Imtiaz Ali’s involvement persuaded me that Rockstar would be worth seeing despite my reservations about Ranbir Kapoor (I’m still bitter after enduring Saawariya and Bachna Ae Haseena). Plus I had a free pass, and a few hours to kill.
There are some things that are outstanding. The visual design, sets and locations are beautiful. I loved the scenes at the Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah with their beautiful lighting and haunting music, and Ranbir shone in those introspective moments. The songs, which I didn’t particularly like before seeing the film, work a treat. The music and lyrics extend the story and characters, and so do the picturisations. I misted up a little seeing Shammi Kapoor on a cinema screen for my first time. He is Ustad Jameel Khan, a renowned musician who supports and mentors Ranbir’s character. There is a sweet scene as they ‘duet’ on ‘The Dichotomy of Fame’ and I don’t think Ranbir had to try hard to look like he was moved too.
There were even some ridiculous and some beautiful costumes so I was pleased on both counts.
But there are some significant problems, most of which stem from the writing and direction.
Ranbir is Janardhan aka JJ aka Jordan. He is supposed to be a simple innocent boy but comes across as socially retarded, he is a misfit in his slap-happy family, and drifting through college. He is a musician but is told that until he has suffered he can’t be great. JJ decides to fall for the college hot chick so she can break his heart. Despite the stupid premise that manufactured pain equals great art, the dialogue in these early scenes is quite funny and flows well. Eventually JJ and Heer (Nargis Fakhri) become friends. JJ is by turns clueless and a bit manipulative – on the one hand taking Heer too literally at times, but then admitting he fakes being drunk when he goes out partying. They sneak into a tacky soft porn flick, get drunk, and generally work through Heer’s idea of a bucket list before she marries and relocates to Prague.
Jordan, as he is now known, becomes increasingly famous and unhappy.
Ranbir tries, maybe too hard, to break from his usual lightweight charmer persona and is mostly surly. Imtiaz Ali wants us to find Jordan sympathetic but I couldn’t after a point. While I get that he is supposed to be inarticulate away from his music, Jordan is a self absorbed and often aggressive man. Jordan realises he is in love with Heer for real. Kicked out of his unhappy home, and down on his luck, he stays at the dargah. Thrown a life line by college canteen manager Mr Khatana and Ustad Jameel Khan, he is signed by Platinum Records boss Mr Dhingra (Piyush Mishra). With his success growing, Jordan negotiates a gig at a very fake looking Eurojam music festival in Prague – what a coincidence.
He pursues Heer and will not take no for an answer. To be fair, she is sending very mixed signals but it is all about what Jordan wants. He doesn’t exactly force her, but he refuses to accept her ‘No’ and is aggressive in his pursuit. He has no concern about her marriage other than how it gets in his way. Heer succumbs and they have an affair which doesn’t end well. His declarations of love were all about his feelings and desires, how he needed her to make him happy and complete.
Even his band was just a bunch of shadowy blokes up the back of the stage – there was no creative dynamic, no camaraderie. Separated from Heer, Jordan descends further into his morass of self pity and destructive behaviour.
Maybe his vile gold brocade dinner jacket was a sign. They certainly interpreted Rockstar as ‘someone with no dress sense’. JJ wears simple jeans and kurtas when he is with Heer, but gets a bit late era George Harrison meets Frank Zappa on his own. Was that meant to prove he needed her to be a good boy (and remember to wash his hair)? Ranbir did well with the physical transformation of Jordan and his best scenes were probably in the songs where he could just be the Rockstar, demanding the spotlight yet still showing ambivalence about fame and success.
Heer is self absorbed and indecisive, creating most of her own problems. She not only jeopardises her marriage, she is also afflicted with a blood disorder and told she will die. Of course the only cure is Jordan’s Magical Healing Cock. Yes, a doctor may despair but shagging Jordan is all it takes to restore her vitality. Well, until she is further punished for her transgressions by being separated from Jordan (and his MHC) and being made dangerously ill by the resulting pregnancy. Ah the wages of sin. When she collapses, her mother’s reaction is to scream for someone to call Jordan! Yes – like a quickie in the emergency ward would cure Heer. Nargis Fakhri was out of her depth once the love story took centre stage, although her scene joking about eloping with JJ before her wedding was funny and poignant. Heer needed a bit more oomph, less shrieking in place of emoting, and better writing. I’m trying not to mention her collagen plumped lips but they do arrive in shot before the rest of her face a few times, and may contribute to her inability to articulate the dialogue.
Filmi clichés abound, and some are quite clumsy. If you’re going to hire someone who can’t dance, why introduce them as college hot chick by staging a dance show? There was another misstep with a ’tribute’ to Shammi in Kashmir where Ranbir showed he really doesn’t have any of the panache of his uncle.
The arena style gigs looked good even if Ranbir’s guitar was never plugged in, and the audiences were too well behaved. But then there was no sense of how Jordan created – we see him listening attentively to all these influences and then songs just emerge fully formed. I would have liked to see more attention given to the musician rather than just worshipping the performer. It might have made Jordan more interesting or likeable.
Had it been a study of the effects of fame on an artist, this might have been compelling. The love story that is supposed to be the core of this film left me cold. I don’t feel I have enough understanding of Rumi to make an informed comment, but my gut reaction was that Imtiaz Ali has missed the point of the quotes he used in his film. I don’t recall Rumi defining love as possession, and that is what this story does. The early friendship is enjoyable, if very unlikely, but just when I should have been wanting them to get together I started to think the opposite. And there are so few other characters in the film to give any relief from this pair. Even the end credits bunch people into his family, her friends, his band…it is all about Jordan and to a lesser extent, Heer. So if you don’t care for their grand romance what else do you have?
