Yash Raj Films (YRF) is an Indian entertainment company established by Shri Yash Chopra Ji, an Indian film director and producer who was considered an entertainment mogul in India. His son Aditya Chopra also produces films under this banner.
Yash Raj Films has launched its own music label called Yash Raj Music and markets and distributes DVDs, Audio CDs and VCDs under the Yash Raj Films Home Entertainment label. YRF Home Entertainment has acquired the rights for classic films created by Raj Kapoor and his production company R.K. Films, as well as B.R. Chopra and his production company B.R. Films.
In 2006, Yash Raj Films unveiled its new film studio. Since 2007, it has sold its music in digital format through the site along with DVDs and audio CDs. It has also started selling its music on iTunes. In May 2007, it linked with The Walt Disney Company to co-produce animated movies in India.
The most interesting fact about ‘The Romantics’, a 4-part documentary about Yash Raj Films, is that it is produced by Yash Raj Films itself. Sorry, they call it YRF Studios now. It’s streaming on Netflix.
The Romantics is well-written and a must-watch not only for those who are interested in Bollywood but also those who are interested in seeking to understand India in general. It works also as a brief history of Indian politics and society, through the highs and lows of Bollywood’s biggest film-making family.
The question is: why did YRF feel the need to put out this autobiography of sorts? And why now?
It’s come out just after the stupendous success of Pathaan, which has earned more money than any Indian movie ever. But ‘The Romantics’ would have been conceptualised and shot around the time Bollywood was facing an existential crisis on three counts: Covid, the success of south Indian blockbusters, and the disruption of cinema-going habits thanks to OTT platforms.
This branding exercise by YRF is meant to make us fall in love with Bollywood all over again, and also see YRF in the way we see Warner, Disney, Columbia, Fox and such big Hollywood “studios”.
The word studio here refers to a studio system whereby a company owns and controls all aspects of filmmaking, from production to distribution. This is YRF’s stated ambition, and ‘The Romantics’ says as much. The idea of the documentary is to make us understand and appreciate this ambition.
From father to son
YRF head Aditya Chopra, maker of such famous films as DDLJ, keeps himself away from the public eye. You wouldn’t recognise him if you saw him on the street. So great was the need for this branding exercise that he has put himself before the camera and spoken at length about his movies.
The first episode is about the past — his father Yash Chopra and his legacy. The second episode is where Aditya Chopra enters. In the transition between father and son, a big change takes place. Yash Chopra asks his son when he wants to make his first film as a director.
He was 23, and had been working as an assistant to his father since the age of 18. Aditya Chopra told his father that he would make his first film only if all the investment was their own. Aditya wanted to own all the rights, and earn all the revenues. The ‘film financiers’ were out.
The father was essentially a man in a creative pursuit. The son became a businessman.
Aditya Chopra, therefore, comes across as an MBA consultant type, constantly second-guessing what the audience wants, giving them what they want to deliver another hit and make more money. He’s ticking off boxes about the different audience segments a movie could appeal to.
The Yash Chopra school
Make no mistake, Yash Chopra was no ‘art’ filmmaker. He was very much a mainstream filmmaker who wanted to deliver hits. Why would anyone put money in his films if he couldn’t deliver hits? Yet he took creative risks and went against the grain.
He died in 2012. The film has archival footage from his interviews and behind-the-scene footage from film shoots. At one point we see him make a film just so that it may sell, and he says this one is not from his heart. There were films he made from his heart to satisfy his creative soul. Sometimes the public liked them, sometimes they didn’t.
After India’s independence in 1947, Chopra’s films were part of India’s Nehruvian nation-building narrative. In the aftermath of the Partition, as inter-religious violence had left many angry and dismayed, it would have been easy for Chopra to pander to religious fundamentalism.
Instead he made films on Hindi-Muslim unity such as Dhool Ka Phool (1959). In Dharmaputra (1969) he took the subjects of Partition and Hindu fundamentalism head-on. Yet these were mainstream films — Dharmaputra launched Shashi Kapoor.
Yash Chopra’s films, with their beautiful people, dreamy romances and exotic locations, were just a little ahead of the curve, progressive but not radical. They were good at giving the audience entertainment with some progressive values. Women were given dignity, labour fought for their rights.
The movies with Amitabh Bachchan are considered a success because they reflected the unhappy public mood. But they were a lot more than public disenchantment. They were about rights and justice.
The risks weren’t only with the story. He brought Sridevi to Bollywood and insisted on dressing her in white, which she and her mother thought was a bad idea. When Bollywood took a turn for kitschy films in the ‘80s, Yash Chopra didn’t become a copycat, giving the public what they seemed to like. He suffered flops instead.
The Adi Chopra Excel sheet
Cut to Aditya Chopra’s first film. What made him write DDLJ? He says that he saw all these movies about rebellion for love, young couples eloping because their parents wouldn’t let them marry a lover of their choice, often crossing the boundaries of caste, class and religion. But why do you always have to run away from parents, Chopra junior wondered. “I grew up in a secure environment myself,” he says.
The result is that he made a movie that is still running in at least one cinema hall, 27 years later, which teaches young Indians to conform and not rebel. DDLJ’s main message is that parents can be persuaded to let you live your dreams. This most iconic film of our generation has helped make young Indians more conservative.
Meanwhile, news report after news report about honour killing will tell you the parents killed their son/daughter/lover after pretending to forgive them. This side of the Indian family does not exist for Aditya Chopra because he grew up in his bubble of Bollywood star kids.
With the success of DDLJ, YRF found a formula of making films for upper middle-class families, formulaic films to deliver hits. Even with their formulae, they don’t always deliver a hit. And even if they do deliver hits, history won’t see these movies as half as iconic as what Yash Chopra did. Pathan may have made a thousand crore rupees but can anyone find themselves repeating its dialogues?
As YRF becomes more and more corporate, one wonders if Bollywood cinema can ever have heart and soul like the Yash Chopra movies