Yash Chopra and Yash Raj Films (YRF) are integral parts of our lives. If you grew up in the ’60s and ’70s, you must’ve been influenced by “Waqt,” “Ittefaq,” “Deewar,” or “Kabhi Kabhie.” If you are a child of the ’80s, you probably have “Silsila,” “Chandni,” or “Lamhe” as your favorites. If you are from the ’90s, like I am, “Darr,” “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge,” “Dil To Pagal Hai,” “Mohabbatein,” or “Veer-Zaara” must’ve shaped your ideas about cinema. And if you are discovering YRF after the massive, worldwide success of “Pathaan,” well, you are a part of the studio’s history that has shaped the Hindi film industry as we know it. But if you want to go behind the scenes of the renowned director’s work and how he collaborated with so many talented folks and lay your eyes on the elusive Aditya Chopra, “The Romantics” on Netflix is where you should be.
Created by Smriti Mundhra, “The Romantics” tracks Yash Chopra’s journey from the time he started working under his elder brother, B.R. Chopra, all the way to his final film, “Jab Tak Hai Jaan.” It features interviews with Amitabh Bachchan, Anushka Sharma, Rani Mukerji, Arjun Kapoor, Shanoo Sharma, Jaideep Sahni, Ranbir Kapoor, Salim Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Madhuri Dixit, Abhishek Bachchan, Saif Ali Khan, Anupama Chopra, Karan Johar, Sanjeev Kohli, Anil Kapoor, Aditya Chopra, Mahen Vakil, Aamir Khan, Akshaye Widhani, Uday Chopra, Tanul Thakur, Maneesh Sharma, Bhumi Pednekar, Ayushmann Khurrana, Kajol, Katrina Kaif, Hrithik Roshan, Pamela Chopra, Neetu Kapoor, Rishi Kapoor, Anupam Kher, Juhi Chawla, and Poonam Dhillon. There’s the use of archival footage of how Yash Chopra used to direct, his interviews with Johar, and his final public interaction with Shah Rukh to give us a peek into the legend’s psyche. And despite having so many well-known celebrities in the mix, it’s Aditya’s perspective that’s the most prominent because, right now, he’s the person in charge of crafting the future of YRF.
The refreshing thing about “The Romantics” is that none of the interviewees shy away from their failures. As in, they aren’t romanticizing Yash Chopra or YRF just because the man isn’t with us anymore. Mundhra, Aditya, Uday, Shah Rukh, Amitabh, Vakil, and everyone else are unabashedly digging into his missteps because the highs feel triumphant only when the lows bring you down to your knees. They also don’t paint Yash Chopra as the epitome of idealism and perfection, as they show how his movies and his vision of the studio were governed by where he was personally at that time. His politics, his married life, his responsibilities as a father, his calculated moves to get a box-office success after several flops, and his ruminations about YRF’s path ahead are put out in the open for us to examine. You are free to judge his choices; you are free to comment on his flaws; you are free to critique it all, and I don’t think any of the observations will be wrong because that goes to show that Yash Chopra was human and not a corporate bot that caters to algorithms.
The same can be said for Aditya Chopra, who is not just an extension of Yash Chopra’s personality but his style of filmmaking as well, even though he is adamant that he’s nothing like his father. His big reveal after all these years is as subtle as you’d expect it to be. I don’t know how you imagined him, but I always thought that he was this bundle of anxiety and nervousness, which is why he doesn’t appear in the public eye. And the docuseries show that that tendency to avoid media exposure is also his way of preserving his ideas about cinema, as he apparently wants his validation from the general populace and not from awards or the press. As for Uday Chopra, it’s pretty bold of Mundhra as well as Uday to illustrate the notion that nepotism doesn’t work unless the person in question is talented through him. Yes, they can get certain privileges that someone who isn’t from a film family doesn’t get. But after a certain point, if the audience doesn’t want to see you, the nepo kid (the product of nepotism) has to take the exit door. That is the bottom line.
Other than the Chopras, the person whose contribution to the success of the studio stands out the most is the one and only Shah Rukh Khan. It goes beyond the numbers and the accolades. There’s this palpable feeling that since Khan’s parents never got to watch him become the superstar he is today, he looked up to Yash Chopra as the parental figure he should impress or look up to. That was reciprocated by Yash Chopra because it seemed like he treated Khan like his third son. This is why the first emotional gut punch of “The Romantics” lands so hard as Khan describes the moment Yash Chopra declared the final shot they were going to share, followed by the second emotional gut punch of Vakil revealing how Khan felt he had lost his father all over again after Yash Chopra’s passing. To be honest, Aditya, Uday, Pamela, and everyone else’s descriptions of what they felt like when he left us forever didn’t move me, even though Mundhra definitely expected it to. However, something almost inexplicable about Khan and his demeanor made me teary-eyed. I’ll admit it’s a tricky bit of emotional manipulation, but it (surprisingly) worked.
“The Romantics” isn’t without its shortcomings, though, and the evidence of that lies in what is omitted. For example, Aditya Chopra and Shanoo Sharma go into vivid detail about YRF’s casting policies. Many actors applaud how progressive it is, and Ayushmann even says that if one is talented enough, one’ll get a chance to work there. But they don’t talk about the alleged dictatorial contract that forces actors to stay with the studio until they’ve done at least three films with them. In addition to that, the interviewees choose to talk about how the 1947 Partition, the 1975–1977 Emergency, and even the 2006 Mumbai attacks impacted Yash Chopra and YRF’s movies. However, certain other horrifying events whose repercussions continue to rattle the film industry and people who watch films as we speak (or when the interviews were conducted) are left out. I can choose not to name and shame them, but since YRF actively fraternized with such hateful elements, even though their filmography has “Dharmputra” and “Dhool Ke Phool” in it, Mundhra’s choice not to address it feels off. That said, the omission of a certain self-proclaimed action star is probably a hint that going forward, Aditya and his team don’t want to repeat their recent mistakes.
“The Romantics” is largely about Yash Chopra’s history and how Aditya Chopra is crafting the future of YRF. There is a heavy emphasis on the actors who’ve influenced every era of YRF. And then there is a major chunk of one of the episodes that try to paint Ranveer Singh, who is currently on a hot streak of flops, as the face of YRF in the 2020s. The reason why this feels unintentionally hilarious is that the person who eventually saved YRF from shutting shop after “Bunty Aur Babli 2,” “Jayeshbhai Jordaar,” “Samrat Prithviraj,” and “Shamshera” tanked is Shah Rukh Khan. What makes that aspect of the show even more hilarious is the post-credits scene of “Pathaan,” where Shah Rukh and Salman subtly talk about how many have tried to replace them and failed. Now, I don’t know about you, but to me, it seems like a pretty clear indication that Aditya Chopra is going to lean heavily on them and the newly-established YRF Spy Universe to wade through the murky waters the Hindi film industry is currently in. Does that mean YRF won’t be synonymous with romance anymore? Only time will tell.
“The Romantics” is a 2023 Documentary Series Created by Smriti Mundhra.