The audience I saw the film with was small – maybe 50 people. Several didn’t come back after intermission, and another dozen or so crept out during the second half. Their only cheers were reserved for Shammi-ji and AR Rahman and I think that was about right. Rockstar had a lot of great ingredients, but I was left thinking that with less indulgent writing, a different focus and a bit more editing, it could have been so much better.
Excellently put. I couldn’t have said it any better, though you have been more generous to Ms Collagen Lips, I couldn’t stand her one bit. She is delicate, elegant and fine but I am not buying a Porcelain dinner set here. as for Ranbir, boy he gives me the creeps, went for a free show – Premiere mind of Saawariya’s at NYC in 2007 was it? He was bearable in Rocket Singh but thats about it! For me everything seemed so FORCED. Including Shammiji’s Bismillah Khan (having heard the original maestro sitting right next to him at a SPICMACAY concert, which were these college gigs where great artistes did lec-dems for art hungry students like us) – the original Khan saab was so down to earth he wouldn’t be caught dead being seen with anyone like Dhingra. The father, s-i-l, m-i-l of the lead actress were paper thin in characterization, the mother Shernaz Patel very uncharacteristically a misfit here, Nargis herself jutting her neck, stooping her spine….methinks it is Imtiaz’s fault above all else, he could not or did not direct this the way he could have maybe for reasons we may not be aware of….considering this is an out and out commercial film. Also the whole thing about being a naughty girl before marriage – her list – was a male fantasy list. None of the Indian girls I know would want to watch a porn flick in a seedy old theatre in Old Delhi, yes they WILL be raped. She could have pasted a false moustache at the very least. I like your coming to the point so bluntly – this was no love, no ma’am, it was the MTC all the way! They want to do It but wasted 3 precious hours and many air miles trying to decide either which way.
Hm… sad that it turned out to be so disappointing. But I was afraid it wouldn’t be great, after all Love Aaj Kal was a downer.
Hi Mette. I liked Theen Maar (the Telugu remake of Love Aaj Kal) a lot more than the original, mostly due to the casting and locations so maybe you should give that a go. Rockstar is not a terrible film either – it just comes down to whether you believe in the love story. I think Imtiaz Ali tends to hire pretty faces and hope he can coach a performance out of them which is a risky proposition.
You know how I like Ranbir, but even I do not need to see a transcontinental story of his MHC.
Sounds like the guitar not being plugged in is an apt metaphor for the whole thing: lots of potential for power without any real effect.
Well, I loved this film. In fact, I’m probably going to go see it again tomorrow. I’m not interested in trying to change your minds about it, but I do want to point out one thing, because it’s sort of becoming a pet peeve of mine…
I know the “his electric guitar’s not plugged in!” is a popular gaffe to spot in Bolly films of a certain era. But nowadays it is possible to connect your guitar cordlessly to an amp. You can see the receiver attached to the back of Ranbir’s pants in some of the shots.
Hi Larissa. I’m glad the film lived up to your hopes for it. I’ve been thinking about the last film I saw in the cinema that met or exceeded my hopes for serious quality (not just entertainment) – There has been a bit of a drought. Your guitar peeve is duly noted. Cheers, Temple.
I agree with every point of your review. I just didn’t care for the love story after a point. Jab We Met and Love Aaj Kal were special because they had cute, likable and realistic protagonists. But in Rockstar, everything just goes haywire. Jordan is the most stupidest male lead ever. There is no real depth to his and Heer’s characters. And by the end credits, where we are shown a montage of the supposedly sweet moments between them to make us feel nostalgic, I was left wondering “What’s the point?”.
My only respite were the beautiful locations, cinematography and the music. In fact the few scenes without any background score were very uncomfortable to watch.
I’m sure Imtiaz envisioned Rockstar as a heart-wrenching tale of a rising musician. But, sorry to say, the movie never goes there.
P.S I almost fell asleep in the theatre . Dunno, exactly where but sometime in the first half. Did that ever happen to any of you?:)
Infact, I found the ending to be most satisfying one. Very subtle and delicate.
Hi Uday – I liked the scenes with no score as I think Imtiaz Ali used the music particularly well to underscore what was happening on screen, and those negative spaces gave it more impact. But as with all romances, if you don’t believe in the central love story it becomes a story of stupid people doing stupid things and that’s where I landed. I’ve never fallen asleep during a film and I’ve only walked out on one movie so far 🙂 Temple
The film could have had good content but someway in the middle, Imtiaz Ali lost the plot. I just think he was unable to decide on to which part he wanted to portray: The rise of a star OR The evolving of a regret-less love. The feelings of Ranbir were not completely understandable. Nargis did not look natural at acting and her dialogue delivery was very childish. Ranbir’s costumes were rebellious and had a profound impact on his look(although it might seem inexplicable) .His immediate success and record smashing status was a bit too early. The social implications of love affair between Nargis(a married woman) and Ranbir was also absent and somewhere it also seemed to be a bit of gratification of senses rather than love beyond societal rights and wrongs. At the start of the film I thought it would be a noir, which i still think could have created a different package. Visually the film was attractive and photographically conveyed well. Music was great and saved the film to an extent.
But in my humble opinion this was an incomplete attempt.
Hi DJ, Yes, as I said to Uday – if you don’t believe in the romance between Heer and Jordan, this film fails. Reviewers who loved it and hated it seem to be more or less divided on that point. It is a beautiful looking film, and the music enhances it although I still don’t like the soundtrack by itself. I don’t know that giving the musician/artist side of Jordan’s character would have made the romance any more credible, but I would have found it more interesting. I thought the ending was not at all subtle though 🙂 Thanks for dropping by, Temple