It is as Leonardo DiCaprio’s plantation owner said in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained: “Gentlemen, you had my curiosity. But now you have my attention.”
The legacy of Hindi filmmaker Yash Chopra is the bait offered by the docuseries The Romantics. The big catch turns out to be his reclusive, camera-shy son Aditya Chopra. In Netflix’s Valentine’s Day offering, about the Chopras’ hugely successful production company Yash Raj Films, we see Aditya Chopra as we have never seen him before – because we haven’t been permitted to see him before.
It turns out that the Phantom of Yash Raj Films has a lot to say – about his father, his formative years, his understanding of the business of entertainment, his faith in the judgement of the paying public. Chopra overcame a stammering habit and continues to trip over some words, as the show reveals.
Chopra also comments on the nepotism debate that has roiled the Hindi film industry in recent years. While acknowledging that insiders have a starter’s advantage, Chopra reminds us that not every nepo kid makes it. Pointing to his brother Uday Chopra’s failed acting career beyond YRF, Aditya Chopra disarmingly says, “The bottom line is that only an audience will decide, I like this person, I wanna see this person. Nobody else can decide that.”
The Romantics has been produced by Yash Raj Entertainment and directed by Smriti Mundhra (A Suitable Girl, Never Have I Ever). The four-episode series has been designed to establish YRF’s pre-eminence in Hindi cinema as well as draw the attention of Hollywood. Distance – or anything resembling a dissenting viewpoint – isn’t on the agenda for a series that marks 50 years since the banner’s first release, Daag: A Poem of Love.
Yet, the insights leak through, most of them from the man at the top. Comfortable in a set-up that he can control, Aditya Chopra relaxes, remembers and reveals.
He has a plausible explanation for the appeal of Yash Raj Films, which was established in 1970 and most recently produced the monster hit Pathaan. From early on, Yash Chopra understood that Indians “aspire to be more than they are”, and respond to films that show “a world which is better”.
On Shah Rukh Khan: he is “every mother’s son, every sister’s brother, every college girl’s fantasy”.
Yash Raj Films has had numerous hits but misses too. Siddharth Anand’s Pathaan, the spy action thriller starring YRF workhorse Shah Rukh Khan, was a face-saver for a studio that hadn’t seen a big hit since War (2019). There are times when his instinct, honed by obsessively watching films with theatre audiences every week, hasn’t worked, Chopra admitted.
There are many more interviews of varying quality and insight. Tucked into the puffy proclamations are valuable nuggets on Yash Chopra’s private life, the setbacks he faced, the gambles he took, and his relationship with actors, many of whom he catapulted to superstardom.
The series appears to have been in the making for some years. The blinding gallery of stars who share their memories range from Amitabh Bachchan to Ranveer Singh via Shah Rukh Khan and includes Rishi Kapoor, who died in 2020.
The more interesting subjects include people who have stayed away from the spotlight. Yash Chopra’s wife, Pamela Chopra, and his long-time associates always sound more interesting than the approved guests, most of whom have been in a YRF production at some point or the other. Uday Chopra has moving memories of the father he describes as his “brother”.
As a love letter to YRF produced by YRF, The Romantics is on expected lines. By putting the company in pole position, the show doesn’t give a sense of what else was happening in the Hindi film industry from the 1990s onwards, when Aditya Chopra assumed greater charge of the family banner. While Yash Raj Films was undoubtedly a trendsetter, changing the way films were made and received, there is no exploration of the technical aspects of its productions – the importance given to music, for instance, or costumes and production design. Yash Chopra’s business acumen gets more importance than his storytelling style.
The overarching theme is of quiet pride over a home-grown success story. For international audiences tuning in, The Romantics presents a snappy explainer on what the world knows as ‘Bollywood’ as well as a peek into how fiercely independent family-run banners, rather than corporate studios, have shaped the entertainment landscape.
Insider access yields rich dividends in the form of rare photographs, behind-the-scenes footage of YRF productions and warm interviews with A-listers who grew up alongside Aditya and Uday Chopra. The gratitude that the actors have for a company that gave them some of their biggest hits is lined with palpable affection for the creators, especially Yash Chopra.
The house that Yash Chopra built is in safe hands, with a new generation of romantics in charge, the series asserts. Aditya Chopra acknowledges that his reticence is in stark contrast to his father’s famed conviviality. He will need to “at least be accessible to people who need me”. While much is said in The Romantics, Aditya Chopra has the last word on what direction his company – and the show about it – will take.
Remembering Yash Chopra, the friend, philosopher and guide who shaped careers