There is a life-defining sequence in the early part of this stylishly cut film where the excellent Shashank Arora, playing a young struggling musician, a Sarod player in this day and age if you must know, pleads with the supremely accomplished Kumud Mishra playing a rigid musician, for a hearing. A request that falls on deaf years because Guruji is a purist who believes music must not be tampered with to create a contemporary sound.
Ironically this is what Rock On 2, a worthy resoundingly successful sequel to the 2008 genre-defining musical, attempts. It breaks barrier of sound and drama to give us an experience that moves the feet and the soul, sometimes in unison. From the first frame when we hear ‘Killer Drums’ KD(the very endearing Purab Kohli) trying successfully to regroup our thoughts on the band that we saw 8 years ago, the sequel is on a winning streak creating an immaculate balance between the past and present without straining to give credence to the characters’ inner voices. Early on there is a superbly crafted sequence where the band members and their wives get together in Shillong. Conversations and singing just happens. It’s just the way things are.
Rock On 2 is rugged and engaging, its dramatic core blending into the fabric of music masti and magik (spelling intentional) with an elan that suggests the birth of a significant new mainstream Bollywood director.
Shujaat Saudaagar, take a bow, for bringing back the Rock On characters with such effortless expertise, and for adding new characters in and outside the musical band with a fluency that defies the limitations time necessarily imposes on works of pop art that are left out in the cold for too long.
Everything in Rock On 2 fits. And fits without a squirm. Even the attempt to yoke a socio-political conscience into the musical format is not strained by over-kill. By situating a major part of the plot in Shillong and Meghalaya the screenwriter has displayed exemplary dexterity. The narrative conveys a commanding comprehension of inter-personal dynamics.
The characters seem to ‘belong’ to their surroundings from long before the camera caught them on screen in postures of delightfully reposeful unselfconsciousness. This is as good a moment as any to say that the Belgian cinematographer Mark Koninckx has captured the characters’ inner and outer worlds with the minimum of ostentation even when the band is on stage performing with a subtle swagger that leaves us hankering for more. It won’t be stretching the argument to say this film does for Meghalaya tourism what Zindagi Na Milegi Dobaara did for Spain.
The conversations among the characters seem as lived-in as the music that they sing and share. This is partly because of the actors who, on the whole, are uniformly brilliant, at times more so than one would expect in a film where the music that is played and heard threatens to drown the more significant voices wafting through the windows of the frames. Miraculously what I carried home from the film was the silences that punctuate the music and the dialogues.
Every character seems to understand the need to stand back and let the music play without self-congratulation. Purab Kohli and Arjun Rampal slip into their characters as if they have not done anything else in the interim. These actors should be seen a lot more often. Watch Arjun in the sequence where he talks about his childhood poverty, and when he gets on stage to play the guitar, you will wonder if Imtiaz Ali cast the wrong actor in Rockstar.
Shashank Arora of Titli fame, is a welcome addition to the team. As a struggling Sarod player he is a scene stealer. Farhan Akhtar dominates the proceedings. His character Adi is a complex compendium of shifting emotions, including guilt which plays a very important part in this segment of the franchise.In one sequence where Shraddha’s character tries to exonerate him of the guilt that haunts him, Farhan is deeply moving.
Shraddha Kapoor who has a vital role succeeds in keeping her character of a repressed musician on a believable plane. But she tends to expose her limitations when pitched against Kumud Mishra who plays her father. Mention must be made of two new actors playing small but vital roles. Dinesh Kumar who plays a reality-show contestant and Priyanshu Painyuli who unwittingly provides the film’s most dramatic turning point, just slip into the film’s mood of nostalgic sovereignty.
There is a story here of a sister rediscovering her dead brother’s music which reminded me of the Anne Hathaway starrer Song One, though not in any immediately recognizable way.
Come to think of it, Rock On 2 is pretty much the most engaging and authentic sequel I’ve seen coming out of Bollywood in recent times. If as Shakespeare volunteered, music is actually the food of love, then this film is a feast.