Thursday, March 01, 2012


Cast: Ranbir Kapoor, Nargis Fakhri, Aditi Rao Hyadri, Piyush Mishra, Kumud Mishra
Director: Imtiaz Ali
Runtime: 158 min.
Verdict: Thoroughly frustrating. Mostly silly. But with some awesome moments. 
Genre: Romance, Drama

(Note: When it comes to verses, my comprehension skills attain sub-zero levels. I don’t get them at all, and often during a film when I do happen to merely understand what the line is that has been sung, it is a personal eureka moment. So huge parts of this film captured in the songs might have completely escaped m   e, and if so, any help/correction would be much appreciated.)

                Mr. Ali’s Rockstar continues with the trend of our “serious/meaningful” cinema rationalizing a film song. It was 18 years ago when Hum Aapke Hai Kaun strung together 14 songs in a narrative and earned the tag of a marriage video. I mean, a lot has happened with the film song since then, but mostly it has been a reluctance to dilute the tone of a film and “break” into a song-and-dance number, and wanting to find more and more ways of including songs without having to stage them, or ways in which they are an organic output of the narrative and not a detour. Mr. Ali’s conceit here is including just as many songs as Mr. Barjatya’s film without any of the resulting artifice or breakdown of tone, and although only one of them is consciously dealing with Music the insights gained are probably just about the same.
                Let us consider here any random Hindi film, and the manner in which the songs echo the narrative. Say, Mr. Inder Kumar’s Dil, and how the songs – from the foot-tappers Khambe Jaisi Khadi Hai and Dum Dama Dum to the mellowed down considerably slower and romantic Mujhe Neend Na Aaye to the almost wailing O Priya Priya. I mean, one could pick up any film reliant on songs, like say Phool Aur Kaante, and see this very obvious and basic method of film narration. In those films, we never wondered, and we still don’t wonder how those guys could sing and dance, and also we do not mind if the same actor is voiced by different singers. I mean, Mr. Shahrukh Khan had both Mr. Kumar Sanu and Mr. Vinod Rathod for him in Baazigar, while the latter lent his voice Mr. Siddharth Ray. It’s horses for courses, and we don’t even bother about these trivialities, and I don’t think we’re supposed to either. I mean, it is one of the very basic tenets of movie-illusion. In Rockstar, the end credits (and this is a first time for me) state quite explicitly that Jordan’s vocals have been supplied by Mr. Mohit Chauhan. So yeah, there you go, that is some tonal austerity for you, and not that I don’t appreciate it. Who knows, maybe a decade or so down the lane we might have actors voicing themselves.
The question here, though, is to understand what Mr. Ali’s Rockstar does with this austerity? I mean, the late K.V. Mahadevan had Mr. S.P. Balasubramaniam to sing all the compositions in Mr. K. Viswanath’s Sankarabharanam, and that was a film that actively dealt with its art-form (music). One understands the need. Does Mr. Ali’s film deal with musical expression in any significant way that movies haven’t for the past 50 or so years, either implicitly (Dil) or explicitly (say, Karz)? Is Jordan a rockstar because of the film, or is his talent a mere rationalization of all the songs, and even, in some case, some sort of narrative device? Right after Jordan (Mr. Kapoor) reaches Prague and meets Heer (Ms. Fakhri) and finds peace making a return in his life, he walks up to a bunch of street musicians. It seems to be building into then the only moment, in a film about a popular artist, which is only about the artist and his art. And nothing else. Oh yeah, art doesn’t spring out of vacuum, sure, but this is not about the output. It is about the lure, the magic, of what is it about an art-form that inspires an artist to choose it as his mode of expression. Jordan is entranced by the sheer joy of whatever it is they’re playing so much so that his hands start playing the imaginary guitar to the tune of it. It ought to be pure, and for a moment or two it is. Until he starts singing, and the song turns out to be about a caged-princess. Like you know, Rose from Titanic, or Heer here. Coming on the heels of their joint escapades, the music distracts us too much towards the content and leaves us with precious little by way of form. The rockstar is not indulging in music; he is merely conveying what he thinks about the girl’s predicament. Which sort of undermines all that blah about the film and its music and the embarrassing reduction of the nature of art, assuming it is experience and pain that give birth to it, when all the film seems to be interested is in some sort of star-crossed love story and where the music is merely incidental. You know, like Romeo-and-Juliet, or Heer-Ranjha, or you know, Kites. Oh yeah, death then becomes a necessity.
                Songs here, then, assume their usual reactionary service of conveying the emotional state of affairs, and Mr. Ali’s conceit is to cause a protagonist who can facilitate their existence, and thus build a character/narrative arc. Both of them address each other, which is quite economic, and even resourceful. Questionable are the results, I say. Confession: Mr. Ali’s overarching themes about love and stuff come across as painfully silly in their adolescence, and that is something I cannot overcome. And don’t get me even started on all that nonsense around Tibet, or the blink-and-miss nods to the Khalsa and Kashmir, so brief it is disrespectful, and even disgraceful. Chances are my blood might start boiling. Let us leave it there.  
And concern ourselves with the manner in which the film goes about presenting them. Consider for instance, the opening and its surefootedness, the blunt forceful cuts and the pace that is achieved, Jordan almost walking out of one of them, a glimpse of his relationship with the media and its camera, and the serenity of the past it matches on to. I got to admit I still don’t get why Mr. Ali does that thing with his opening credits (even in Love Aaj Kal), where he sort of lays out temporal instances of his protagonist in a distinctly haphazard fashion, sort of freeing them of the captivity of narrative, and then proceeding to just do the opposite. I do not understand the meaning/implications of such a narrative choice other than some sort of confusion. This is not the problematic part though. What truly baffles me is the lighting and colors he uses to introduce Heer into the scheme of things, by means of a stage-performance, and – here’s the curious part, especially for a love story – not via your standard-issue bright lighting but the seedy red-and-black you (at least I do) normally associate with dance bars. At least, it is unflattering and the least bit charitable.

