The Romantics: A dreamy ode to Bollywood when its not a PR exercise

Karishma Jangid
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The Romantics is a charming exploration of Bollywood when it's not a YRF PR exercise

'The Romantics' explores the colorful and joyous world of Bollywood romance, tracing the legacy of the directors, Yash and Aditya Chopra.

The Romantics is an invitation. It is an invitation into the quintessential world of Bollywood romance- enemies-to-lovers, Switzerland ki waadiyan, Chiffon saree-clad heroine, sarson ke khet, and love, precisely the Indian version of love. The four-episode-long documentary starts with a montage of Bollywood romantic scenes and songs with a zest that gets you excited for what follows. Gradually, it traces the legacy of the late director, Yash Chopra and explores the genius of his son, Aditya Chopra. However, soon, it begins to feel like a marketing exercise for Yash Raj Films (YRF). The Romantics goes back to Yash Chopra's early films like "Dhool ka Phool" and "Dharmaputra". It traces how and why his cinematography would soon become the template for romantic and larger-than-life Bollywood movies. The documentary slowly and elaboratively explores the essence of his movies and why they speak to as well as represent Indian audiences. Be it the NRIs wooed by "Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge", motorcyclists fascinated by "Dhoom", or Indian youngsters finding themselves in "Hum Tum", YRF has something for everyone. In Amitabh Bachchan's words, "Indian films are like thaalis. They have a little bit of everything."

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It then goes to 'The Prodigal Son' aka Aditya Chopra and his 'instinct' of making movies that make the modern, young Indians dream. Because he has never been in the public eye, Aditya Chopra makes for the most fascinating aspect of the documentary. And he has some truly intelligent things to say. When he says, "Your eyes have something that cannot be just wasted on action" or "In this country, a superstar would only be the person who is every mother's son, every sister's brother, and every college girl's fantasy," to Shah Rukh Khan, you know that here is a man who understands Bollywood like no other. The Romantics is, in a way, an exploration of his passion for making movies and his clever insight into the audiences' taste. Its exploration of the effect of social and cultural affairs on movies is commendable. Be it the influence of India's independence on films around the 50s, the emergency's causation of the "angry young man" trope, or liberalization giving Bollywood films a global experience- it traces how cinema is a mirror to society. During the same, it also calls attention to the secular ideology that YRF stands by, even as India is facing majoritarian times and Bollywood is facing calls for boycotts.

By the third episode, The Romantics begins to look like a PR exercise for YRF, portraying Aditya Chopra as a mythical creature who is all-knowing and rarely gets anything amiss. He is a visionary, no doubt. However, the issue is that the makers didn't adopt an analytic approach. They have only glorified YRF. YRF's losses and failures barely get coverage of 4 minutes. The focus is unwaveringly on its glamour and achievements. The singular failure that they address is Uday Chopra, actor, and brother of Aditya Chopra. One cannot talk about YRF and ignore nepotism. Aditya Chopra is correct when he says that almost all businesses in India are nepotistic; a son always inherits his father's business. However, his claim, that nepotism does not matter because it couldn't make Uday Chopra a star, sounds hollow. He conveniently forgets that despite being unsuccessful, Uday had easy access to several chances to prove his worth. Previously, in an interview with ScoopWhoop, Taapsee Pannu rightly pointed out that outsiders don't get numerous chances to prove themselves. Unlike Uday Chopra, they don't get to start a production firm if they fail at acting. Moreover, the documentary has the likes of Ranveer Singh describing their struggles without acknowledging their privilege.

The crew doesn't ask YRF any uncomfortable questions. They don't ask them about their numerous flop films. Even when they do, Aditya Chopra says blame the audience for not being ready for a film like "Befikre". When the YRF team boasts of glamorizing heroines with Chiffon sarees, they don't ask about the unrealistic beauty standards that YRF has thus set for billions of women across generations. When Aditya Chopra boasts about being the flagbearer of modernity in Bollywood, they don't ask about the patriarchal notions that some of YRF's films still uphold. When YRF constantly claims that their films represent "the culture of India," they don't ask which culture exactly. YRF often endorses movies representing only the urban audience. The absence of any such questions makes The Romantics look like a PR exercise.

YRF rightly deserves a lot of credit for shaping Bollywood over the years. They deserve all the applause for being the source of hopes and dreams for billions. Acknowledgment of their shortcomings won't take their merit away. A fashionable, nostalgic view of all the classic YRF movies will always make hearts melt despite their imperfections.

The Romantics is streaming on Netflix.

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