Culture, art, values, and emotion each serve as a driving force behind one of the biggest film industries in the world, most commonly known as Bollywood. Netflix’s The Romantics is a four-part documentary series that follows the growth and legacy of Yash Raj Films, a Hindi film production company that is behind titles like Chandni, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, the Dhoom franchise, and more recently, Pathaan. Whether you grew up on Hindi films like I did or if you’ve ever been curious about the industry, The Romantics allows us a glimpse behind the curtain and into the magical and vibrant world of Hindi cinema.
The viewer is given an in-depth look at the filmmaking process of the late Yash Chopra as the first episode follows the ups and the downs of his films, all of which ultimately solidified the name of Yash Raj Films as a company. Meanwhile, the remaining three episodes put a large focus on his son, Aditya Chopra‘s rise and success as well as the legacy of the Chopras that will remain for a long time. Not only does the series provide a perspective from members of the Chopra family, including Uday and Pamela Chopra, but there are various interviews and statements from so many prominent names like Rishi Kapoor, Shah Rukh Khan, Anushka Sharma, and Ranveer Singh.
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The Legacy of Yash Raj Films
The series excels in providing a condensed history behind Yash Raj Films that it feels just enough as it gives attention to so many of their different films from across the decades. Their accomplishments are never without the credit to the talent of their stars and the small but ever growing team behind each film. For Yash Raj Films, romance is the backbone of their films, and the genre that pushed the company into the limelight with its various beloved classics. But Hindi films have always been known to be a mixture of genres rather than solely action or romance, making them unique pieces of art. This is something that is reflected amongst the various films Yash Chopra directed as he manages to sneak moments of beauty within an otherwise aggressive or dramatic film.
I love the fact that as we see so much of the filmography of Yash Raj Films, there’s a clear difference between the styles of Yash and Aditya Chopra, that catapult the company into becoming as in tune with its audience as possible. Throughout each episode, we see how their relationship is with one another and how they operate while on set. It’s so wonderful to see a South Asian parent be able to share a passion with their child, and see that they both learned from one another to perfect their craft. No one is ever without their failures yet both filmmakers are shown to have learned to adjust to the many changes in the world as they move from traditional and old thinking to a younger generation’s more modern ideals. Within their work, there is still a hint of the values and traditions that make us all who we are today and simultaneously, there is a constant introduction of new faces and voices to reach a broader audience.
While it is brief, I was surprised yet happy to see the mention of differentiation between Hindi cinema versus Indian cinema. Furthermore, it was interesting that there was even criticism of the term “Bollywood” with its negative ties to Bombay, Mumbai’s previous name born from British colonialism. Having just learned of the various film industries within India, my hope is that more documentary series will be created to focus on those other industries that deserve just as much love and recognition.
Nepotism and Failure
My only two gripes with the series have to do with the discussion of nepotism as well as the conversation surrounding failure and the causes of those failures. Nepotism isn’t a new concept and has been brought up incessantly in recent years, especially within Bollywood. It’s as simple as admitting that one’s successes are the result of benefitting from the family business while the failures are protected by a safety net secured by that same family business. To see it brought up in this series only to suddenly change the subject and twist it into something else, shows that many within the Hindi film industry aren’t ready for that conversation.
The documentary also tends to lean against the audience as the sole scapegoat for determining the outcome of any film, more specifically when it doesn’t do so well. Flops and successes happen for a reason, and it’s important to look at issues of the industry as a whole such as colorism, sexism, nationalism, and religious conflict, as well as internal business issues. It’s made clear multiple times that something happened whenever movies started flopping but no true exposition on what was going on within the company.
In The End…
Looking at it as a whole, The Romantics is a series I never thought would ever exist, despite how well-known the Hindi film industry has become internationally since I was a child. As a young girl that didn’t really grow up surrounded by other South Asians, I was essentially raised on a mixture of two things: Disney musicals and whatever bootlegged versions of grand Bollywood films we could get our hands on in the US. And as someone who has always struggled with identity and being an American-Born Desi, my connection to who I am has always been through these movies, and watching a documentary like this gives me a more of a sense of pride. It has brought me a step closer to the Hindi film industry after being apart from it for so long. Not only do I feel nostalgic for some of my favorite films, but there’s an odd sense of nostalgia for those I have yet to see, both old and new. While the industry is far from perfect, I’m still proud to say that my appreciation and love for these films has been reignited. It’s because of these works of art that I grew up to be a hopeless romantic. In the end, Hindi cinema has never led me astray, and instead, in some strange, bizarre way, it has led me to my own unique love story.
The Romantics is now streaming on Netflix.