WARNING: Spoilers abound / This film has not been rated
A short preface: Just to know things better
This surely had to be Imtiaz Ali’s most ambitious project till date.
And for those who do not know him, let’s get to know him a bit better. This is the guy who was technically launched alongside Abhay Deol in Dharmendra’s production Socha Na Tha. And while the movie disappeared at the box-office due to poor promotion, the movie became a cult classic for those who keep falling in love with love stories. It was the perfect romantic comedy – it had realism, chemistry, sharp-witted dialogue, and a well-woven linear screenplay. And while Imtiaz Ali might have gotten the recognition and acclaim he deserved for the film, I’m pretty sure he wanted more.
This is when he ended up teaming with Shivam Nair to recreate Fyodor Dostoevsky’s White Nights in a very raw, subtle way. This film didn’t work too, but today it has it’s own fan following of people who crave for something more grounded, more true to life. It may be noted that Sanjay Leela Bhansali also ended up adapting Doestoevsky’s story into a gorgeous collage of romance, which might not have worked for moviegoers when it ended up releasing a weekend after Ali’s own Jab We Met, but surely became a favorite among connoiseurs of movies. And talking about the circle of life (which Ali deftly handles time and again with each and every movie of his – more on that later), this is Ranbir Kapoor’s first film; the very Kapoor, who wasn’t the first choice of Rockstar. It was supposed to be a role written for John Abraham.
It is then that Jab We Met released and Ali’s game changed forever. Everybody wanted to work with him, every production house wanted to rope him in as director. But he ended up taking his own sweet time (i.e.; a year) before officially announcing his third film as director – the then very much talked about Love Aaj Kal, which I ended up being very much smitten by for it’s realism, and the fact that I had seen so many of these relationships form and break and form and break continuously. It is here that Ali suddenly started taking the non-linear narrative seriously, handling two love stories in one with the utmost dexterity. Almost a couple of months after the release, his next film with Ranbir Kapoor was announced and started making the headlines: a film which would feature four distinct, mad set of experimentalists: Ali, Kapoor, A. R. Rahman and Irshad Kamil.
By and by, the craze became a phenomenon, and wouldn’t stop until Sadda Haq came into picture and opened some of the tight-lipped secrets as to the film. And here comes yet another form of the circle of life which Ali adamantly features in every film of his: he returned to collaborate with Shree Ashtavinayak Cine Vision after their successful collaboration in Jab We Met. And if you’ve been observing the terrific promotional strategy of the makers of the movie, the rest, as would be for you, is history.
Which would obviously mean that, considering the skyrocketing collections in multiplexes India and abroad for Love Aaj Kal, and the surprise package that Jab We Met turned out to be, Imtiaz Ali’s next feature film would contain equally skyrocketing expectations, if not more. “More raw, more grunge…”, were some of the (probably unexact) words that came out of the twitter page of an acclaimed magazine editor. The album released almost a month or so later, marking two diverse sets of people – one,
that would love the album, and understand how liberating it would be, and the other, who would desperately look for that one chartbusting number but not get any more post Sadda Haq. Personally, I feel very sorry for the latter set and would ask them to go back and listen to Munni Badnaam, Dhinka Chika, Sheila Ki Jawaani, and probably Razia Gundon Mein Phas Gayi. Not that I don’t enjoy it, but I constantly depend on quality music from Coldplay, Chicane, OneRepublic, Keane, Mariah Carey and Michael Jackson for most part. Sure, albums like Ra.One and Shaitan have pushed the envelope, and the recent re-release of Zindagi na Milegi Dobara has been an enchanting experience, but I’m very sorry, it’s just that I cannot listen to commercial songs for probably more than fifteen days – it just gets too stale.
But I digress. I would surely write eons and eons about the music of Rockstar, but I’m going to present it in a more well-researched, well-understood format, very soon on this blog. Coming back to the point, when I ended up seeing the absolutely diverse reviews of Rockstar‘s music, I knew it would be Imtiaz Ali’s film – a director’s film, which would, at the end of day, form polarized reactions for the film too. And as the reactions came pouring in, after an initial bout of baffle, I calmed down and smiled to myself, thinking, “Am I right, or am I right?“
The bigger picture: Expectations for the neutral mind
Expectations rose and continued to do so as the trailer broke out on the big screens and on YouTube. While some stated it had a lot of power, I felt that nothing was revealed too much here, and was confused, both as a fan of Imtiaz Ali and as a movie afficionado, as to whether this movie would be worth my time or not. Somewhere, I wasn’t getting what was the director trying to say, as if Rockstar is about an artist’s ravaged life, why is the love story given too much of attention? By and by, I came to know what Rockstar was all about with the in-your-face television promos that kept on playing to the point some would actually be mad with the television and fling it out of their windows. What if the television would hit somebody though?
