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Film Review: Rockstar

Film Review: Rockstar

November 13, 2011
Pulkit Datta

An otherwise disjointed script is saved by a scintillating soundtrack and a gutsy performance by Ranbir Kapoor



In a film industry that has survived on the musical film since its dawn, it's rare to see films now that actually embrace the true notion of a musical, letting the music guide the story. In a particularly melancholic sequence in Imtiaz Ali's Rockstar, Janardhan (Ranbir Kapoor) is thrown out of his house after a misunderstanding and ends up at the Hazrat Nizamuddin shrine in Old Delhi. It is here that his fumbling musical soul connects with the divine, giving rise to the impassioned artist he never thought he could become. This transformation is shown entirely through the hypnotic Sufi track, 'Kun Faaya Kun,' where the music, singing, visuals and acting all meld together fluidly to actually give goosebumps.

Rockstar has its flaws, mostly in its erratic storyline and flaky female lead. But it's the kind of film that is lifted from mediocrity by A.R.Rahman's spellbinding music through several such sequences that end up becoming the best parts of the film. These are the moments when the characters shine through, express the most, and their relationships resonate with the audience.

With such heavy dependence on music taking the story from one step to another, the pitfalls of the story get shielded. One of the film's biggest mistakes is in the beginning. As the very straight-laced Janardhan realizes he isn't getting anywhere with his music, his mentor Khataraji (a spirited Kumud Mishra) tells him that all great artists need to feel pain and frustration to create their best work. While this paves the way for lighthearted attempts at forcing a heartbreak, it also makes the rest of the film predictable. After hearing that lecture, it's clear how he will go from the oafish Janardhan to the angst-ridden Jordan. He just needs a pretty girl to make him go crazy. And that's exactly how it plays out.

That pretty girl, however, is half-baked and never sure of what she wants from life or from Janardhan. Heer (Nargis Fakhri) is a privileged girl from a Kashmiri family, with a rebellious streak. While she develops a playful relationship with the simple Janardhan that involves daring, lowbrow wishlists, she's also set to marry some rich guy from Prague. She never doubts the decision even when she knows she's falling for Jordan, the rockstar moniker she gives Janardhan. She is then perfectly happy indulging in an extra-marital affair when Jordan shows up in Prague and then suddenly feels guilty. And this repeats.

Fakhri's debut as Heer puts a major strain on the believability of the film. Her distracting pout and dialogue delivery reminds of Katrina Kaif, and with someone else dubbing her dialogues, Fakhri seems forced into the character. She's beautiful to look at but is hardly convincing as whatever her character is supposed to be.

The script and structure also meanders several times, jumping back and forth across time and space, making it seem incoherent at times. Perhaps that also reflects Jordan's mind frame, so unsettled in his anguish over constantly loving and losing Heer that even he doesn't know how he will react next.

Director Imtiaz Ali is one of the most talented storytellers of the current crop of Hindi cinema. He knows how to balance the commercial mainstream film sensibility with intelligent, real cinema. He's also very skilled at drawing out very down-to-earth and colloquial exchanges between characters. This is evident in several sequences in Rockstar, mostly between Jordan and Khataraji, and many of his scenes with Heer. But unlike Ali's Socha Na Tha, Jab We Met and Love Aaj Kal, Rockstar's strength doesn't lie in the story.

Rahman's music remains the winner throughout, complemented by Anil Mehta's alluring cinematography. The way Mehta captures Delhi, Kashmir, Prague and Verona, each place with its unique charm but inexplicably connected to the other, enhances the music even more.

The film's other major anchor is Kapoor with his full investment into the character of Janardhan/Jordan. He is one of the rare mainstream actors who can shed his star persona to be enveloped by his role. As Jordan, Kapoor displays the passion, angst, fury and loss with conviction. To writer-director Ali's credit, he doesn't make Jordan's mercurial emotional and career graph predictable in the way you'd expect to see an artist's downfall - drugs and alcohol. Instead, Jordan has a very low tolerance for alcohol and doesn't even touch drugs. But his irrepressible feelings for Heer are what torture him. Kapoor displays this tortured soul in a way that many of his contemporaries would find hard to perform convincingly.

Rockstar is also made special for being the last film appearance of the late legend Shammi Kapoor. He fills the screen with charisma in a brief role as a revered Ustaad that takes a liking to Jordan's inherent talent. In one of the film's best montage sequences, the two Kapoors have a jam session in a studio, with the Ustaad playing his shehnai and Jordan on his guitar. 'The Dichotomy of Fame,' as the track is called, unravels everything about the pensive mood the characters are in at that moment, way better than any serious dialogue scene could have accomplished. The music, once again, saves the film.

Rockstar is a better film than much of the fare we've seen recently, but it is also a bit disappointing as far as Imtiaz Ali films go. Had the script been structured less haphazardly and the female lead more believable, it would have elevated the film immensely. However, Rahman's scintillating soundtrack, Kapoor's dedicated performance and Mehta's gripping visuals make the film worth a watch.

