‘The Romantics’: We Love Yash Raj Films Because They Tell Your Story, My Story, and the Nation’s Story
- The popularity of Hindi cinema is because it connects the rich and poor, desi and pardesi, and provides a sense of belonging to the Indian diaspora.
I chanced upon “The Romantics” on Netflix while searching for a suitable film to show my students in a class titled ‘India and Indian Diaspora through Bollywood films.’
“The Romantics,” a beautifully crafted four-part docuseries, which chronicles the achievements of the legendary filmmaker Yash Raj Chopra, the founder of Yash Raj Films (YRF). The series is produced by Yash Raj Entertainment and directed by Smriti Mundhra (top photo) whose credits include “A Suitable Girl,” and “Indian Matchmaking.” It depicts YRF’s unique storytelling power and influence that has inspired Hindi cinema for the last 70 years. Yash Raj was the first Indian to get a lifetime membership in the BAFTA and the recipient of the prestigious Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 2001. His films still inspire numerous scripts and hold audiences captive in the magic of Bollywood.
Yash Raj is a great chronicler of post-independent India, navigating through different stages of economic development and modernization — the chaotic permit raj of Nehruvian India to the free market industrial economy championed by Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh in the 1990s. His early films focused on the angry young man, mainly played by Amitabh Bachchan, questioning the repressive state and power brokers. After his marriage to Pamela Chopra in 1970, Yash Raj shifted to a genre that centers on love and romance, bringing Indians of diverse backgrounds together and uniting them as part of a story on the screen.
A collection of interviews with actors, filmmakers, and critics who ruled Bollywood cinema in the last several decades — Amitabh Bachchan and his son Abhishek, Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh, and their son Ranbir, Shahrukh Khan, Kajol, Rani Mukherjee, Ranvir Singh, Anushka Sharma, among others — provide a moving narrative of Yash Raj’s vision of the happenings of India starting with the partition of British India into India and Pakistan to modern India. Yash Raj tackled the issue of Partition and Hindutva in his film “Dharamputra” (1961).
In the face of the criticism that Bollywood films tend to humiliate people and the society of Pakistan, the iconic YRF film “Veer Zaara” (2004) is an intense political story where love is divine, strengthened with separation, and deepened with sacrifice. This film reflects on the legendary love, transcending religious differences between Hinduism and Islam.
The interview with Pam Chopra, wife of Yash Raj, is one of the most moving moments in the series, besides the rare interview with Yash Raj’s son, the illusive star-director and producer Aditya Chopra who holds the mantle of YRF productions after his father passed away in 2012.
All the actors interviewed do not like the name Bollywood to encompass the whole Indian film industry. It excludes flourishing regional films made in Bengali, Marathi, Malayalam, Odia, Tamil, and Telegu, among other regional languages.
Cultural Shifts in India
After the action films in the early 70s – “Deewar” (1975), “Kaala Patthar” (1979), YRF shifted to romance — starting with “Kabhie Kabhie” (1976), “Silsila” (1981). In “Chandini” (1989), Chopra introduced Sri Devi as the queen of romance. This film depicted the gorgeous lifestyle of beautiful people, with melodic songs filmed in foreign locations.
“Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge” (1995) known as DDLJ, is a love story set against the backdrop of India’s mission to embrace the Indian diaspora in the West as an imagined community. It is one of the first films that celebrated the Indian diaspora while the country underwent a massive change, with a free-market economy. This film still runs in Maratha Mandir in Mumbai, 28 years after its release.
DDLJ also debuts Aditya Chopra, son of Yash Raj, as director. Behind-the-scene interviews of actors, actresses, and big names like his brother Uday Chopra and the filmmaker Karan Johar, provide an intimate look at the making of the film.
In this rare public interview, Aditya Chopra talks about how he learned the pulse of the average filmgoer in India by frequenting cinema halls and never missed a film box office hit or flop. He insists that one needs to look at the film from the audience’s point of view to understand what people like to watch. He says he had to watch all the movies to learn from their mistakes. Adi Chopra has become a giant producer and director and has promoted many filmmakers in the industry to make their own.
In my opinion, one of the reasons for the popularity of Hindi cinema is that it connects the rich and poor, desi and Pardesi, and provides a sense of belonging to the Indian diaspora. YRF will remain a favorite because they tell the story of the people of India at home and abroad. They tell your story, my story, and the nation’s story.
Annapurna Devi Pandey teaches Cultural Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She holds a Ph.D. in sociology from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, and was a postdoctoral fellow in social anthropology at Cambridge University, the U.K. Her current research interests include diaspora studies, South Asian religions, and immigrant women’s identity-making in the diaspora in California. In 2017-18 she received a Fulbright scholarship for fieldwork in India. Dr. Pandey is also an accomplished documentary filmmaker. Her 2018 award-winning documentary “Road to Zuni,” dealt with the importance of oral traditions among Native Americans.