Two things immediately come to mind while watching the Netflix documentary series, The Romantics— if Yash Raj Entertainment had not been co-producers, Aditya Chopra would never have appeared on camera; if Aditya Chopra had not taken his father’s legacy forward, nobody could have been able to get an array of film personalities to be interviewed, from Amitabh Bachchan downwards?
There is no denying the fact that Yash Chopra made some of the best and biggest films of Indian cinema, and left such a star-studded, creative, glamorous and varied body of work, that charting his filmography is like encapsulating post-Independence Hindi films; and also taking a bird’s eye view of Indian society, changing audience tastes and the vagaries of that world that has come to be known as Bollywood.
In the series directed by Smriti Mundhra, apart from the interviews, there are never-seen-before photographs and videos that have documented the work of Yash and his successor Aditya Chopra – the other son, Uday lagged behind. Changes in society and consumption patterns are mentioned, but Chopra’s career is seen in isolation, not as a part of the industry that also changed and grew. The Chopras were undoubtedly the most successful and pioneers in many ways, but because the series is a homage, it sometimes tends to give credit where it is not due. For instance, the heroine-in-white was Raj Kapoor’s penchant, Yash Chopra didn’t invent it; similarly it is to Zanjeer that the creation of the Angry Young Man belongs, not to Deewar, though the latter is unarguably a superior film. And even in the series, it deserved more attention, a lot of which is given to Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge—a much more successful (it opened up the Diaspora market in a major way), but less powerful film.
Still, understanding the business of cinema from the point of view of one family—BR Chopra, his brother Yash, his wife Pamela and then the torchbearer Aditya, is also fascinating. Yes, the nepotism issue does come up and Uday Chopra’s failed career is held up as an example of how being born in a film family isn’t everything. “The bottom line is that only an audience will decide, I like this person, I wanna see this person. Nobody else can decide that,”
Cinema of that period, when audiences queued to buy tickets to watch films and there was a different kind of devoted fandom, now has nostalgic value. Indian cinema, with its unique blend of family values, song, dance and emotions has been rediscovered by the West, ironically not through a Bollywood movie, but a Southern export, RRR. But a foreign viewer would not know the distinction, and The Romantics gives a fine insiders’ look into what greases the wheels of mainstream cinema.
There are nuggets and insights – though film stars suddenly becoming experts on politics, economy and film history, tend to hit a few false notes. However, the underlying emotions are affection and admiration for a great filmmaker. Everybody speaks of him, his films and the experience of discovering the magic of cinema through his work with genuine love. Yash Chopra was the last of the movie wizards who made films from the heart, not with a calculator and spreadsheet.