Unlike other Bollywood guitarists and rockers who manhandle the guitar, using it like a coconut scraper and sporting some attitude, when Ranbir Kapoor thrashes his Rickenbacker like Pete Townsend, you just know here’s the original cinematic rocker.
Janardhan Jakhar (Ranbir Kapoor), a Delhi college boy idolizes his hero Jim Morrison and his provocateur antics in the rock ‘n roll canon. However, Jakhar does not have that certain ‘it’ according to all around him, and the ‘it’ being all that heartbreak that conjures up a song like ‘Love Her Madly’. Therefore, begins Janardhan’s quest to match his hero’s intensity and artistic heights, with mistakes along the way, to become a broody and neurotic performer with a stony face.
The one that got away or the object of Jordan’s obsession is Heer (Nargis Fakhri), the posh ‘dil todne ka machine’ that Jordan pursues with a persistence that is so endearing. Curiously, the girl who JJ coins as ‘neat and clean’ has a passion for getting up to naughty hijinks, which he indulges her in including watching desi blue films and country liquor. Though Heer is painted similarly like Geet in Jab We Met, the camaraderie between Kapoor and Fakhri works seamlessly. Imtiaz works so well in reinventing the old tropes of commercial cinema, and the blooming from platonic friendship to love is presented in such a witty and refreshing manner that you forget the predictability ahead.
Yet this is not one of those biopics into mythologizing like ‘The Doors’ we get both sides of the coin. With rock fame goes the famous adage, ‘sex, drugs, rock ‘n roll’, and when Janardhan transforms into the star Jordan, it would be inauthentic to shy away from all the voices offered at the top. Whether it is his onstage rant about free birds or passing the doobie around, Imtiaz makes the usual scenes of excess interesting because we are so invested in JJ’s trajectory.
The scope for this film is much larger and Imtiaz’s writing is much grander and operatic than before. This shift in Imtiaz’s own auteur’s touch is bound to polarize the viewers and the critics alike, but there is nothing better than a director attempting new directions. If Imtiaz presents us a rocker upset with fame, he also delves into the spiritual side of Jordan, who is a Sufi old soul at heart. The scenes where Janardhan hones his craft in the Nizamuddin Dargah and finds that spiritual high in the ‘Kun Faaya Kun’ segment work to peel away the layers of the Jordan we meet at the beginning. Jordan shows flashes of his boyish Janardhan, the hysterical Jordan and the whirling dervish Rumi and these many facets of his personality work so well in creating a multi-layered character that we care for.
The Heer-Ranjha allusions are all in place, along with a dash of rock and the study of fame and celebrity thrown in for good measure. It does not always work especially in the case of the second half, which dramatically drops and veers into ‘Love Story’ territory and coming off cloyingly cheesy. The open-door ending also may confuse and bother viewers and in moments as key as these, the film needed tighter editing. Toying with a non-linear storyline and using quick montages to aid in explaining backstory is equally interesting and frustrating at times. Jordan’s family strife is quickly mentioned and he is abruptly thrown out of the house? This may be nitpicking but the quick montage that act as ellipsis in the story do not serve the film very well, and the patchy editing does show during the second half
which tries to balance the right tone and mood.
One missing moment is the creative evolution of Jordan’s music. Why is it that rock music appeals to him? However, in a film showing how a wannabe attains the upper echelons of fame, this can be sidestepped. But the lyrical musings and the genesis of all of his best-seller albums, which become anthems for social movements is glaringly omitted.
Rarely does an actor these days go to such epic proportions of method acting retaining that innately desi hero mold as Ranbir Kapoor has here! From the manic whirling he does in early days to lashing out at the media, Kapoor never falls back into the archetypal rocker we have seen in other biopics and he just disappears into the role of Janardhan Jakhar and Jordan. Touted as ‘the next best thing’ this is the role that Kapoor just owns from the beginning making the transition seamlessly between the two personas. It would not surprise if he picked up many awards for this amazing role.
Nargis Fakhri is extremely beautiful, and shows promise considering this is her first role. Yet she is egregiously awkward and has only a few expressions that she uses repeatedly. However, she does have that waiflike and otherworldly quality and beauty that justifies why Jordan would fall for. Kumud Mishra as Jordan’s mentor-manager is amazing and conveys the exasperation at seeing the talented guy go through so much turmoil. Aditi Rao Hydari is equally good in her role as a cynical journalist and one wished she was onscreen for much longer.
The last cameo by Shammi Kapoor was absolutely wonderful and brought a tear to everyone’s eyes during his time onscreen. The meta moment of having two Kapoors sharing the screen together was worth ticket price and the soulful jugalbandi between the two was such a special moment for Indian cinema.
The music and background by A.R Rahman is wonderful. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and the music eventually grew on this reviewer’s earlier judgement of the album. Some of the songs were seamlessly integrated into the narrative, yet during the crux of the film it seemed one after the other which did grate. Yet Mohit Chauhan, who is just as much a character in the film, completely works in sync with Kapoor’s edgy and devil-may-care attitude, Chauhan adlibs and gives Kapoor that extra mile to make Jordan a complete character.
Rockstar is one of those films that surpass the regular fare offered at the cinema each week, as each performer here has given their all and have come up with a grand and operatic film that proves a risky gamble for winning people over but it just works here. The movie is that game-changer for Imtiaz Ali and Ranbir Kapoor, who attempt to scale the artistic highs and prove to the world what they can achieve within the commercial love story genre by pushing all the boundaries. A must watch!