The Romantics Review: A mostly delightful, star studded look at the YRF legacy | Web Series - Hindustan Times
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The Romantics Review: The YRF Docu-series works best when it focuses on films over family

BySuchin Mehrotra
Feb 15, 2023 07:20 AM IST

The Romantics Review: The Romantics takes us through the YRF filmography by interviewing perhaps the greatest line-up of around 40 Bollywood actors in a documentary project of this kind.

There are few things on screen this year, I suspect, that will give me as much joy as watching the first five minutes of Netflix’s The Romantics. The new four-part docu-series - which chronicles and celebrates the origins and legacy of Yash Chopra and Yash Raj Films - opens with a blooper-esque montage of its star-studded line up of talking heads in the playful moments just before the camera rolls. Last among them is Ranveer Singh making an entrance only he could.

A still from The Romantics trailer.
A still from The Romantics trailer.

Directed by Smriti Mundra (A Suitable Girl, Indian Matchmaking) and shot over three years, The Romantics takes us through the YRF filmography by interviewing perhaps the greatest line-up of collective Bollywood stardom in a documentary project of this kind. There are almost 40 of them. Included are the three Khans, Amitabh Bachchan, Hrithik Roshan, Kajol and Rani Mukerji, right down to the newer generation of stars like Ranveer Singh, Ranbir Kapoor, Arjun Kapoor, Ayushmaan Khurana and Bhumi Pednekar. There’s even an interview with the late Rishi Kapoor whose cheeky, unfiltered contributions and commentary are among the series’ most memorable. (Perhaps more interesting than who is in the series is who isn’t, but more on that later).

It's near impossible not to be enamored and floored by the star power on show in The Romantics, coupled with its sea of nostalgia as we revisit the makings of seminal films. I was privileged enough to watch the first two episodes on the big screen and I doubt I’ll have a theatrical experience that’ll top it anytime soon. Somewhere amidst its roster of interviews with the stars we know and admire, intercut with clips of the movies that made us first fall for them, I was smitten. To relive the swooning, superstar-making highs of DDLJ, the moving melodrama and music of Mohabbatein, the defining moment of Chak De, the status quo-breaking Band Baaja Baaraat and beyond? I felt like a kid in the world’s greatest candy store.

The first episode offers us a gentle history lesson on the origins and rise and rise of Yash Chopra. From finding his voice with Waqt in 1965 to how The Emergency gave birth to the Angry Young Man to eventually Chandni and his winning collaboration with Sridevi. Not to mention how much he did for the Swiss tourism industry, as we see in multiple clips of the Swiss government honouring him. There’s even a delightful anecdote of how Yash Chopra was once on a bus in Switzerland and was mistaken as just another tourist by the conductor who went on to tell him that if he looked left, he could see Chopra Lake. The conductor failed to realise that he was speaking to the very man it was named after.

In its whistle-stop tour of the movies of the time, multiple voices weigh in on the early 80s, widely considered Hindi cinema’s creatively bankrupt era, about which Karan Johar offers: “we started deriving from the cinema made in the South and we became a bit of a wannabe movement at the time”. Sounds awfully familiar. The series’ first chapter concludes with perhaps one of my favourite, unputdownable cliffhangers from recent memory - showing us an empty chair and teasing us with the grand interview that is to follow: the famously reclusive Aditya Chopra.

The second episode tells the Aditya Chopra story and finally introduces us to the mystery man himself (who seems entirely at ease here). A spirited, excitable Adi (everyone else seems to be on a nickname basis with him so I’m going to join right in) recounts his own origin story, with additional inputs from childhood friends Hrithik Roshan, Abhishek Bachchan, Karan Johar and Uday Chopra. Fun fact: during their film-family birthday parties growing up, the dance-offs were always won by Adi, leaving second place to a young Hrithik Roshan.

He goes on to discuss assisting his father on films like Lamhe (which remains an objectively creepy male fantasy film) and, two years later, Darr. It was the sets of that film that served as the foundation of his friendship and winning collaboration with a young Shah Rukh Khan - the TV actor turned budding movie star, who wanted to be an action hero and opt for darker roles who was forced into the world of romance that would come to define him. “Your eyes have something that can't be wasted on action” Adi reportedly told him, adding, “In this country, a superstar will only be that person who is every mother’s son, every sister’s brother and every college girl’s fantasy”. What follows is a fittingly lengthy look back at the makings of the cultural sensation that is DDLJ.

A particularly telling moment from the episode is when Adi muses “I think Indian cinema represents Indians, and Indians are people who constantly aspire to more than who they are”. It's a stray thought that says a great deal about the YRF and Dharma school of filmmaking and the specific subset of India they represent. Stories that hinge on aspiration rather than reflecting reality and embracing who we are.

That very ivory tower-led filmmaking shines every brighter in the third episode, titled The New Guard, which goes all in on the nepotism discussion. It’s here that The Romantics risks becoming a hollow, self-congratulatory corporate PR exercise. To some degree, it absolutely is that (it’s produced by Uday Chopra, for one), but when the focus is on the journeys of beloved films, it feels honest. We get stretches of Adi offering up the same old points of view, that star kids devoid of talent will only get so far. Both brothers even go as far as to discuss Uday Chopra as an example of just that - a star kid rejected by the audience. “At YRF, I have a simple belief - I want the best talent and it doesn’t matter to me where they come from”, Adi says.

Instead, The Romantics shines brightest when the films take precedence over family, examining the journey of films like Mohobbatein, Chakde De India, the beloved Band Baaja Baaraat, and their biggest risk that paid of - Ranveer Singh. Unsurprisingly the series doesn’t delve into the studio’s failures, with the exception of Befikre which Adi discusses at length. It’s a failure that still stings, he says.

But outside of that, The Romantics steers clear of YRF’s recent string of flops, with the exception of the Pathaan explosion. There’s no talk of the pandemic, a changed landscape, or Adi’s famous refusal to release films on streaming. It’s also curious to see the stars and filmmakers who aren’t part of the series - ex-YRF employee turned star Parineeti Chopra comes to mind, as do Vaani Kapoor, Preity Zinta and Aishwarya Raji Bachchan. Similarly, in terms of filmmakers, no Siddharth Anand, Shaad Ali or Kabir Khan? Most curious.

In the end, The Romantics works best when it uses the YRF filmography merely as a stepping off point to discuss Hindi cinema as a whole. Like in the opening of the fourth episode where we see our extensive roster of stars talk about their opinion of and relationship with the term “Bollywood”. The show comes to us at a time when it feels like filmmakers are looking back and celebrating what was. Alongside Cinema Marte Dum Tak and Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans, these are stories about how the movies got to where they are today and the origins of the defining storytellers responsible for them. When it isn’t swayed by personal agenda and positioning, The Romantics does just that - tells the story of the movies and captures a part of us.

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