Let me say it at the outset, watching Rockstar was a gradual underwhelming experience. With that out of the way, let me also add that it is by no means a lazily made film. Imtiaz Ali’s passion is evident through the entire running length of this wrongly titled film.  It’s just that this passion does not make into a satisfying movie watching experience.

There are a number of things which go gloriously wrong for this love story+coming-of-age saga (no this film is not about rock music and the lives of rockstars). One of the key ‘wrongs’ this movie does is in the casting of the leading lady – Nargees Fakhri.  She looks every bit of the Heer that Imtiaz Ali envisioned when he probably conceived this film, but she displays no fire that is required for her character. Ranbir Kapoor, on the other hand, lives and breathes his character of Janardhan Jakhar (JJ) who morphs into Jordan, the Rockstar. From a pure character arc perspective, he has done the “a post teenage lost youth who eventually finds his calling” drill in the past  (Wake Up Sid, Rocket Singh, Rajneeti). With Rockstar, his JJ goes further from finding his calling to his eventual downfall.  That’s not saying that his performance is repetitive from his previous coming of age roles, in fact he does succeed in giving each role a different dimension  – his googly eyed diffident Sid from Wake Up Sid turns into a much calmer and assured Sid by the end of the movie while his googly eyed Janardhan turns into a tormented and destructive Jordan by the end of Rockstar: his body language in both the roles is spot on. He proves that this is one starkid who would have been a star regardless of that weighty last name and the legacy of his family. Here’s a performer who enjoys his art and his sincerity towards his work cannot be ignored. Two noteworthy scenes which display his incredible range :

  1. during the amazing Kun Faaya Kun number, he belts out a few lines with the singers at the dargaah and in the musical trance that he is in, looks up at the starry sky and goes speechless, this is the defining moment in my opinion where he realizes his connection with music and his pathway to the divine. It’s a shame that his singing and his passion for music has barely any room on the motorbikes he rides. And hence yet again the point that this film is wrongly titled .
  2. his imitation of his Grandfather Shammi Kapoor‘s “yeh chaand saa roshan chehra” strikes a perfect balance in paying tribute to the original rockstar of Hindi cinema and evoking giggles from the audience without mocking the silliness of the original.

In a grand, doomed love story such as this, almost everything relies on the the audience’s ability to feel the passion of the lovers and the reasons for them not being together. Just as Jordan’s popularity seems hollow and contrived as a plot device, his downfall as a result of him not being able to get Heer, does not generate the necessary pathos. To add to this, Nargis Fakhri does not help the proceedings with her forced facial contortions and an awful dubbing job. The only scene where she is convincing enough is a wonderful exchange between her and Ranbir on her wedding day, where you feel that she has fallen for JJ when he quite innocently asks her if she has. In almost every other scene she is clueless on what she is required to do – smolder or pout or faint or do all of these at once. Another personal complaint I have is regarding the need to take the story to Prague and Italy! Indian directors have time and again taken their stories to foreign locales which serve no purpose other than eye-candy for the narrative, but one would expect a little more rationality from Imtiaz Ali and from Pankaj Kapoor in his Mausam from earlier this year. Personally, the Prague and Italy episodes would have carried a greater impact had they happened in the sub-continent!

There are a few things which work for the film (aside from the already mentioned sincere performance from Ranbir):

  • Shammi Kapoor’s cameo as a veteran Shehnai maestro who sees the big “jaanwar” in Jordan that cannot be caged
  • A few incredible musical pieces by A R Rahman (most notable to me is Kun Faaya Kun which falls in the category of that piece of art where I envy those who experience it for the first time)
  • A wonderful find in Kumud Mishra as Mr Khatana who is a witness to Janardan becoming Jordan (and eventually becomes his manager)
  • The  non-cliched and direct yet humorous approach of Imtiaz Ali to stock situations (example: a family feud results in JJ being thrown out of his house not because of his refusal to join the family business but  because of his impromptu outburst about his sister-in-law’s physical expression of her protectiveness towards JJ)

In the end, Rockstar is not a bad film, but it aches to see that it could have been so beautifully tragic. There is a lot of heart in the film, however, the execution lacks the focus and clinical precision which comes from a clarity of thought required for such a project that comes from deep within its creator.

P.S: The Indian Censor Board seems to have buckled to the Chinese and have visibly blurred the word “Tibet” from the “Free Tibet” banners in the Sadda Haq song. It is a massive shame that art is still subjected to such cowardly political censorship in a country which is supposed to be “free” and “democratic”.

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