From the breezy Socha Na Tha (2005) to the from-the-heart Jab We Met (2007) to the upbeat Love Aaj Kal (2009), director Ali’s romantic vision has steadily evolved. The relationships he chooses to portray get increasingly complex and his latest creation, the angst-ridden Rockstar, is probably his most ambitious project to date.
Here, Ali gives us a glimpse of what goes on beyond the footlights and fan-frenzy of the rock music world. The rags-to-riches plot is quite familiar to moviegoers, but what is less known is the personal price paid by the performer. A familiar trope in Hollywood biopics like Ray and Chaplin, the arc of a successful artist’s life is explored in this fictional account of Janardhan Jakhar (JJ), who reinvents himself as the rock star Jordan.
The journey from JJ to Jordan takes the viewer through the convoluted routes of love and loss. Jakhar (Ranbir), is a wannabe rock-star with a lot of talent but no direction or mentor except for the friendly college-canteen owner, Khatana Uncle (a brilliant Kumud Mishra) who keeps on telling him what Keats discovered centuries ago—“our sweetest songs are with saddest thought fraught…” Khatana suggests to JJ that his songs don’t have depth as he has never experienced real pain. This sets off a fairly comical series of events as JJ tries to infuse his life with pain to give his songs meaning. In the process his talent gets discovered and the small town boy becomes a global success.
The price he pays for that transformation is the heart of the movie and Ranbir is superb in a role most actors would die for. Convincing as the gauche college boy in coarse hand-knitted woolens, he is brilliant as the confused, notorious “Bad boy” of music, who gets the fame he dreamt of but realizes that the journey has made his life hollow.
As his unattainable beloved, Fakhri looks ethereal and is fairly competent, though her inexperience shows in the intense scenes she shares with Ranbir. Shammi Kapoor’s final movie role (he plays a shehnai player who unerringly spots JJ’s talent) before his death this year, is one of the highlights of the movie. Ali’s deft touch with ensemble scenes allows the other seasoned actors room to shine.
Ali is in complete control in the first half of the film, establishing the characters and the story quickly. The comedy flows easily, as do the realistic dialogues. The camaraderie among college-mates is wonderfully natural. In the second half the movie becomes slow and choppy. There’s an overdose of montages and flashbacks which confuse viewers trying to follow the timeline. The chronicling of JJ’s struggle and his sudden rise to stardom feels rushed, and his solo status in an age of rock bands feels unconvincing. Other minor quibbles are JJ’s inexplicable anger at the media, and [Spoiler Alert!] his deportment for a small crime like trespassing. With a crisper script Rockstar might have become another Hindi film classic like Abhimaan.
No review of Rockstar can be complete without the mention of the music. A. R. Rahman soars to new heights, whether it is in the chart-busting “Sada Haq,” the evocative Sufi-istic “Faya Kun,” or the peppy “Ding Ling Ling.” Mohit Chauhan’s gorgeous voice does ample justice to the music; indeed, he takes it to new levels.
Despite its flaws, Rockstar is an able effort and deserves at least one viewing for its entertainment values.
Madhumita Gupta is a freelance writer and teacher.