Subhash K Jha speaks about Rock On!!

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By Subhash K. Jha, Bollywood Hungama News Network

A large number of our films are about life. Some are about music. Seldom has a film blended the music of life into the fabric of a film with such seamless expertise. Rock On!! is that rarity where every component character and episode falls into place with fluent virility.

You know there's great skill involved in the way the characters are interwoven into a pastiche of the past pain and the present gained. But the craft never shows up on screen. In essence what we see in Rock On!! is that cliché called a slice-of-life cinema turned inside -out. The story of four musicians who have given up their true vocation in pursuit of routine ambitions, is nothing new.

The inspirational muscles grow into the plot through the subtle treatment of the characters, each crying from within without making a song and dance of their emotions...unless we're talking about the robust rock soundtrack created by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy where the rhythms just blow your mind .The music manifests the protagonists' emotions in a tangential light.

But the on-stage energy, so capably choreographed and captured on film, is a very small part of the film's epic design. The stage where we see Farhan, Arjun, Luke and Purab (more about them later) come together and then fall apart is actually a metaphor for the podium of existence where life for this quartet of closet-musicians plays out a cruel game of hide and shriek.

For a film where wounded hearts bleed profusely, there's very little melodrama in the treatment. Director Abhishek Kapoor prefers understatement to bellowing out the message. The film brims over with un-italicized dramatic tensions. And that's where Farhan scores as an actor. He is equally at ease expressing the angst of a thwarted musician and a husband whose sweet caring near-angelic wife (Prachi Desai, in a made-to-fit debut) leaves no stones unturned to bring back a smile to her husband's face.

The other marriage between the frustrated embittered musician Arjun Rampal and his tirelessly slogging wife Shahana Goswami (doing a Yoko Ono from John Lennon's life-story with a career-making volcanic performance) is trickier. Here we see how the narration dodges and hops over the potholes of pedestrianism, and converts the trite into the timeless by making the human relationships obtainable rather than obtuse.

The characterizations are first -rate. These people (ever met them?) are all casualties of suburban paranoia brought into the frames of a film that requires no camera lenses to locate the strengths and foibles in their personality. We don't need to pinpoint their pain and passion. We accept them as they are.

Covering a much wider distance than the acres covered by Dil Chahta Hai, Rock On!! simply (and I do mean simply) redefines the human-interest drama by creating a plot that accommodates the highest notes in the range of human emotions without straying into shrillness…quite like the sweet Prachi Desai who sings Lata Mangeshkar's 'Ajeeb Dastaan Hai Yeh' with disarming innocence and sincerity in a film where rock music is the propelling factor.

Aligned with pain and passion, Rock On!! avoids the shrill will by restraining the characters from building their anguish into an eruptive release. Every character builds his own hell and comes out of it without a discernible yell.

Jason West's cinematography makes special place for the heart in his art. While on the polished surface we see the glisten of sweat and the trickle of a tear intangibly, the camera shoots the sets in a light that constantly reflects the characters' inner world. And the seamless editing (Deepa Bhatia) fuses the past into the present in a way that makes time appear to be a pivotal but unobtrusive character in the plot.

The performances are all so apt you wonder if any other actor could have achieved so much with such austere lucidity. Farhan Akhtar believes in the less-is-more theory giving his role of the band's lead singer all he has got without tripping over the scale.

Purab Kohli (earlier an accomplished presence in My Brother Nikhil) imparts an impish cockiness to the drummer's part while first-time actor Luke Kenny as the dying keyboards player is poignant without bringing on the violins.

But the truly revealing performance comes from Arjun Rampal. As the embittered guitarist clinging to family and music with desperate bravado, his eyes convey a wealth of pain and hurt. Where had you kept all this angst hidden, Arjun? And we may well ask director Abhishek Kapoor the same question. Nothing Kapoor has done in his inglorious past prepares for the sheer guttural glory and power of Rock On!!

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