19 Comments

  • Pulkit
    By
    Pulkit
    02.01.12 10:23 AM
    @Sudeshna: Thanks for the comments and compliments. Yahoo may have a huge search engine but we have solid content and reviews for sure. :-)
  • Pulkit
    By
    Pulkit
    02.01.12 10:21 AM
    @Writerzblock: I'm surprised you didn't like the music. I think it was by far one of the best albums of 2011. None of the songs resonated with you?
  • Sudeshna Das
    By
    Sudeshna Das
    02.01.12 03:13 AM
    I loved the movie like crazy. And the music was just awesome. I actually liked the way the storyline changed time and space, but that's my personal preference. I think I am going to stop reading Yahoo! movie reviews and comes here instead. Really a good review. Cheers!
  • Writerzblock
    By
    Writerzblock
    08.12.11 02:09 PM
    I was expecting more out of it, but was sadly disappointed. That was a rubbish movie!!!!!!! People who are in love should be making each other better, not turning each other into disasters! Ridiculous, if you asked me. And the music was far from scintillating! Wonder what the hype was all about!!
  • somyaa
    By
    somyaa
    17.11.11 05:11 PM
    Well the movie was something I had expected.Something or the other is always left in Bollywood movies.

    See you !
  • Pulkit
    By
    Pulkit
    16.11.11 09:23 PM
    Thanks, Sush. Glad you enjoyed both of us - the movie and the review.
  • Pulkit
    By
    Pulkit
    16.11.11 09:22 PM
    RantingIndian: Thanks for the comment. I have to say, the film didn't suck. It had its issues but I'm glad I saw it.

    Sadda haq etthe rakh, indeed! :-)
  • Pulkit
    By
    Pulkit
    16.11.11 09:20 PM
    Thanks for the comment, Veronica. I agree, Imtiaz Ali does give a fresh take to his stories, but like I mentioned in my review, this one is a bit disappointing as far as his movies go.
    I wouldn't be surprised if Ranbir Kapoor is nominated for a best actor award for this one.
  • Pulkit
    By
    Pulkit
    16.11.11 09:13 PM
    Hi Ash, you're right about the journey part - the music and Ranbir Kapoor's performance does do that. But I still had issues with the story and structure. I wouldn't say the film is without fault, but we can agree to disagree on that. :-)

    And I like the way you put it - "Nargis is no Nargis." Haha.
  • Pulkit
    By
    Pulkit
    16.11.11 09:07 PM
    Thanks, Somyaa! Let me know what you think when you watch the film.

    I agree, cinematography is a very important element in filmmaking and good visuals can do wonders to a good story. But in the same vein, I also believe that if the story and acting is really strong, we can get past the visuals. Of course, we all like to look at pretty pictures. :-)

    Thanks for stumbling on The NRI and keep reading!
  • sush
    By
    sush
    16.11.11 02:33 PM
    i had enjoyed the movie in theater. Loved this review too. rockstar rocks
  • RantingIndian
    By
    RantingIndian
    15.11.11 06:49 PM
    Nicely reviewed the Film. Somehow, the trailers did suggest that the movie would suck bigtime and would be a waste of time and money. But none the less, sadda haq etthe rakh :)

  • Veronica
    By
    Veronica
    15.11.11 02:47 PM
    Rockstar is a simply rocking Jordan good movie always expect from Imitiaz Ali to come up with something fresh like Jb wE MET AND LOVE AAJ KAL ..Imitiaz made Ranbir life time achievement role Imtiaz must gt an award for this Rockstarring movie.
  • Ash
    By
    Ash
    14.11.11 06:26 PM
    I am a fan of your reviews buddy, but Rockstar - I give a thumbsup in every category. Agree that Nargis is no Nargis, but other than that - the film is pretty much without fault. Its brave, its bold and it breaks the mould with ravishing performances, a great soundtrack that together takes the viewer on a journey - isn't that what great cinema is all about..? Loved it!
  • Somyaa
    By
    Somyaa
    14.11.11 04:48 PM
    Wonderful review !
    Just going to watch the movie and I am glad I will be prepared for what is going to be served.
    Cinematography is what attracts me a lot and I keep visualizing it with the stories that fill my mind. I guess I am going to like its cinematography. Last I had liked Guzarish's.
    Music is no doubt savior of many Indian movies and for this one it plays crucial role.
    Am really glad I stumbled on this magazine-site. Thank you :)
  • Pulkit
    By
    Pulkit
    14.11.11 12:46 AM
    Hi Susmita, thanks for the comment.
    I agree, it was a flimsy excuse for their "fatal attraction."
    However, I just didn't get why she even had to get married in the first place. There was no reason or justification for her getting married. Her family wasn't strict or conservative at all - as we saw in the latter half. So she wasn't being forced into it. If she did develop this great connection with Janardhan before she got married, then she would have doubted her decision. It all seemed conveniently placed for him to get hurt down the line.
  • Pulkit
    By
    Pulkit
    14.11.11 12:42 AM
    Hi Roy, let us know what you think...and enjoy the music! :)
  • Susmita Sen
    By
    Susmita Sen
    14.11.11 12:34 AM
    Good review.Rockstar had the potential to rock but falls short...
    The new girl in the female lead sucks. The story line is mediocre to say the least. Does a person have to be terminally ill to justify a fatal attraction that she feels outside of wedlock? Wouldn't staying imprisoned in a loveless marriage be more of a 'death'? Wonder of wonders that in this day and age we are still afraid to acknowledge the truth and have to concoct filmsy excuses to be in love!
  • Roy
    By
    Roy
    13.11.11 10:12 PM
    With the feedback from my friends I thought of skipping this flick but now I want to see it and I'll watch it ASAP.

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