(An edited version of this was published in The New Indian Express)
Abhishek Kapoor’s Rock On may be known for its music but is not remembered kindly for its lyrics. Except for that one song that stands out in the album. The sequel – Shujaat Saudagar’s Rock On 2 – begins with that song, Sinbad The Sailor. It’s a little more than 5 years since the events of Rock On and we are guided by KD’s (Purab Kohli) narration of events since. That’s problem number one. KD continues to spell out things for us throughout the first half. Sometimes we see events as they happened and KD then narrates them too. It’s like the worst form of sports commentary. It repeatedly yanks us out of the film, a film where it looks like people got together and just tried to storyboard their way from one event to another. There is no direction here. A product that’s already difficult to care about self-destructs at every step.
Aditya Shroff (Farhan Akhtar) is in Meghalaya taking care of a farm house and helping the people there, the privileged class’s way of coping with what seems like PTSD, the history of which is – again – both shown and spelled out to us. KD is still the man-child he was and Joe Mascarenhas (Arjun Rampal) has climbed up the financial ladder while Rampal is still trying climb up the syllabus of Acting 101. The new arc comes in the form of Jiah Sharma (Shraddha Kapoor), the progeny of a Hindustani giant, who creates music with a MacBook and literally works in a garage. The women from the older film reappear briefly in a bid to introduce some camaraderie that comes across as manufactured with every second of it falling flat – KD’s jokes, Sakshi’s (Prachi Desai) fake laugh. The whole thing goes on for too long and in circles that after a point nothing registers. As Adi searches for some inner peace in the mountains of Meghalaya, we go in search of Rock On 2’s disappearing emotional heft.
The death knell here is, shockingly, the music. In addition to being dull, it is also annoying to listen to Akhtar’s crooning of songs that are bereft of life. The first film at least had such great music going for it that we were made to care for an ill-named band. We wanted this band that created a song like Sinbad the Sailor to gets its due on stage and beyond. We wanted these family men, and men who played the keyboard for Anu Malik to rediscover their younger years when they tried to create a name for themselves. In Rock On 2 though, nothing is at stake. There is a moment at the end of the film where Adi and Jiah are reconciling with their innermost feelings and squashing their demons. But it only left me cold.
But credit where its due. It is good to see a Bollywood film that situates itself almost entirely in the North East – Meghalaya in Rock On 2. A rare feat in Bollywood that is notorious for its normalization of India as Mumbai or Delhi in composition and Punjabi in its music, sound and lyrics. Hindi films rarely venture out of their comfort zone and at best go towards the hinterlands of UP/Bihar but South is rare and North East is almost non-existent. But Rock On 2 has local actors (I think) and also has music from the parts. Jiah records Meghalaya’s folk songs as part of her creative projects and the climax features Hoi Kiw/Chalo Chalo by Meghalaya based Summersalt Band along with Usha Uthup. It is not politicized and neither is this presented as some kind of a statement. It is just there and that is the best part about it. One only wishes this had happened in a better film. The same goes for the image of Shraddha Kapoor in the closing credits. I expected an Anoushka Shankar – Norah Jones fusion but what we get is Beyonce.