Shailesh Kapoor: A Tale of Two Documentaries

17 Feb,2023

By Shailesh Kapoor


Shailesh KapoorThe last four weeks have been marked by political furore over the two-part BBC documentary, India: The Modi Question. The documentary looks at Narendra Modi’s ‘relationship’ with the Muslims of India, covering events ranging from the 2002 Gujarat riots to the striking down of Article 370 in 2019.


The BJP was quick to take objection, when the first part released mid-January. The documentary was quickly banned in India, but BBC stood its ground. The controversy was moving out of public memory, but this week, BBC’s India offices were ‘surveyed’ (a euphemism for ‘raided’) by the Income Tax department, bringing the BBC vs. BJP headlines back on news platforms.


To begin with, banning anything in the age of the Internet is a lost cause. Both parts of the documentary continue to be easily accessible, despite various crackdowns by the government. Student screenings have been held in many colleges, some of which have been disrupted too by BJP supporters.


Indeed, it’s safe to say that BJP’s over-reach on the issue has only made more people watch a piece of content it would want no one to watch. Collateral damage has also come in the form of international media questioning India’s commitment to the idea of press freedom. It’s a self-goal, of sorts. Not that it matters in the larger political or electoral context, where this is a trivial matter to begin with.


Speaking of documentaries, the four-part YRF documentary series, The Romantics, dropped on Netflix this week, on Valentine’s Day. The delightful series looks at the six-decade journey of Yash Chopra and his company Yash Raj Films, now helmed by his son Aditya Chopra.


There’s so much to like in this Smriti Mundhra series. To begin with, it’s a trip down memory lane for those like me, who are old enough to have grown up on Yash Chopra’s films. Through a wide array of talking heads, film footage, archival footage (including one from Yash Chopra’s wedding!) and interviews with the family members, The Romantics forces us to re-imagine the YRF aura.


In a coup of sorts, Aditya Chopra, who has not given an interview in ages, and never appeared at a public function since the mid-1990s, speaks extensively about his father, and the transition of YRF from the father to the son. He’s immensely articulate, and very real. So real that you almost root for him by the end of the fourth part, wanting him to achieve all that he still has to.


I also enjoyed the warmth that Uday Chopra brought to the series. As the less-successful son, he spoke candidly about his elusive shot at stardom, and his emotional relationship with his father.


Despite being produced by YRF itself, there is no attempt in the series to eulogise Yash Chopra or the family. In fact, frailties and failures are a recurring topic across the four parts. And yet, the aftertaste of having watched The Romantic is uplifting and wholesome.


The Romantics is one of the finest new-age attempts at chronicling Indian cinema’s history. Hopefully, it’s the first of many such ideas the streamers will bring to the Indian market.


Shailesh Kapoor is Founder and CEO of Ormax Media. He writes on MxMIndia on Fridays. His views here are personal


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