I digress again.
We all know that Rahman’s music is the kind that wouldn’t be an instant hit – it requires some amount of listening to find that instant gratification you’re looking for in a Rahman album. A similar feeling of disappointment erupted from Jhootha Hi Sahi, but I finally hit gold with a lot of songs, and while it still doesn’t remain to be one of my most cherished Rahman albums, I have fully been able to understand it. Of this too, it took me a long amount of patience to find gratification, and barring a decent Sheher Mein, I successfully did with all others. Particularly this one song that I found powerful but others found very weak (and my friend happily agrees with me on the same – she loves the song too) – Mohit Chauhan’s passionate vocals in Tum Ho; the song that will reel through your head completely if you’re infected by the earnestness of the song.
Which now brings me back to the excitement and buzz generated for Rockstar. The question in everyone’s minds was: Would Imtiaz Ali succeed in making a movie of another genre? Unfortunately, it’s those very people who should understand that Ali never really shifted gears.
And this is what the movie says: The story of the film
Set across the landscape of Delhi, the story starts with Janardhan Jakhad (Ranbir Kapoor) – and his friends call him JJ just to keep his spirits up – who loves to play the guitar, but doesn’t quite get there. College canteen manager Khatanabhai then tells him that the main ingredient of all songs, all compositions, all artists who end up getting into the creative line, is pain. There’s just one problem – he’s had a simple life, with simple parents and relatives (albeit ones who keep sitting on his head) and no screwups. He’s never felt for a girl before, and this is when he notices Heer. The most beautiful girl in class, the most snobbish person heard of around – uptight and nakchadhi (as some would call snobbish people in Hindi). He likes the girl, but doesn’t speak of or have an interest in her till one of Khatanabhai‘s statements (“Dil toota hai Kabhi? Pyaar hua hai tujhe?” Has your heart broken? Have you fallen in love?) strike him when one of his friends tells him absent-mindedly, “Dil todne ki machine hai yaar!” (she’s a machine of heartbreak) and his mind suddenly starts to work overtime. He meets her in a weird manner to get his heart broken, she tells him to fake it, and then he starts pretending in fromt of Khatanabhai. Too bad, the latter catches his foul. The story which was to end there and then, suddenly has an awkward beginning, where the two slowly become friends, and make a list to do all kinds of shit (and they make the list) before she gets married. Thing is, she actually does. But before her marriage, something magical happens – he wouldn’t be called JJ anymore, and she re-christens (yes, I know it’s overdone) him Jordan. She falls for him, but the denial makes him stronger, as an artist, but unfortunately not as a person. In Prague, they cross paths again, and this is when she’s going through a tough mental phase – she is ill. But they made a promise – that he would meet her in Prague one fine day and they’d make the list again. And this is when the ball starts to roll. Of Jordan as he starts to fall for her. Of Heer as she continues to live in denial, confusion and a torn mindset. There’s one thing the two people don’t realise, and that’s how important they are for each other; how connected.
Rockstar speaks of Jordan and Heer, of fame and money, of love and pain, and of gratification.
The Main Parts: Not the crotch, as of Ra.One’s crude humor, but what makes the movie a movie
Story: Written by Imtiaz Ali, who has created a story yet again that reflects his belief of simplicity in story and complexity in the psyche of the human mind in handling the incidents that his characters come across. Many people have mistaken the film to be about a rock musician and how his life gets self-destructed in drugs, sex and drinking. Well, if you’re looking for something like that, pick up a DVD of It’s All Gone Pete Tong (which was recently officially remade in Hindi to Soundtrack, a film i haven’t seen yet). This, in it’s very core, reflects on Imtiaz Ali’s much loved genre of romance and relationships, and the intricacies and complexities of them all. Using Jim morrison as an able reference, they’ve been able to create Jordan in the way most of you would find not-so-interesting (he’s not a regular drinker, and isn’t shown smoking or using – how disappointing), but only some of you, who would stand the test of time to understand how the character moves, reacts, reciprocates, blocks – everything, will savour the film. Interstingly, I think (or am assuming) that the name Jordan holds a very important part of the character’s life. Looking at Jordan from a deeper perspective, we know of Jordan as a pure soul – and I could connect it to only one other thing – that John the Baptist baptized Jesus Christ in the Jordan river. There’s one such scene in the list of things that Heer’s doing to liberate herself before she marries off (a deja vu to Mere Brother Ki Dulhan‘s Dimple, played spunkily by Katrina Kaif) and that’s drinking strong alcohol, and the fact that JJ reveals to her that he only spreads some of it on his face and clothes like cologne and acts sloshed for fun – shows that he’s like this kid, who, if refused something, gets angry. The character of Heer is equally strong and spunky, and for quite a while you do feel that Ali has gone back on his roots, ie., Jab We Met, Socha Na Tha and Love Aaj Kal, but the second half (which would be shocking and disappointing to many) takes a turn for the better when the characters are explained well. And explanation of the characters wouldn’t necessarily mean spoonfeeding; you peel through layers and layers of subtext and understatement and then find the answer you’re looking for from the person; from the real human inside the virtual character in the alternate reality that is Rockstar.
Inspiration and references: For the first time, a mainstream director has had the guts to boldly borrow from the thematic elements of three important forms of film: french new wave, parallel cinema of India’s new wave, and commercial cinema. French new wave cinema has always borrowed a lot of elements of depression and pain from Italian neorealism, and has beautifully blended it with some realistic problems of people who just want to be different. Exemplary is one such revolutionary film by Francios Truffaut The 400 Blows, which talks about a schoolgoing kid and the way he looks at things, and I can see a lot of it in Jordan’s character sketch throughout the film – complex as hell, but simple by his view. One such scene which defines his character is when Khatanabhai drags him out of a brothel, singing to the women, ironically those lines in Dum Maaro Dum from Hare Raama Hare Krishna (“Duniya Ne Humko Diya Kya…“). Not only does it reflect the dimension by which the protagonist wants something but everywhere he finds a thing missing. He asks Khatanabhai earnestly, exasperatedly, pointing to the maddening gathering crowd, “This is what I wanted, didn’t I? Then why do I feel such hatred? Why do I feel like a lot of insects biting my whole body?” Another scene is the sequence in which he tears up the contract he’s supposed to sign, and dances around the hypocritical owner of a music company with sarcasm and rage. The owner shouts, and received an even bigger anger-filled shout back. The theatre is silent, awed – scared even – by Jordan’s power to dominate, even as he does the things he’s not supposed to. If The 400 Blows wasn’t enough, the Americans also used the technique of French new wave on Warner Brothers’ Bonnie and Clyde. What can also be obsevered, like in all other French New Wave cinematic gems, is the fact that the makers will not care how many times they show something as long as they feel they’re telling it right. And this is what happened with Rockstar, albeit not with rock concerts, but more with inner rage, intimacy and confusion throughout. And considering it was Jordan’s journey to find peace and happiness, the repetition of the “gandh machaana” and “list banana” was evident. Lots of elements of French new Wave has been observed throughout Pankaj Kapur’s Mausam as well, but the ever convenient end and the unnecessary epilogue fail to bring justice to the build-up, thereby ending up to be a pale Bollywood bore.
The screenplay: I’m not sure if the screenplay was written linearly or non-linearly, but one thing I’m sure of: the narrative in the screenplay is mindblowing. Right from the first moment, when the voice of Ranbir Kapoor, reciting Rumi’s poem, rings your ears, the buildup starts. Jordan’s a famous singer. A very famous international phenomenon. Today’s his concert. Meanwhile, Jordan’s taking a dig fighting goons, and takes the bus, walking over to the barricades, kicking them down to enter. The music gets louder and louder. Jordan enters the stage. Louder and Louder. Walks over to the mic. Louder and louder. And as he’s about to sing onto it… we’re suddenly transported into a lifeless, emotionless guitar player JJ with a slag aimlessness, and the want to become the ever elusive Jim Morrison. The story moves forward to an exhilarating buildup, and suddenly jumps to show you something absolutely opposite, sometime way in the future, and then it waits for the right time to tell the little bit of backstory that was left in between the broken timeline. The non-linear narrative that holds throughout makes the movie what it is. What I immensely like about it is that the story has an interesting way of building up, and the characters experience so many changes in their lives it’s difficult to develop them in the first twenty minutes, so they evolve. Both Heer and Jordan evolve in their own ways. While Jordan evolves as a person who craves for freedom and solace, Heer evolves as a person who realizes she gets freedom with the one person she’s in denial from. The climax has a different depth. Whilst also sticking to the narrative, it goes back to a scene where you’ve assumed the story might just have ended. but that forms the story to be what it is. And of the open ending, I can only say, endings like these are always there to take hom the movie with you. And if you couldn’t understand the ending well, all I can say is that it’s for you to assume what could happen next. But an ending like this was not just important for the film, it saved the movie from the clutches of irrelevant convenience, which would also completely tear up the movie for what it could become.
