It’s easy to quickly dismiss Netflix’s “The Romantics” as an adroit PR push on YRF’s part to reinforce its position in the industry. After all, it’s a name that has become synonymous with some of the biggest blockbusters Bollywood has churned out, in a genre that it so long ago conquered. The Indian diaspora – ever since the opening up of the economy in the 90s – has always represented a substantial market for films whose characters are a definition of the cultural identity galvanized by the nascent wave of globalization. The strength of the four-episode documentary, thus, remains in acknowledging this inseparable harmony between culture and cinema that has always echoed through the nation’s diaspora.

Like many people, even I had approached the latest documentary with deeply seethed skepticism. The reasons weren’t just limited to the cheeky intent behind its release date – set on Valentines Day right after the monumental success of “Pathaan”. But Netflix India has also been known for notoriously milking in content by approaching interesting concepts either in a way that feels repugnant or downright silly. As a result, rather than telling boots on ground level of reality that could echo the collective Indian conscience on a global platform, the streaming giant often seemed interested in only providing a section of its audience with empty hijinks that gave them some sort of temporary cultural capital over their peers.

Like the glorious marriage between traditionalism and modernity that YRF is most notably known for bringing to the screen, Netflix too seems to have finally cracked code of feeding into its audiences’ entertainment desires while also managing to give accounts informative enough to satiate Bollywood nerds. I use the word synonymously with film geeks, in a country that’s so unabashedly embraced the industry with love. The biggest strength of Smriti Mundhra’s insightful work remains in its willingness to delve into the intricacies of the world’s largest movie producing industry.

It’s all the more rewarding precisely since it’s echoed through a studio’s legacy that since decades has become synonymous with the genre the industry’s most famously known to conquer. What I found most fascinating was seeing exclusively rare interviews from the reclusive head of YRF Studios, Aditya Chopra (marking the first time that the reclusive head sat down for an extensive interview). The second episode quirkily refers to him as ‘the prodigal son’, but I couldn’t help thinking about how he not only had lived upto Yash Chopra’s glorious legacy, but had also reinforced it through a voice that promised on being much more self reflexive.

While following YRF’s five-decade-long filmography, the initial episodes beautifully lay the groundworks into exploring the visionary psyche of a man that to a great extent shaped the Indian diaspora through his singular vision. By showing the genesis behind films such as “Dhool Ka Phool”, “Dharmputra” through interviews of people from the industry, the documentary works well enough in filling any middle aged person with a sense of giddy nostalgia, while empowering the youth to explore these rather untethered corners of an era that defined young India. Then of course, there was the epic drama, “Waqt”, from 1965 – a film that pioneered the concept of ensemble casts in Bollywood. We also get interesting accounts into the making of Sridevi’s magnum opus, “Chandni” – a film that gloriously rejuvenated the romantic musical genre.

One cannot talk about the legacy of YRF without talking of two actors across generations who helped shape the Indian diaspora in indelible ways – Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan. The two have very much become inseparable from the films they’ve appeared in – a pedestal that was brought to its storytelling fruition in full vigor by a studio that’s over the ages continued to deeply understand the social and cultural currents of the country.

While the former was a star born out of a time in Indian political history where there had been a growing palpable sense among the citizens of placing the authority in the hands of a man on screen with aplomb charisma, the latter gave the youth an aspirational hero who never succumbed to the motions of modernity at the cost of traditional values. One of the most riveting parts in the documentary remains the one where people from across the industry talk about the monumental influence of “Deewar” – a film that gave the audience a hero who they knew posed a better opportunity of being able to vicariously live their rage and dissatisfaction against the government of the time by echoing the struggles of the vulnerable middle class.

It’s equally befitting and rewarding seeing how Aditya Chopra went onto give us two different on-screen portrayals of Raj through the same charismatic actor. Both DDLJ and RNBDJ are fairly traditionalist stories rooted in our culture, but it’s the arc that Aditya goes through over the period of a decade that gives each film its own magnetic charm. At one point, he recollects telling SRK, “Your eyes have something that cannot be wasted on action.” SRK, however, had high hopes of being an action hero. Approximately 30 years later, he finally got his break as an action hero in a film that’s become YRF’s biggest release till date. I say that, in a way that’s synonymous with Bollywood. The point isn’t whether “The Romantics” serves as a PR stunt by the studio. The point is, how we’re willing to let go of it even if it is.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *