When Yash Chopra was making Lamhe (1991), the ending — which couples a man with a woman who is the daughter of his first love — gave many people the jitters. Aditya Chopra had asked his father if he’d consider changing the end. Yash Chopra told him, “I’ve made it for that end.” Lamhe didn’t do well at the box office and talking about what a box office failure means when one is so emotionally invested in the film, Aditya Chopra said, “It’s not so much the monetary loss. It’s your identity.” 

Ranveer Singh, Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan in The Romantics.
Ranveer Singh, Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan in The Romantics.

Bromance between SRK and Aditya Chopra

Even though Shah Rukh Khan and Aditya Chopra are not seen together in The Romantics, it’s obvious from the way the two speak about one another that these two men share a solid bromance. Khan had hopes of being an action hero, but Chopra told him, “Your eyes have something that cannot be wasted on action.” (Approximately 30 years later, Khan would get his break as an action hero in the YRF film, Pathaan.) 

Defining a hero

Aditya Chopra put it best: “In this country, a superstar will only be that person who will be every mother’s son, every sister’s brother, every college girl’s fantasy.” Now let’s take a moment to think about how many people (other than Khan) fit that description. 

In a nutshell

When the idea of Dhoom (2004) first came about, Aditya Chopra conceived it as a mass entertainer that was entirely focused on the action spectacle and didn’t get distracted by anything else. “I wanted to make a film in which I combine Manmohan Desai and Michael Bay,” he said. 

The other bromance

Speaking about Uday Chopra, who has been his childhood friend and was his co-star in the Dhoom films, Abhishek Bachchan said, “Uday was and is my teddy bear.” Ok then. 

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