Also, watch out for the way there’s a lot of dialogue in one moment in a scene, and most of the talking suddenly vanishes, with maybe a whisper or two making an appearance. Imtiaz Ali has done a commendable job trying to do something absolutely out of the box. And while the non-linear narrative might make many annoyed with it’s inconsistent pacing (which turns out to be a problem if you’re looking for entertainment Jab We Met or Love Aaj Kal style), but patient viewers will learn and understand enough as to what this movie is trying to portray, and how. Also with subtle emotions, and a very well-written scene before the interval-point, which leaves your mouth open in question. Interestingly, the confusion lingers on, and if one understand the characters better, and possibly relate to their situation, they’d know. For one, I could relate to Jordan, and almost creepily so.
The direction: Imtiaz Ali is known for presenting you something, even if nice, in a raw way, with a raw angle. He’ll not make it dramatic if he has to, because if it’s real, he’ll present it really, and here too he’s done it pretty well, and what stand out and shines is the fact that he’s generated the whole concept of awkwardness very well. Two stupid characters becoming friends and falling in love – isn’t new for an Imtiaz Ali film, is it? But it’s the soul of the film which is different. This soul neither resorts to cliches to make it look good, nor does it overdramatize the whole sex-drugs-and-rock’n'roll thing for a rockstar. The movie talks about two simple people stuck with an unexplainable, unexplicably painful emotion – something they probably can’t point to love because of the denial they face. She’s married. He’s famous. Both of them are going different directions. It’s almost like I was watching The Adjustment Bureau, only without those funnymen in coats and hats, and with more grit, pain, and power to ravage the people who realise the emotion. Especially shining is the scene in which they aptly discuss the kiss. He kisses her, she yells at him, pushes him back, yells at him some more, and then kisses him for some more amount of time before she pushes him. Utter chaos in the minds of both the individuals. More in Heer’s head than in Jordan’s – Jordan is more easily able to express, less able to let himself out using the right methods.
The edit: Yes. I wouldn’t essentially talk a lot about the edit, but here I will, because there’s need to. More so as Aarti Bajaj is yet another star of the movie. Many people make spit screens a mere gimmick and use it, but never has one used techniques of editing without making them look like gimmicks. Effective use of jump-cuts, lingering on of scenes when you’d want them to linger on, and the J-Cuts and L-Cuts. Effective use of J-Cuts is shown in a scene where Heer confesses of her feelings for Jordan to her husband. The sound of her explanation starts way before they show her actually talking, but instead they linger on to the pain with which she’s expressing her last sentence for a few more seconds before she moves towards the next. A masterstroke. The consistency and tightness with which she executes the edit is marvelous. She knows how to cut a scene razor-sharp, or when she wants to and leave some parts uncluttered, linger on, in some others. It’s no small wonder then that she’s continued to collaborate pretty well with Ali since Jab We Met, and has also ended up bringing a lot of Anurag Kashyap films to life (a la Dev.D).
Cinematography: Interestingly, the cinematography is an integral part of the film as well, portraying the expressions of the characters (as the actors don them). Close-ups, extreme ones in some shots, are used cleverly, and not just to infuse romanticism. Anil Mehta scores as the director of photography, and paired with a well-equipped cameraman, this guy has been able to whip out the magic that it is on screen. From the mountains of Kashmir to the lush fields in Prague, Anil Mehta nails it in the head. All the time.
Music and Background Score: Yes. This is, by far, A. R. Rahman’s most passionate and experimental soundtrack in a very long time, where the last time we could see such brilliance (honestly) in him, had to be in soundtracks like Swades, Tehzeeb and Meenaxi: A Tale of Three Cities. Yes, there have been sweeping, charming soundtracks like Yuvvraaj and Ada… a way of life, and the edgy, loudspeaker-prone Blue, but where brilliance is concerned in Bollywood, these three soundtracks did justice to Rahman’s talent. And now, after Delhi-6, the one soundtrack that manages to raise the bar and make the true Rahman fans (and not fanatics) rise up from disappointment, has to be this one. And also for the background score, I’d like to duly credit Rahman, if there’s nothing else I can do. As for the songs, I’d love to state the vividly apt placement of each song at the right moment. While Sheher Mein just appeared as swiftly as it disappeared (no complaints), I love the other songs, specifically Tum Ho, Naadaan Parindey and Phir Se Udh Chala. Though of course I’d love to elaborate, so here goes.
