Nov 20, 2011

Notes On Rockstar

Some friends call me a movie snob, an assumption I don’t bother to correct. If not liking hits like Hera Pheri, Dabaang and Khatron Ke Khiladi makes me guilty of such transgression, I accept the charge. But frankly, none of these films make me see red – I don’t enjoy them, but I see that they remain true and committed to their vision of ‘masala’ entertainment. There is no clash in values or vision that I perceive in these films. But films like Rockstar, Dil Kya Kare and Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna really upset me because they deal with issues which are compelling and close to my heart, in a frivolous manner; it’s like you pick the best canapés and then shallow fry them and the end result is a half-cooked, soggy mess.

For starters, I have no idea why Imitiaz Ali named his film Rockstar, it might as easily be a film about a genius techie, a maverick investment banker or just some bloke who tries too hard to impress. Early on in the film we are told that JJ (Ranbir Kapoor) dreams of being the next Jim Morrison ( the only rockstar allusion in the film!). He is advised by his college mentor Khattarbhai (Kumud Mishra) that the one thing common to all great artists is their experience of intense pain and the ability to infuse that pain into their art. I don’t know if Ali is going wink-wink here, but I do agree that there’s a problem with the way we Indians define a rockstar. We are still so preoccupied with Mick Jagger and Freddie Mercury that we cannot think of an alternate prototype – one who isn’t necessarily self destructive, one who doesn’t do drugs, one who turns up for his recordings on time, and doesn’t throw tantrums. We can’t acknowledge that artists like Zakir Hussain, A.R. Rehman and Shankar Mahadevan are rockstars too! Thus, I really found JJ’s naïve understanding of who’s a rockstar quite authentic in the context of India. In fact throughout Ali’s film, you’ll come across many such moments of resonance where he seems to be trying to delve into or reflect upon something that is of consequence in our lives. Yet sadly, he doesn’t bother to really stir the broth once the lid has been lifted. He’s simply content to let you catch a whiff of the aroma and then seal the lid back into place.

It takes a certain sensibility and imagination to make great love stories. When you really think about it, all love stories are the same. Boy & girl start from the starting line amidst much sunshine and cheering, later, clouds come in the way, and only one of them makes it to the finishing line. But the love story takes place only after the clouds darken the sky and therein the beauty. Casablanca, Dr Zhivago, QSQT, Walk the Line, Eternal sunshine of the Spotless Mind, & perhaps even Sholay – look at any of them and you’ll see what I’m talking about. That’s why these are the greatest love stories ever filmed. The saddest thing about Rockstar is that it’s neither about an eccentric musical genius nor a great love story. It compromises on both ideals because Indian film makers are wary of showcasing their heroes as absolute assholes. We make excuses for these jerks, we are a nation obsessed with explaining away our negatives. The only exception is probably someone like SRK who dared to make films like Anjaan and Darr.

Anyway, to return to the limpid love story, Ali shows imagination but again doesn’t pursue his vision through till the end. His JJ is more a retard (middle finger to political correctness) than eccentric or endearing. Though Ranbir tries hard to ape his grandfather Raj Kapoor, what he doesn’t quite possess is the innocence, naivete and endearing charm of Kapoor Sr. Frankly, I felt like delivering a tight smack across his face every time he opened his mouth or grinned.

About Nargis Fuckri's Heer, all I can say is that she elevates Katrina Kaif to the levels of Smita Patil in comparison. Every time she came onscreen, the audience broke out in loud guffaws! And I was like - was Ali doped when he signed her? Every time I raged and wanted to walk out, A gripped my hand and told me, “She’s the only Indian actress I’ve seen who has Peneolpe Cruz’s mouth’. As if that alone is enough. Grrr….

Perhaps the greatest disappointment is Rehman’s music. Forget the fact that this film is apparently about an unrefined musical genius, ‘ek bahut bada janwar’, who’s passionate about making music. This film cannot even be about an artist like Himesh Reshammiya! A.R. Rehman has always been God for me, and it breaks my heart to have to admit that his muse has probably deserted him forever. The fire is gone and it is we who are the poorer for it.

Is there anything I liked about the film? Tough one that. As stated earlier, there are 2-3 conceits that Ali employs which are an absolute must in a love story, but they all fall flat. The idea of the body not being able to keep up and breaking down eventually when separated from ones beloved because the heart has broken, and then miraculously reviving again, is something so magical, so fragile, that it cannot & shouldn’t be expressed in terms of increased blood count. No way! There are those who will laugh at this and dismiss it, and others who will nod with unshed tears in their eyes. That’s ok. But it definitely isn’t something you can explain in terms of reports and tests and walking down stairs as Ali does.

Again, the entire camaraderie between the two lovers comes across as completely make-believe. At no point do you sense that Heer feels JJ is an organic extension of her. That’s what the greatest love stories are about – about healing our fractured selves. The scene where they meet in Prague after several years could have been done so poignantly with an actress like Rekha or Kareena but with Nargis F, it is turned into mockery!

I liked Ali’s Ahista Ahista, Jab We Met, and I thought Love Aaj Kal had elements of a great love story. I still believe he’s a sensitive and intelligent director. But he doesn’t possess the soul of a lover – a lover of films. To be so, you have to throw caution to the winds, stop explaining and annotating emotions, stop playing to the gallery, and must learn to walk on coals. He still hasn’t done that. 


Anonymous said...

"That’s what the greatest love stories are about – about healing our fractured selves."

Thanks so much for this, Driftwood. I doubt any one could have put this any better.


drift wood said...


he a lil carried away. :)Glad you approve.

jd said...

gary lawyer!! if at all Mr Ali wanted to make a movie about a rockstar that connected with a whole generation of Indians in the 80's it was this guy!. The performer who transformed a whole generation of Indians to rock culture

it would have been such a treat to watch a biopic of this performer.

forget love stories and all that crap!:)

sadly anybody who attempts to make it now would only have a pseudo movie about a "rockstar" as reference!

vaidegi j said...

totally second mh's comment! :)

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
drift wood said...


Maybe it does, or doesn't. Who cares? Thanks as always.