Review: Rockstar brings music back to our films

Friday, 11 November 2011 - 10:27am IST Updated: Tuesday, 15 November 2011 - 10:32pm IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

Imtiaz Ali’s Rockstar is a bittersweet journey of a man, an artist, from being an everyman to a superstar.

Film: Rockstar (U/A)
Director: Imtiaz Ali
Cast: Ranbir Kapoor, Nargis Fakhri
Rating: ****

Jordan is sitting among prostitutes and strumming his guitar as they sing together -- 'Duniya ne humko diya kya, duniya se humne liya kya' -- when his manager pulls him out onto the street. Soon, a crowd engulfs them and starts chanting Jordan’s name, their voices drowning the sound of the manager pleading with the musician to get his act together. “This is what I have always wanted,” Jordan says, looking at his screaming fans. “But I am not happy inside.”
Imtiaz Ali’s Rockstar is a bittersweet journey of a man, an artist, from being an everyman to a superstar. But while Ali uncovers layers off Jordan the iconic musician -- each layer as fascinating as it is intriguing -- he keeps the core of the character, Janardhan Jakkad, alive. He hurts like anybody else, falls in love like anybody else, and also has to deal with moments of sheer frustration.
And all of it finds release in music. Music is Jordan’s identity; it’s what makes him rich and famous. But to Jordan, that’s incidental. In the end, his artistry is what connects him with himself. For a Hindi film viewer, that is a fascinating story to watch unfold.
Then there’s the opening shot, a tribute to India’s original rockstar, Shammi Kapoor. From there on, it’s a tumultuous ride – one with its highs and lows, one that has anguish as also love, one that has pain, but also a sense of fulfillment. And a brilliant finale -- not a conventional one, but effective nonetheless -- which leaves you feeling like the characters themselves: incomplete but content, like an effective crescendo that leaves you wanting more.
The music itself is a delight. Each AR Rahman number is lilting, and woven beautifully in the story, the high frequency of songs not hindering the storytelling but enhancing the experience. Lyricist Irshad Kamil does an outstanding job, penning words that reflect the lead character’s state of mind and complement situations aptly.
Imtiaz Ali, in trademark fashion though, isn’t content with focussing on the complexities of a troubled musician; he gives us a dose of romance too, and a generous one at that. Estrangement from family, lack of fulfillment in life, and self-discovery apart, what really drives Jordan’s music is his relationship with Heer (Fakhri, beautiful but awkward). Volatile as the affair is, it’s also what keeps Jordan sane, and Heer alive.
For about 15 minutes in Rockstar, the narrative tends to resort to ‘Bollywoodism’; true love having the power to cure a terminal illness (almost), for example, doesn’t exactly fit with what the rest of the film has to say. The story tends to meander a bit post-interval, but Imtiaz makes it work eventually, interweaving the fantastical romantic part of the film with the more gritty, dark bits deftly. In the end, how much you enjoy Rockstar will largely depend on whether the balance between the tale of a broken, discontented musician and the more conventional love story works for you.
It did for me -- though I would have preferred the former -- but you can’t deny Imtiaz credit for his mastery over the romance genre. No contemporary filmmaker has dealt with man-woman relationships with as much dexterity. His films often tread a similar path (the lovers are usually confused, meet at different points in life, and there’s always the ‘other man’), but his fresh approach to each story is what makes them immensely watchable.
With Rockstar, Imtiaz goes beyond his own tried-and-tested format, his ambition to narrating a more complex story coming through. This is probably his most personal film, and his honesty as filmmaker is hard not to be affected by. Hopefully, he goes the whole hog next, ditching the genre he’s adept at to trying his hand at something entirely out of his comfort zone. Rockstar is also Imtiaz’s most technically polished film, and he benefits from the association with cinematographer Anil Mehta and editor Aarti Bajaj.
And he also benefits from having a livewire of a lead actor on board. Ranbir Kapoor has been Hindi cinema’s Next Big Thing for a while now. With Rockstar, he lives up to the hopes pinned on him to deliver big. Ranbir revels in Jordan’s complexities; another actor may have found it to be an obstacle. The character arc undergoes constant transformation and he adapts suitably. It wouldn’t be an understatement to say that Ranbir’s portrayal of Jordan may go down as one of Hindi cinema’s most accomplished performances by a lead actor. Just to see him work his magic onscreen, Rockstar is worth a watch.
But while good acting is always an incentive, it’s a director’s vision that makes a film truly watchable, and Imtiaz makes Rockstar stand out from what the mainstream churns out every week. And brings back the one aspect sorely missing from Hindi films lately -- music.

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