The track Jo Bhi Main is but a very important start to the whole film. Irshad Kamil’s lyrics have a lot of depth, which is what explains the situation of him transgressing from a bumbling Jakhad to the brazen Jordan. The lines “Jo Bhi Main / Kehna Chaahon / Barbaad Karein / Alfaaz Mere” transports us to the being’s life. When he’s but a failed musician, he wants to do a lot, but can’t get the feel right – and that’s more the reason why the song had an immense connection with college going Jakhad’s life. Interestingly enough, the song also reflects the story of Jordan’s lifetime, his angst and his pain – somewhere when he wants something but doesn’t achieve it. And someplace else, where he achieves what he wants but hates what he has on him. The conflict in his head is not just well portrayed by the subtext that needs to be understood by the viewer to like the film, but also the situations, the powerful performances, and the composition and lyric writing. While Katiya Karoon looks at the longing from Heer’s point of view, despite her denial and subsequent marriage to someone else, during which the track Phir Se Ud Chala comes across as just a track which Ranbir’s Jordan records, but isn’t so. When the line “Rang Birange Vehemon Mein Main Udata Phiroon” from the lyrics come by, we know that all Ranbir tries to do is distract himself, till he comes by as a person who can afford to execute the promise of going to Prague that he made to Heer before her marriage. Kun Faya Kun also ends up hosting forth a very deep search inside Jordan’s soul for that one phase where he can say he’s free from all his inner demons. Interestingly enough, while Aur Ho is very uncomfortable enough to go for a repeat hearing, the situation the whole song presents forth – a consistent denial from the inner side of Heer, and the persistence the Jordan keeps putting forth on her – both are very contradictory emotions, and the dark complexities of the emotions are well put through Kamil’s writing for the song once again. The instrumental piece The Dichotomy of Fame arrives at a juncture when Ranbir confronts his mentor Khatanabhai about how he doesn’t seem to want “this fame” anymore. Tango For Taj has yet another very interesting placement when Nargis Fakhri is well-introduced through a college stage dance. Haawa Haawa gives Jordan his version of Heer’s Katiya Karoon, when he tries to bring Heer out of her moderate depression. While Sadda Haq is as important as Jo Bhi Main in taking a peek through Jordan’s soul, the former obviously holds more impact for the absolute hard rock and the universal nature of the song, thereby having made it commercially very viable and youth-friendly, as Kamil’s writing again scores here, more relatable toward the angst of the youth across India (possibly the World). The songs though that make the most impression, and end up being the most important of them all – for the film, and for us – are Naadaan Parinde and Tum Ho (in both the versions of Kavita Krishnamurthy (now Subramanium) and Mohit Chauhan), and for this I wouldn’t explain why. I’d want the people to go and watch the film.
Performances: Ranbir Kapoor is the star of this movie, undoubtedly. Throughout my observations on Ranbir Kapoor’s films, I’ve noticed that een though he ends up playing different characters in all of his films, he has a certain trademark that we would associate with him – a stamp, that’s been shockingly broken by Ali while moulding Kapoor to be Jordan,. and not Kapoor. This is what happened with Kareena Kapoor for Geet and Deepika Padukone for Meera, when both of them shone brilliantly in their roles – like never before. Here though, the obvious preference is given to the male protagonist, though the female protagonist isn’t left too far behind. Most of you reading this might find yourselves surprised, but Nargis Fakhri is a very talented actress. Having to express like an Indian, have a very jhalli body language throughout the film, and having the passion required – all of that is very difficult, you see, and Ali has moulded her. The sole reason why the people might obviously found her awkward is the dubbing artist – surely a wrong choice; as it made all of that energy look awkward. Strangely enough a lot of people found her lips to be too interfering. I only wonder how could they ever praise Angelina Jolie for her roles and performances (and here I’ll se a lot of people getting defensive.) Kumud Mishra as Khatanabhai and Aditi Rao Hydari as Sheena, the reporter, deserve praise for their roles, considering the intensity and emotion they add to the characters. Shernaz Patel lends able support, while the cake for all cameos has to be given to the charming Shammi Kapoor in what could be called his unintentional final swan song; making us further pained on his absence.
And this is really almost what I can say about it…
For filmmakers looking for depth in a film, this film is it. For movie viewers looking for an experience more than entertainment, this is it. For people looking for that film where music is as important as is the movie, this is it. And for me, I’ve just got to say, this is quoting a friend of mine, “Rockstar need to be watched four times; once for (the vocals of) Mohit Chauhan, once for (A. R.) Rahman, once for Ranbir (Kapoor) and once for the genius Imtiaz Ali. It would be injustice to creativity if I don’t.” Do I need to say any more?