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Thursday, September 21, 2023

Smriti Mundhra Talks ‘The Romantics’ On Netflix & Reigniting Love For Hindi Cinema

Smriti Mundhra has a keen eye for human interest stories. Whether it is a hard-hitting documentary such as St Louis Superman or Indian Matchmaking, her tryst with reality seems to strike a chord with audiences. A lot of impacts, creatively and humanly, comes from her acclaimed filmmaker father, Jag Mundhra.

With her upcoming docu-series The Romantics on Netflix, Mundhra revisits her roots and childhood memories of growing up with the influence of Hindi cinema (infamously known as ‘Bollywood’). This series celebrates the magic of Yash Chopra’s filmmaking and his particular exhibition of love sagas. 2022 marked his tenth death anniversary. 

A four-part edition, it sees 35 leading personalities from the film industry including Shah Rukh Khan, Rani Mukerji and more giving interviews and sharing candid memories. Aditya Chopra, heading the production house Yash Raj Films, shares his thoughts on camera for the first time. 

Joining Filme Shilmy, Smriti talks more about her experience of working on the doc, in which legendary Rishi Kapoor also provides his final interview. It also marks the celebration of YRF’s 50 glorious years commemoration. 

The Romantics pays homage to Yash Chopra’s cinema. There is plenty of material available online about his life. What new information or insights does the documentary aim to offer?

The main thing is hearing all of the stars and artists who worked with Yash Chopra over the course of his career speak anecdotally about him. About the experience of working with him. That’s something new. The collection of voices is something that’s unique to the series.

You’ve grown up watching and being associated with the Hindi film industry. What were some of your earliest memories of Yash Chopra’s movies and as a filmmaker what helps you to create a clear narrative arch through the positioning of information?

He was the father of romance, which was what he was known for. Those films of his are the ones that cultivated the image of Hindi cinema that went all over the world. Definitely, he made incredible, classic and iconic films of other genres which speaks of his range as a filmmaker. But, if you are to pinpoint the genre which he is known for. From my learning, romance was the most ingrained in him.

I grew up watching his films. One of my earliest cognisant memories is seeing Chandni. In terms of putting this series together and creating a clear narrative arc. That’s the biggest challenge which is why this process of making the series took three years. What emerged is that the chronological story of his (Chopra’s) career is mirrored in a lot of the big cultural and political changes that were happening in India over the decades. That provided an interesting arc for the story to make it bigger than one movie or instance.

Before making the series what were your expectations and how did that change or develop towards the end of the process?

With each person I interviewed and spoke with, the story about the filmmaker really deepened. Obviously, in starting out, I knew he was one of the most influential directors to emerge in Hindi cinema. But I think really hearing the personal stories of those who worked with him made it clear that he is an icon and legend for a reason. Even so that 10 years after his passing, looms so large in the imaginations of so many people. It’s because of the way he interacted with the actors and staff who worked on his films. That was definitely a revelation for me.

Given the reactions to the trailer, people are craving to reconnect with why they love the movies and going to the cinemas. The experience of that. I hope that this series is a reminder of all the things that we love about cinema.

This is Rishi Kapoor’s last interview before he passed away. What did you learn about him the most during your interaction with him? Which other actor’s anecdotes were you most fascinated by?

Yeah, that interview was really memorable and special. Even though he had been ill during that time period, that day when we did the interview, he was kind of at his best. Rishi Kapoor was energetic and effervescent, very chatty. He shared so much about his perspective on Hindi cinema, given his involvement in the industry for many decades. But all these amazing anecdotes of working with Mr Chopra. He really was in the frame of mind to reminisce which is why that interview is so special.

One of the anecdotes that really stood out to me was by Amitabh Bachchan. He has witnessed and been the face of so much evolution in Hindi cinema. They were very memorable.

How did you manage to convince Aditya Chopra to come in front of the camera and give an interview?

That was the biggest challenge of this series [laughs]. He’s not somebody who traditionally, easily, expresses himself or gives interviews. But when he blessed this project, the one condition was that he won’t be a part of it or appear. During the course of making it, it became very clear that you can’t really tell the story of Yash Chopra without the perspective of Aditya. They were so close not just as father and son, but as colleagues. Their careers and stories are so closely linked that something would’ve felt missing without his perspective. Thankfully, he was able to see that for himself and agreed to give the interview.

Your father in the later stages of his career made hard-hitting realistic incidents. Besides light-hearted shows like Indian Matchmaking, you’ve also made some intense documentaries. How much of an influence has his cinema had on you? And what appeals to you the most about nonfictional storytelling?

My Dad (Jag Mundhra) is the greatest influence in my life. Creatively and the standard I hold myself to as a person in life, all of that I learnt from my father. In terms of filmmaking, I grew up watching all kinds of movies, across the world, with my dad. Including Hollywood, Asian and European films. He loved movies. He always told me the only job, is to measure the success of the story based on whether it touches the hearts of audiences. Regardless of genre. That has been my North Star for everything I’ve made. Whether it’s a socio-political drama or anything light-hearted, is it moving people in some way? That’s the only success of any form of art.

It’s interesting all of your Netflix content has love somewhat as a backdrop. What fascinates you the most about this theme and which other stands of love do you feel needs to be explored in film?

All human dramas and ethos stem from love in all forms or another. Whether it’s grief or tension/conflict. It’s the perfect lens to look at human conditioning. It touches all of us. There’s not a human on this planet who is unaffected by the quest for love. It’s just a natural thing I gravitate towards and to inform every human interaction that could exist.

I try to keep a balance (of dark and light-hearted stories). The next work you see from me will be of a darker and more intense nature. As for The Romantics, it’s a reminder of how much we love movies and how ingrained these are in us as people and cultures. The industry has its ups and downs, there’s no better time than now to be reminded of why we love movies in the first place. And love the collective act of watching one. I hope that is what people take away from the series.

The Romantics streams on Netflix from 14th February 2023. 

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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