In my defense of straight-jacketing this sort of lighting with one sort of place, here’s another frame from the film when the bucket-list is well on its way.

This formal choice is further underlined by the near excessive lusting on the part of Jordan’s friends, and whose reaction shots sort of frame Heer. Is that literally a red-herring? Probably not when you come across this shot.

But then, yeah, when you find her excited to visit one of those seedy movie theatres, or booze, or do whatever it is a guy supposedly does. Courtesy those initial reaction shots, Heer is mostly an object who attains some sort of personality (and respect?) once she jumps the gender. Or some such nonsense. The gender mishmash here’s a mess, but again, let’s stay away from all that. What’s crucial here is the casting of Ms. Fakhri, and the complete lack of any degree of orthodoxy in her, both as a result of her appearance and the way Mr. Ali builds her. I am not even sure if her marital infidelity is supposed to morally stun us, because (a) when she invokes right and wrong and resists adultery it doesn’t make much sense considering their preceding whatever, and (b) when she does commit adultery, we’re mostly numb. In support of (b) consider that South African model they used in Ms. Pooja Bhatt’s Rog. You can wrap saris all around her but she’s still a foreign element. The orthodoxy just isn’t there in the first place to cut through later. Which leaves me a whole lot confused about her trajectory.  
Mr. Ali’s Rockstar becomes a thoroughly frustrating and reductive affair – long passages of completely ineffective filmmaking interspersed with moments that soar way beyond the realm of the inspired and attain true transcendence. Just when performances break down, scenes break down, angles break down, and a line of conversation doesn’t make any sense other than gift-wrapping for us the moment, a little movement around Jordan (Mr. Kapoor in a more-or-less brilliant performance) completely shatters the built-up defense and blows you away.
Consider a pivotal moment in the film that causes our protagonist much of his anger. Their relationship is in top gear, the passion unbearable, and it’s time for Jordan to leave Prague. They meet, and the impatience Mr. Ali exhibits here is quite inexplicable. I wouldn’t want to divulge anything here (just in case you haven’t yet watched it), but Jordan’s reaction to it, especially considering his knowledge of Heer’s intentions, put his IQ somewhere in the range of 52-68, because hey, even Forrest Gump understood what love is. More criminal is Mr. Ali’s conception and staging of these affairs, when he could easily have kept Jordan (and us) momentarily clueless about the Heer lash-out, considering he gives a shot of her walking behind a wall and breaking down. A filmmaker who just needs a single fluid shot, the camera zooming and craning out, to convey the whole paradox that is spiritual awakening (which involves both pride and humility in the way one feels special) ought to know better than that.

