There is a poignant scene in Imtiaz Ali’s third film, Love Aaj Kal, where Saif Ali Khan’s Jai confesses to Veer Singh, played by Rishi Kapoor about how he can’t remain sad for long – “Main zyada der dukh nahin reh sakta“. There is a similar moment in Rockstar where Janardhan Jakhar(Ranbir Kapoor) childishly tries to get his heart broken, like it is usual breakfast order to-go in your favorite restaurant, because someone suggested it to him that that’s where great art originates from – pain. He is devastated because he doesn’t feel a thing, at no point realizing his laughable simplification. It won’t be a stretch to say that Jai and Janardhan are the same person in the sense that both need a whack on the head to make them realize when they are heartbroken and that they have a problem, only with Janardhan aka Jordan, you are expected to buy into this superficiality first (and a sort of parody on Imtiaz’s part) and his transformation.
It is indeed possible to partially buy into this especially considering the moments that come after. Imtiaz has been consistently brilliant in handling relationships. He extracts the fickle enthusiasm of the female and the ready vulnerability of the male like no other director in recent times. He does the same here with Janardhan and Heer with their initial ice breaker, the Kashmir sojourn etc. It’s commendable that he has gone out of his comfort zone with one character originally unrefined and the other enjoying the bouts of pseudo-ghaati so as to say in Hinglish – unlike the mostly urbane upper middle class characters he’s dealt with so far. There is also lovely economical usage of non-linearity in giving us the story. We know Jordan is missing his music opportunities but we get the how and why only later. We know he was kicked out of his house and was MIA for two months, but we get the why and where later. This is especially important here because of the “growing up” that the characters go through in a brief period of time.
These moments individually spark. But it’s Nargis’s Heer that suffers from some terrible writing, acting and overall inconsistency. If the aim was to show a capricious Heer against a pained Ranjha, the mission has somewhat failed. It’s easy to buy into Jordan’s immaturity and later metamorphosis but difficult to do the same with Heer’s brash clowning around after a point. Jordan remains consistent with the core of his character even after the apparent transformation – when Heer tries to run away from him in Prague, he says, “chal aa teek se bye bol“. It also doesn’t help that this sort of makes the film longer than necessary by almost a third of an hour. It also made me wonder what if Imtiaz had just let go of Heer and explored something with Aditi Rao Hydari’s Sheena. I know it is a stretch and this is probably just a reason to see more of Aditi on my part!
But there are really only two things that hold the film together in these tenuous portions. One is not surprisingly, A.R Rahman’s music. I can’t remember the last time a director had so wonderfully integrated Rahman’s complete soundtrack into the film. It’s a carefully and lovingly put together soundtrack, everything from the background score, the leitmotifs and the lyrics and the placement of the songs. It’s an unabashed musical and songs are not necessarily “speed breakers”. Katiya Karoon and Phir Se Udd Chala were masterfully integrated into the film, especially the latter with the beginning during a wedding, the lyrics complementing Jordan and Heer’s sensibilities at that point and culminating with synthetic loops in a dance bar. Jo Bhi Main becomes the motif for Jordan the artist and Sadda Haq his angst ridden breakout moment. Hawa Hawa talks of his Heer sneaking her way out of her mundane life back into Jordan’s and Aur Ho paints his momentous heartbreak coupled with artistic success. It’s an epic soundtrack and the film is worth a watch on the big screen just for that.
The second factor is Ranbir Kapoor. Ranbir may not have looked convincing in the trailers but he is cheerfully innocent as Janardhan and egoistically flawed as Jordan. The best part is he makes you buy into both the characters, the unlikable nature of the latter notwithstanding. Jordan’s music too shines through on its own accord in harmony with his situations but an equal part credit here should go to Imtiaz Ali, Rahman and Irshad Kamil. Ranbir’s first rate performance notwithstanding, the Rockstar cover art before the opening credits with Shammi Kapoor is one to die for.
Rockstar may not be the epic that it probably is in Imtiaz Ali’s head. If it doesn’t attract the box office, it can qualify as a noble failure. Imtiaz Ali does continue to impress with his eye for love stories and ear for music. With Rockstar, he has just about managed to keep his reputation intact, though a huge credit is due to the real rock star – A.R Rahman.