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Exclusive! The Romantics' creator Smriti Mundhra: Cinema is part of India's gift to the world; Yash Chopra is at the centre of that

Smriti Mundhra also recalled interviewing Rishi Kapoor a month before he passed away.

Exclusive! The Romantics' creator Smriti Mundhra: Cinema is part of India's gift to the world; Yash Chopra is at the centre of that
Smriti Mundhra/Instagram

Last Updated: 11.01 AM, Feb 14, 2023


The Romantics, Yash Raj Films and Netflix's Valentine's Day gift to the world, will be released in just a few hours. The documentary series is an ode to the legacy of YRF, started by Yash Chopra, and the baton that was passed to Aditya Chopra. The series was created by Smriti Mundhra, who has been working on it for three years. When asked if there would be so much left to show if there were only four episodes, Mundhra told OTTPlay that she might share more in the future.

In an exclusive interview, the ace filmmaker revealed how she finally convinced Aditya Chopra, who was believed to be a myth, to make his on-camera appearance after two decades or so. Mundhra also spoke about the interesting transition she made from creating Indian Matchmaking to The Romantics.


Edited excerpts follow.

As soon as the announcement for The Romantics dropped, the discussion about it was done by people from different generations who eat, breathe, and live movies. What are your fond memories of Yash Raj Films as a cinema lover growing up?

So many of my core and formative memories are of watching Hindi films. I grew up mostly in the US, and Hindi films were our connection to India—for most of us, me and my cousins and other diasporic kids, as we say, it's how we learned about India. It's how we learned about our festivals and traditions and raised our expectations about families, relationships, weddings, and everything else. So, it was really formative for me, and it was also just to see that, growing up abroad, especially in the West, you don't see Indian people central to stories. You see them as characters, stereotypes, joke characters, and things like that. So it was really only in Hindi and Indian films that we saw people like us, who had a similar background to us, really centre stage in the storytelling. So that was really important and significant for me.

Do you remember any YRF film you watched during your growing years that has stayed with you even now?

Oh, Chandni for sure, and, of course, DDLJ (Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge) later, when I was a teenager, that film had a huge impact on me. But Chandni was, I was just dazzled by the song and love the songs growing up and then seeing Sridevi like, she's like a glamorous cartoon. She's just so beautiful, and she's so animated. Definitely, that film left a huge impression on me.

When did you start with this planning, and how was the whole thing conceptualised?

In the West, especially around the world, everywhere I've traveled, people have this notion of what Bollywood is. I think there's a lot of curiosity in terms of the films, and some people have an idea in their minds of what it is. But I think Hindi films, and Hindi film history is a part of global cinema history, and I don't think it's gotten that. I went to film school, (where) we studied Japanese cinema, French cinema, and Italian cinema. But we don't study or look at, as a part of cinema history, Hindi cinema. I think little by little, that's changing. But this was really my effort: to tell the story, not just those nostalgic stories about all the different films, but also to show it as a really vital piece of our global cinema culture, and that's where it started.

The first question asked of all the actors is about the term "Bollywood," and they talk about how they are not fond of the term. What's your take on the word "Bollywood"?

I totally understand the reluctance and the sort of disfavour around that word, because our industry here is as big, vital, and vibrant as western cinema or Hollywood cinema, so why should it be considered a derivative? So I understand the reluctance around that word; unfortunately, it's a catchy word that's sort of like shorthand that's been used around the world. I think we've also reclaimed it in many ways. Since making the series, I've tried not to use it.

You know, Indian Matchmaking was a watershed moment, and now we have The Romantics. One is about an arranged marriage match, and another is about how people were spoiled by the idea of romance created by YRF films. How did that transition happen to you too?

I think all of these multitudes exist within us. We have our aspirational versions of love, marriage, and romance that we see in the movies. Then we have the reality that we deal with, which I wouldn't say is unromantic. I think there's actually quite a lot of romance in our traditions as well. It looks different and feels different, but I think these things exist within us simultaneously. So, of course, it was natural to try to explore them in these different forums.

The trailer and teasers are quite emotional to watch for people like me because of the precedent they set. Now that the whole documentary is ready for the world, what's your current state of mind?

I mean, I'm gobsmacked by the reaction to the trailer. I'm so happy. This series has been years of work and so to, for the first sort of exposure, to the audience publicly. There's been so much love for it, and excitement for it is so gratifying and pleasing to me. I'm also a little nervous, because these stars and filmmakers are so beloved that you always hope that you can do them justice. It's difficult enough for episodes to last hours when there's so much history and scope. I'm nervous to see; hopefully the series will live up to the trailer.

Did you find any difficulties getting these artists on board, or were they ready from the word "go"?

They were all very willing immediately. That's really because of the love and regard people have for Yash Chopra.

The most important discussion happening on social media is about Aditya Chopra's first on-camera appearance in two decades. How did you convince him to do so when no one else could?

I think this series was going to be a definitive sort of tribute to his father and his legacy, the most comprehensive look at his life and career. And for Aditya, I think he could see that that story would be incomplete without his presence and his point of view. I don't think he would let a tribute to his father, especially one that's been sanctioned and blessed by the studio, feel incomplete. So that's really how it came together.

It also came as a surprise to see Rishi Kapoor, who has been a pivotal part of the YRF family. What do you recall from his interview?

Just his generosity in the amount of time he gave; he was so charming and so funny, and he was really in top form when we talked, though it was one month before he passed. You would have never been able to tell, sitting with him that day. He looked amazing, and he felt vibrant and eager to talk and excited to talk and reminisce. I'll always remember that day and that afternoon that we spent together.

How do you look back at the legacy of Yash Chopra and YRF?

As filmmakers and as artists and storytellers, we can only wish we could have the range and durability of Yash Chopra and his career, and then YRF itself. Cinema is part of India's gift to the world, and Yash Chopra and YRF are really at the centre of that, because there's so much that he as a filmmaker has offered and added to the canon of global cinema. I'm happy that I have the platform and the opportunity to recognise it.

Is there anything interesting or challenging that you remember from all of those interviews?

Scheduling is difficult with so many big names, stars, and everything. It's always difficult to catch people when they have time to really sit and talk and everything. So that was obviously an ongoing challenge, but we made it work. Then, of course, getting Aditya to agree to the interview was a unique challenge.

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