Mayank Shekhar's review: Rockstar

By Hindustan Times

Rockstar
Director: Imtiaz Ali
Actors: Ranbir Kapoor, Nargis Fakri
Rating: ***1/2

“Look at the great artistes, you’ll realise there’s one thing that’s common to all of them: pain.” Frustration, hurt, angst, struggles of all sorts may have produced deranged humans; they’ve also brought to the world, genius in expression, art of all kinds. It’s a fair point; the one making it in this movie is someone called Khataraji. Intellect is best earned from the street. Khataraji is a college canteen manager, pot-bellied, mustachioed, wearing a thick hand-knitted sweater and talcum powder over his sweaty neck: basically, he looks like your average, lower middle-class, middle-aged Delhi male.

Khataraji takes a shine on one Janardhan Jakhar (Ranbir Kapoor), a talented musician. Having taken Khatara bhai’s sermons on art and pain a bit too seriously; lost, confused, mildly stupid, vaguely asexual Janardhan (JJ, in short, Jordan later) goes around looking to get frustrated!

He finds a gorgeous girl dancing at her college auditorium. She is, as the boys describe, a dil todne ki machine (surefire heartbreaker).” He pretends to fall for this upper-class Kashmiri girl (Nargis Fakhri), approaches her while she’s with friends; goes, “Tu hote lagti hai, cool bhi (you’re hot, cool)… I louv you, crazy for u baeby.” She asks him to bugger off, of course. Burger off, is what he hears. She’s from the supposedly posh St Stephen’s in Delhi. They were at the café. He goes back to his canteen, ‘across the road’ (Hindu College, relatively down-market. Okay Hinduites, I never said that. The film implies it!)

These two could never be a couple. Oddly, they do make for great friends. There’s a rebellious streak in this rich, protected, pretty girl. Though she’s about to get married. She finds in the rustic boy a mate who can accompany her to things that constitute “gandh machana (literally, stinking up)”: something that no Delhi girl should ideally attempt, like getting into a show of a laugh-porn Janglee Jawani in a shaggy, shabby theatre called Amar Talkies in Chandni Chowk, or thereabouts.

The girl gets married, moves on. The boy finds enough frustration in his life to produce expressive art, make finely layered music, is spotted by a shehnai ustad (Shammi Kapoor, in his final role, as Bismillah Khan). Janardhan is by now the incredibly famous (or infamous) Jordan, who packs stadiums, sells concert tickets, CDs, T-shirts, women faint at his appearance, paparazzi stalks him everywhere. A rock star? Hmmm.

A problem with Rock On (2008), for instance, though doubtlessly an entertaining film, was the music quartet there wasn't really a rock band. Severely low on rage against the machine, in their life, and with their music, they were at best a believable pop group. The hero here expresses that reckless, devil-may-care attitude better. The middle finger’s firmly in place, and pointed everywhere. To be fair still, there are no rock stars in India. It becomes a problem then to place this guy.

Film actors dancing, lip-syncing to playback music on television take over all sacred spaces of showbiz fame in this country. Everyone will remember Ranbir Kapoor in this movie. Some will know Mohit Chauhan, the brilliant voice, behind his character. As Bollywood hero though, Ranbir, for a change, deserves all the national attention. We haven’t quite come across a full-on Hindi film-star since Aamir Khan (26 years ago), Hrithik Roshan (11 years ago), who’s this competent, dedicated and original an actor. This movie rightly belongs to him. It neatly attempts to capture extreme fame, and its pitfalls: hungry crowds outside, hollowness and mental turmoil within. It could be seen as an Indian movie star’s story as well. The giddy fans they attract are about the same as rock-stars do in the West.

The hero goes back to his girl. If you've known someone long enough as a friend, it's probably best to let them remain just that. It may be a terrible idea in life to make out with your best buddy, if you’ve been platonic throughout, and especially, if they're married now! It's still decent enough conflict for a romantic film. This one flits between the study of fame, and a feminine, old-world Romeo And Juliet kind of romance of eternal love, right down to the balcony scene. The heroine is called Heer, obviously from the popular Punjabi tragic folktale Heer Ranjha. As it is with so many heroes’ journeys, important side-characters are unfortunately trashed to the bin: the leading man’s family's made irrelevant, so is the girl’s husband.

The canvas is wide like early Sanjay Leela Bhansali's; bird's eye view of the stunning bridge is very Mani Ratnam; witty, earthy dialogues are so Vishal Bhardwaj. Director Imitiaz Ali (Jab We Met, Love Aaj Kal) manages to retain a personal, auteur's touch in a genre vastly commercial, mainstream. This is a rare feat.

From its start, to the way it progresses, you can tell, the film’s been through various stages of editing and several second thoughts. Sometimes the patchiness shows. It's a stretch. Anything that’s 18 reels long (close to three hours) in a flickering world of low attention spans would be. Something fizzles out towards the end. You still don't begrudge a movie that's been this engaging, entertaining thus far.

Oh, and did I forget. This is the best soundtrack of AR Rahman’s since Delhi 6 (early 2009). The compositions should grow on you. So should this film, surely.

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