And he also ought to know better than having a journalist (Ms. Hyadri) who provides the same service to the narrative as Ms. Jiah Khan did to Ghajini, i.e. a built-in exposition device, especially when he has one readily available (Khatana, Mr. Kumud Mishra). He ought to know better than to ask Heer’s sister to bludgeon us with a sledgehammer on how to feel about Jordan's role in her, let us say, hopeless medical condition. I mean, the little shouts at the top of her lungs, for crying out loud. Exposition is a slippery device, and one of the rules in the instruction manual is to never use it in drama or romance, especially in its running-commentary form. More so when you have the chops to pull it off visually. Consider the way Mr. Ali frames the expanse of Prague in the film more romantic moments, providing the nomad Jordan, who is walking throughout the film with nowhere to go and nowhere to belong to, at least the warmth of his own space. And when things go down, especially after Prague, he makes a mockery of his private space finding newer ways to lock him up within his public persona. I mean, yeah, the vertical bars of the prison are a touch literal, but then the system is the least of his problems. There are hands swaying all around him, and there are figures stacked all about him.

Except for that little room with Led zeppelin and Jim Morrison, this Rockstar has precious little in the film by way of a home, and only the hope of a land where he can live like he wishes to. Oh yeah, like that other wall filled with fantasies this year (Miss Bala), Jordan gains a whole lot of weight when considered an allegorical device. The film’s opening passage with its crowd worship feels totally different when Mr. Ali cuts to it at the end, less about the fame and adulation and more the implicit obligation. In a way his talent is his curse. When the film finally gives him his own little space, under a little tent, from where he doesn’t have to walk anywhere to, absolutely cut off from everything, you know he deserves it. I mean, despite the fact that he’s stupid. Oh yeah, a punch to the system. And the finger to us. Sometimes, you know, you got to feel sorry for them.


Shantanu Dhankar said...

You know what put me off in the movie is probably the lack of mystery it has...In the beggining part the manager makes it pretty clear that creativity demands pain and then in the rest of the movie the protagonist seems to be looking for it (pain), there is too much repetitiveness of the same scens (ranbir squabbling with media)..besides I cant understand that why the characters have to be so emotionally inadequate, they lack depth and clarity (and if they are supposed to be confused, that is not conveyed properly). BTW, I loved the way you began, coming down on the movie from a musical point of view is quite innovative.

man in the iron mask said...

Thanks Shantanu.

Yes, there's some serious confusion with the motivations, and Jordan is a bit of a googly. I sort of took the emotional adequacy as a given, and sort of wanted to see how consistent the film is then, and where it goes from there..

Sachin Rehan said...

Same here.. Finally after 3 movies (Socha Na Tha, Jab We Met, Love Aaj Kal, Ahista Ahista), Imtiaz failed me as a director, writer and more importantly love for his characters. I hope he comes back soon. Because of him i started liking romantic movies again :)

unicorn said...

Man I completely disagree with you, as always.

In fact I loved this movie more than that silly Love Aaj Kal.

Regarding Heer, I think she is supposed to be a mystery. That's how it is, and to me the movie is more like POV of JJ rather than anyone else. Agree it is not a first person narrative (may be it should have been) but still the whole movie is about how JJ looks at his world and is never supposed to understand why Heer does what she does.

And I believe you lost the whole premise, may be the title is misleading, but the movie as I saw is not about being a RockStar (yeah may be it is a desirable side effect, which JJ himself confesses) but the movie is about passion which knows no rights and wrongs and how that drove JJ crazy and that, my friend, has been captured beautifully. And I personally believe that Rockstar is the best of Ali's works.

