November 11, 2011
Ranbir Kapoor, Nargis Fakhri, Aditi Rao Hydari, Shernaz Patel, Shammi Kapoor, Piyush Mishra
What do I say?! Rockstar is the story of an aspiring singer in Delhi University who is told by a close associate that great art is born of pain. Janardhan Jakhar (Ranbir Kapoor) has not so far known suffering … does this mean he can never create soul-stirring songs? Taking the advice literally, he sets out to experience heartbreak by convincing himself that he’s smitten by the sophisticated hottie from a neighbouring college, Heer Kaul (Nargis Fakhri). Since she is out of the unrefined Janardhan’s league, he hopes to be rejected, believing that the hurt thus caused will stimulate his creative juices. As expected, she spurns his advances, but the consequence is an unlikely friendship that leads to more pain than either of them could have ever bargained for.
The film begins well … Janardhan is Jordan, a world renowned Indian rockstar who gets out of a bloody brawl on a street in Italy, strides past gigantic cut-outs of himself and into a stadium, shrugs on his performer’s gear on stage, and coolly turns to the crowd to belt out a song as they scream for him. From the bronzed and burnt look of that episode the film cuts to a bright, cheery Delhi of the past, and the clean-shaven Pitampura boy Janardhan’s determination to be a singer.
Smooth! Very smooth! But as Rockstar progressed and I remained in awe of its smoothness, slickness and style, the breathtaking locations, Anil Mehta’s cinematography and the fun choreography, I searched desperately for a soul and failed to find it. Imtiaz Ali’s strength so far has been his ability to tell real stories about real people whose lives he drew us into so effectively, that we laughed and cried with them. I desperately wanted Geet to dump her boyfriend for Aditya in Jab We Met. I could feel the love and longing of two generations in Love Aaj Kal. But in Rockstar, I didn’t weep for anyone.
The problem lies primarily with the film’s weak storyline. A girl faints at the sight of an Indian rockstar, crazed crowds gather when he’s spotted on a street … JordanMania in India requires a suspension of disbelief considering that we are a nation whose urban idols are drawn almost entirely from the cricketing and cinematic pantheons. But even if I were to buy the madness for Jordan in India, Rockstar is on shaky ground. Like Janardhan a.k.a. Jordan, Ali too seems to have been rather literal about the connection between artists and extreme suffering. But is this a film about love against all odds (as the quote from the poet Rumi in the end suggests) or about music against all odds (which was conveyed to us with such tenderness in Farhan Akhtar’s far superior film Rock On)? What was the driving force behind Jordan’s music of rebellion? Perhaps I could have understood his perennial anger if the film had taken us gradually through his journey from an innocent boy to a maverick, but it didn’t, opting instead for a narrative style that switched from the past to the present to what seemed like a flashback within a flashback. Sadder still, despite the sparks between Ranbir and Nargis, I didn’t feel drawn into their love story beyond the blossoming amidst the mountainscapes of Kashmir.
In fact, some episodes in the couple’s relationship are a trifle disturbing. Janardhan’s stalking of Heer in early scenes should have been handled better to avoid reinforcing the conviction held by so many roadside Romeos that when a woman says no, she means yes. Likewise, it’s sweet to hear Jordan matter of factly state his physical yearnings to Heer, but when he demands a kiss as she lies dying, it feels marginally offensive though the film projects him as being well intentioned. Then there’s that unfunny ‘joke’ after Heer and Janardhan watch the sleazy film Junglee Jawani in a sleazy theatre. “If we stayed any longer in the hall, you’d have been raped,” he says. She replies laughingly, “That’s fine, it would have been Junglee Jawani Part 2.”
Of the leads, Ranbir comes off much better. The reasons for Jordan’s rage are unconvincing, but you can see that the actor has invested so much of himself in the role! The basics are in place (his earthy accent is consistent, he’s been wonderfully styled to look alternately boyish and scruffily adult), but best of all, IT FEELS LIKE HE’S REALLY SINGING! Nargis is pretty, but her studied acting style required a firmer directorial hand.
To be fair, Rockstar has many positives that are a reminder of the acutely observant and humorous Imtiaz Ali we’ve grown to love: the contrast between reactions to a busker in Delhi and Prague; the glimpse of Janardhan’s lustful bhabhi; Janardhan’s meeting with a semi-nude music company honcho in the throes of a body massage; an elegant Shammi Kapoor’s appearance as a shehnai veteran; and the entire portion devoted to Heer’s wedding in Kashmir. The talented supporting cast is led by the delightful Kumud Mishra as Jordan’s hapless manager.
Most of all, I liked Irshad Kamil’s lyrics, A.R. Rahman’s background score, Mohit Chauhan’s voice, and the picturisation of each song. Rockstar is not my favourite Rahman album – I’ve enjoyed listening to Katiya Karun and Kun Faya Kun so far; when Saadda Haq enveloped me in that darkened hall, I finally fell for it too; but I’m afraid I don’t find the rest of the songs appealing. Yet, all of them have been filmed so beautifully and with such dramatic grandeur (in a dargah, in a European square, in the midst of frenzied crowds) that it was hard not to be drawn in while watching them. I wish the story had drawn me in too!
Rating (out of five): **1/2
CBFC Rating: U/A (The Censors asked for the word “Tibet” to be blurred from a “Free Tibet” banner during the Saadda Haq scene + other changes)
Running time: 156 MinutesLanguage: Hindi
Photograph courtesy: http://www.rockstarthefilm.com/#