When it comes to spinning gossamer tales of love, loss, and heartache on the big screens, no one can do it better than the late director Yash Chopra and his reclusive son Aditya Chopra.
Through their escapist and love-drenched tales like 'Kabhi Kabhi', 'Silsila', 'Chandini', 'Veer Zaara', and 'Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge', the Chopra clan single-handedly set the template, syntax, and grammar of Bollywood romances in the last four decades.
Their heroes in their utopian films shot in picturesque locales were always heroic, handsome, and a bit vulnerable (think Shah Rukh Khan as the adorable hero Raj in 'DDLJ'), while their leading ladies were beatific, bold, and spunky (think the late Sridevi in 'Chandni').
But how did they manage to make these romances that stood the test of time?
We don’t have the answers. But Oscar and Emmy-nominated director Smriti Mundhra has a few pointers up her sleeve. This Los Angeles-based filmmaker whose credits include the hugely popular series like ‘Indian Matchmaking’ and ‘Never Have I Ever’ has attempted to crack their cinematic code in her new four-part docu-series ‘The Romantics’, out on Netflix today.
Littered with conversations with superstars like Shah Rukh Khan, Hrithik Roshan, Aamir Khan, Salman Khan, and Katrina Kaif, who have worked with the Chopras closely, the series aims to de-mystify their filmmaking process and what made them invest so deeply in saccharine romances.
“Our escapism comes through their big grand romances ... Shah Rukh Khan was my superhero in DDLJ,” said Mundhra in an interview with Gulf News, ahead of the series premiere on Valentine’s Day.
But the real scoop is undoubtedly the section where Mundhra – who’s always behind the camera in this series – taps into the notoriously elusive director Aditya Chopra’s mind and madness. This man prefers to let his films do the talking and has avoided the press like the proverbial plague. Like the notorious British royalty Meghan and Harry, Aditya Chopra chose to come clean via a docu-series on Netftlix.
Ahead of this series’ release, Gulf News spoke to the acclaimed filmmaker about her latest labour of love, her fixation for Bollywood films and heroes that shaped her existence as a young Indian girl living abroad, and more ...
Were you always fascinated by Yash and Aditya Chopra’s brand of movies?
Absolutely and totally. I don’t think I could have embarked on this journey if it didn’t start from a place of absolute love and fascination for films of both Yash Chopra and Aditya Chopra. So most certainly, I am a fan first.
Do you think their films have ruined love for most of us since we now have high and impossible standards for our partners after watching their films filled with indestructible and passionate heroes?
Yeah, absolutely (laughs).
Tell us more about how you went about making 'The Romantics'?
Every project has its own journey. For this one, it just started with my desire to make something that really celebrated and honoured the rich history of cinema that we have in India. There are many different ways to tell that story. And, looking at it through the lens of Yash Chopra, his films, and his legacy seemed appropriate because so much of what we consider Hindi cinema comes from his style and his work. It started from that point of thought. And then, as we did more research, interviews, and looked at all the archives, the story just deepened. And that story began connecting to the larger story of India of the last 50 to 70 years.
What do you want the audiences to take away from 'The Romantics'?
First and foremost, I hope 'The Romantics' is a reminder of why we love movies and why we continue to root for them. Perhaps, the pandemic made us lose touch with such films. Such cinema is in our DNA and is a part of our cultural heritage. It’s part of us and ‘The Romantics’ is a reminder that these films shaped us and helped us define who we are as a society and as a culture.
Which film of the Chopras left a lasting impression on you?
The first movie that I remember distinctly seeing was 'Chandni'. It made a real impression on me. I was a kid when I saw it. Sridevi, her performance, her costumes, and Switzerland left a lasting impression on me. Another film that left a lasting impression on me was DDLJ. It was the first Hindi film that really spoke to me and my generation of Indians who lived abroad … We are always looking for ourselves and our lives to be reflected in the stories that we watched. 'DDLJ' was a direct reflection of the diaspora and the world we live in … As far as I am concerned, Shah Rukh Khan is a superhero in DDLJ.
You are the first person to interview director-producer Aditya Chopra, who’s known to be keep a low-profile. How was the experience of interviewing him for your docu-series?
It’s always intimidating to interview somebody like him. I ensured that I prepared for it thoroughly. It could perhaps be his first and last interview, so I didn’t want to leave any stone unturned. I got as many views from those who had interacted with him to make use of this rare opportunity. So certainly, the pressure was always there … I don’t want to reveal too much. But I can tell you that he loves to talk about movies. It’s his passion. He’s notoriously private, but when it comes to talking about movies he doesn’t hold back. You can definitely get him to open up on those points.
There’s a section of movie-goers who believe that romantic films are irrelevant in this day and age of dating apps … Your thoughts.
No, I don’t think they are irrelevant at all. This industry is cyclical and we go through phases. Different genres dominate theatres and box-office at different times and success of those films beget similar types of such films. But we always make our way back to romance and that’s pretty non-negotiable. As far as the Indian diaspora is concerned, romantic films will never be irrelevant.
How is the experience of making a docu-series different from making a fictional series?
Making a docu-series is a huge responsibility. I am telling the story of some of the most iconic filmmakers we have in our culture. They have earned a certain legacy. Plus, to get the participation of so many big stars is a huge responsibility. And I took that very, very seriously.
Were those stars ever on time or were they tardy as ever …
Honestly speaking, almost nobody was ever on time and we factored that in our shooting schedule.