There are several moments in Smriti Mundhra’s four-part documentary series The Romantics, now streaming on Netflix, where I was absolutely blown away by the amount of Bollywood legends that appear on screen to discuss their love for legendary auteur Yash Chopra, his family, and Yash Raj Films. It may well be the first time that such a cadre of Indian talent was assembled on film for western audiences. And I’d say that it’s about time. Because The Romantics is not only a love letter to Chopra and Indian cinema, but it’s a testament to the success and impact of Indian films and the industry, which is the largest in the world.
Growing up a first-generation South Asian kid in the U.S. in the ‘80s and ‘90s, there was no representation of our community anywhere except for Bollywood films. I vividly remember my dad would get the most awful bootleg VHS tapes (filmed with a camcorder in a theater) from our local Indian grocer like some underground network here in Seattle, because Indian films weren’t widely distributed in theaters or the local video stores here in the U.S. It was through watching these grainy, hazy VHS copies that I was first introduced to Chopra’s films, and legendary Indian film stars like Amitabh Bhachchan, Rishi Kapoor, and Poonam Dhillon (all featured in The Romantics). But my true appreciation for them didn’t come until the DVD market brought in beautifully digital versions of classics like Silsila and Chandni, and the most popular films at the time, including Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Mohabbatein, complete with subtitles, thank goodness, because my Hindi is terrible!
There was a certain mood and aesthetic to a Yash Chopra film. Forbidden love, tons of drama, a runtime well over three hours, and beautiful musical pieces set against stunning mountain scenery. Watching the first episode of The Romantics was like taking a walk through my childhood, reliving moments with my parents watching his films, like Khabhi Khabhie, Chandni and Lamhe, and soaking in the filmmaking craft of a director who essentially defined what Bollywood was to a generation. The series provides never before seen access to the Chopra filmmaking dynasty, including facing the precarious and volatile nature of the Indian film industry, of which even a legend was not immune to. I was shocked to discover that several of the films I considered classics were box-office failures in India, including a family favorite, Silsila. It was stunning to learn Chopra was actually ready to give up on filmmaking if his latest film at the time, Chandni, was also a bomb. Luckily Chandni turned into a massive success, due in large part to the performance of its star Sri Devi, and set Yash Raj Films on a streak of hits. Although this information isn’t new, hearing the stories from those that experienced it firsthand was revelatory, and it’s these types of revelations that kept me enthralled throughout all four episodes of the docuseries.
The first episode of The Romantics was like taking a walk through my childhood, reliving moments with my parents watching his films...and soaking in the filmmaking craft of a director who essentially defined what Bollywood was to a generation.
Mundhra is able to capture the magic and brilliance of Chopra through amazing behind-the-scenes footage, and the astounding array of interviews she was able to secure for the series, including his wife Pamela, and sons Uday and Aditya, the latter a legendary director in his own right, who is notorious for never doing interviews. I’d say the most fun part of The Romantics is hearing Aditya Chopra’s childhood friends, Bollywood stars Abhishek Bachchan and Hrithik Roshan, tell nostalgic stories of growing up with the Chopra family, and describe Aditya’s obsession with films even as a child. Before The Romantics, Aditya’s last interview was in 1995, which is quite surprising considering he wrote and directed what is considered to be the most successful and influential movie in Bollywood history, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. The series pays tribute to the legendary film, which is still playing on the big screen in India, even after 27 years (with a one-year break for COVID), and its stars Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol give valuable insight into the process of working with Chopra on his first film, and ultimately creating a cultural touchstone that has inspired audiences for decades.
My one wish is that Mundhra would have explored the musical side of Yash Raj Films, and highlighted the amazing work of the world-class musicians who produced and sang on the iconic tracks to these films. The soundtracks to films like Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge are legendary, so a journey down the rabbit hole of the musical numbers would have benefitted The Romantics. Overall though, the four part docuseries is highly entertaining and offers a rare glimpse inside the history of Bollywood’s royal filmmaking family. There’s enough to intrigue and draw in new potential viewers, including anyone who isn’t South Asian, as well as to satisfy longtime fans of the films.
Published on April 12, 2023