I do not agree with your comparison to HAHK. May be you are trying to arrive at genre comparison, but any comparison between the two movies ends there.

I am not able to put forth a well structured reply (which is unlike me)but hope you got my point.

And please disable captcha if you can. Its irritating.

KK said...

and I too agree with unicorn. The movie roams around building the char of JJ, which is beautifully done.

It also has the concept of "Free World" (quite similar to that of Fight Club), thus JJ does not believe in Love/Marriage (which of course Forrest Gump, can never understand). He does what he likes, at his instinct, at any time!

Understand this if you can sir...

man in the iron mask said...

Thanks Anil.

Was Heer supposed to be mysterious? I might be really wrong here, but things appeared pretty plain to me. Could you please elaborate on the mysterious part?

I do not think the film dwells much on the right/wrong part, and it's a subjective thing here, but the film never morally stunned me. I have expressed some of the reasons. More importantly, the husband is a stub. I suppose an intelligent choice here would've been to put a known face here, so that we're already familiar with him and thus would feel for what's happening to him.

Regarding the Hum Aapke Hain Kaun comparisons, I was wondering about the role songs (and music) are playing here, and whether "art" becomes an active participant in the state of affairs, or as I suspect it is the case, is mostly a passive device. Hence my conclusion, the treatment of music here is not TOO different from say a film as Dil.

man in the iron mask said...

KK Sir, is that you? Your first comment I guess. Thanks Sir!

I don't think much about that "anarchic" free world, and that is subjective, so personally don't have any problems with Jordan's mostly imbecile behavior.

What offended me was the inept filmmaking shouting in my face. I mean, it is providing some sort of running commentary, and that absolutely put me off.

KK said...

Yes it is me :)... You never added me in the newsletter list, so made a point to visit your blog myself ;)

Another reason that you had problems with the movie was the blend of songs with the script! Accept the fact that the hero's here always carry a band with them (similar to that of SRK in "Main hoon Na") and yes they know how to sing and dance.

With this fact, try watching the movie again (this time without forwarding the songs). I think you'll like it. At least I did...


Sadanand Renapurkar said...

Disoriented is the word that comes to mind. A man who dances to his own tunes is not new to us. I love such characters, but Jordan as a character is too weak to remember. Rumi's poetry in the end adds to the confusion, feels like an after thought.
Anyway, waiting for Paan Singh Tomar, please review it here.....

man in the iron mask said...

Sir, I did add you through feedburner. If you would message me your emailID, I would add you to the mailing list.

And no, I didn't forward those songs. In fact, I thought they were the best part of the film.

The Paan Singh Tomar review is up..

Hitz said...

Hence Writing Logical Review is waste of time..

Anusha said...

I did not like the movie. Almost walked out - which is a very big deal for me. But, I feel Jordan was brilliantly portrayed in bits and pieces. He was erratic, selfish, childish, tactless - I got that. And angry and frustrated and disgusted with most people, not all. The only problem I had understanding was why?!

I too felt that there are some fleeting moments where he behaves like an authentic artist truly madly deeply in love with music [shehnai recording, prague street] and before you blink the moment is gone and it's all back to non-sense superficiality.

Also, I feel the lyrics of the songs were important. It almost felt like written by Jordon. It did make a difference to the feel of the character. At least for me. For ex:

1. Sadda Haq
O Eco-friendly, nature ke rakshak
Main bhi hoon nature
Rewaazon se samaajon se
Kyun Tu kaate mujhe
Kyun baate mujhe iss tarah
Kyu sach ka sabak sikhaaye
Jab sach sunn bhi naa paaye
Sach koi bole to tu niyam kanoon bataye
Tera darr, Tera pyaar, teri wah
Tu hi rakh rakh saala

2. Jo bhi main kehna chahoon

Jo bhi main kehna chahoon
Barbaad kare alfaaz mere
Alfaaz mere