Rockstar: A Review

I turned to rock music only recently; and I am still discovering the magic of Zeppelin, Morrison and the Woodstock generation; and of course, School Of Rock has been a major anchor in my tryst with rock ‘n roll. So, when I first heard of Rockstar, I confess, I was curious to know what a mainstream Bollywood movie’s take on the genre would be like. I also found it appealing for another reason: A R Rahman’s soundtrack and score. I had high hopes. And I did not wish to be disappointed. I wasn’t.

Before I go any further, let me tell you one thing: Rockstar is not going to do well at the box-office. It is going to be slammed by puritans and public; the former because they would not consider this worthy of the genre, and the latter because they are too used to a conventional Hindi movie. Rockstar is none. It’s doesn’t pay homage to the genre, but to the philosophy; as Jack Black put it: “sticking it out to the man!”

And that’s why Rockstar is a damn good movie. There are other reasons as well, which I shall discuss further on.

One of them is Ranbir Kapoor. In plain words, the movie would’ve been impossible without him (and Ali and Rahman, of course). Janardan Jankar’s character is simplistic: he has been learning the guitar since he was a child; his wall is adorned with posters of Morrison, Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and the likes — as opposed to Bollywood biggies. And he is desperate to find inspiration. His transformation into Jordan — the rebellious music icon/bad-boy is a combination of cinematic progress, as well as a growth captured by narrative. Yes, many would sense a disjuncture in this; and Imtiaz Ali could’ve employed more conventional techniques. But that would severely impede the beauty of the film and of the character.

Obviously, though very loosely, Janardan’s story is inspired by Jim Morrison — he even is in awe of his idol showing the middle-finger to the public — but Ranbir’s performance does not go into manic depravity. His journey is reflective and painful; creative and self-destructive. Not because he’s a rebel without a cause; it’s because, talent can afford arrogance.

Rockstar, also, is a commentary on society and the media who hail him a ‘kalakaar’ and then a criminal. Icons in the past have been dissected by the media before: Michael Jackson, Keith Allen, and Morrison himself are a few examples. Celebrities are expected to have decorum, even if they lack talent. Jordan refuses to make this compromise.

He’s not the hero, clearly. Anti-hero? Maybe. But most of all, he is that iconic music figure India has never been able to produce. There has been talent in the country, but the film industries have absorbed them and rendered them only as background artistes or as musical geniuses from the margins of high art.

Ustad Jameel Khan (Shammi Kapoor, magical performance truly!) is representative of that old school. Jordan is the new school. There is no discord between the two, because above all, they respect their art. There has never been a Jim Morrison, or Bob Dylan in India. Rockstar laments that fact. And it also celebrates it, had it been so.

Nargis Fakhri, Imtiaz Ali’s newest newbie, evokes mixed feelings. Her screen presence is brilliant. But it’s when she opens her mouth that you get an awkward feeling that casting could’ve been much better. However, she does manage to fit in the film as a whole — janglee jawani and “gandh machana”, truly innovative! She displays Heer’s vulnerable side well, but the subsequent scenes feel strangely out of place and leave one to wonder that the 2 hour 40 minute run time could’ve been managed better. But these are only the minor glitches in an otherwise cohesive movie.

The supporting cast is what gives the movie a whole new dimension; because Jordan would not have been the man he is had it not been for these people – from the canteen owner cum manager (Kumud Mishra, subtle yet powerful) to Dhingra (Piyush Mishra, thoroughly convincing!) the dodgy record label manager. Their performances complement Ranbir’s intensity, rage and introspection to the letter T — another evident example of a well-written script. The supporting cast at Fakhri’s end, however, appear as elite snobs, who think themselves, and possibly their theatre backgrounds, to be higher than Bollywood standards. A minor, 20 second let down, that’s all.

Technically, the movie aces the score board. Ali does justice to the stark, snow-covered yet beautiful Kashmir (I wonder if this is actually a reference to the Led Zeppelin number).

Prague was an unconventional choice (I mean, who gets married and settles in Czech Republic of all places), but it pays off nevertheless. And it also brings about a cultural intercourse of sorts, in terms of both the music as well as the aesthetics. Hawaa Hawaa and Aur Ho capture this fusion beautifully. Sadda Haq is an amazing number, and it does justice to this ‘philosophy’ I keep harping about. Jo Bhi Main is another beautifully rendered track. The montages across India add an element of credibility to the movie, supported by production design of the highest degree.

And last, but in no way the least, this brings us to the music. Perhaps, Imtiaz Ali’s decision to approach A R Rahman for the score of Rockstar is the best one in his career. Pritam would’ve, to put it mildly, screwed the movie.

I admit this is not Rahman’s finest composition; there have been better ones, Rang De Basanti and Delhi 6 being some of them. But Rockstar’s score and its script are knit closely and intimately; the music emanates from the movie. The track listing could’ve been better had Rahman taken the liberty to add more singers. But his choice to stick to Mohit Chauhan as Jordan’s voice makes the movie credible. And while doing so, Chauhan explores his versatility as an artiste, and Jordan’s intensity as a performer.

People might say that Rahman’s getting predictable. But his compositions are not standalones to be made into ringtones and caller tunes; they serve a purpose in the movie. Although the movie is loosely inspired by Jim Morrison, Jordan is his own man. And his music in his own. Here, I would like to make a special mention of the lyrics by Irshad Kamil; now this guy is no Javed Akhtar or Gulzar. But he understands the meaning of rock, the philosophy of it, in other words. Rock isn’t about head-banging music; it’s a revolution in the way of thought. And Rockstar does so, staying true to the rock tradition. It rebels against convention, against hypocrisy and one-dimensional thought. It’s creative, it’s introspective, and it’s poignant. Above all things, it’s meaningful.

Final verdict. Rockstar is not a flawless movie. Then again, which movie is? It has its flaws, and some of them are rather evident. It juxtaposes two ideas and philosophies, contrasts very different world views; it is rebellious, arrogant even. It is certainly not meant to appease anyone. If anything else, its purpose is to get you to think. It challenges our perceptions, dogmas, and ideas of morality, aesthetics, good-bad or whatever. It’s a ballad, not a story. It isn’t finite or watertight, or impeded by conventions. It is an intelligent movie, at the end of the day. And an insanely brilliant one, that too.

It’s not going to do well at the box office, critics will slam it, and so will a large part of the public — because they don’t make movies like Rockstar very often. And that’s precisely why you should give it a watch.

Written by Proshant Chakraborty.

What did you feel about this new Imtiaz Ali offering? Has Rockstar captured your minds and hearts? Or do you agree with our other reviewer who felt the film didn’t make the mark? Let us know in the comments.