Gangly Haryanvi lad from Pitampura wants to be a present-day Jim Morrison. So he strums his guitar and sings to waiting commuters at a Delhi bus stand. The result: he is abused and slapped by a cop for his temerity.
Back in his college canteen, the wannabe rockstar wonders aloud why merely belting out an innocuous song at a bus stand should be such an offence when JM not only got away with a defiant middle-finger salute but was also feted for the act. Well, such are the ways of the world.
By the end of the film, the boy does get his own back and flashes his middle finger to the world. It’s time to run for cover because Rockstar takes eons to make its point.
Janaradan Jakhar (Ranbir Kapoor) – his friends at Hindu College call him JJ – is a rotten seed for his ultra-conservative family. So all he receives at home is scorn and ridicule.
The owner of the college canteen, where the young man whiles away his time day-dreaming over endless plates of samosas, tells him he cannot be the path-breaking musician that he wants to be until he experiences genuine pain and heartbreak.
The rest of Rockstar, a film that skates on rather thin ice, is about the protagonist’s search for genuine love and life-altering tragedy beyond the barriers of conventional morality.
JJ finds both love and loss in the form of the rich and statuesque Heer, a Kashmiri girl who blows hot and cold, as he mutates into a rockstar, Jordan. A rebel is born.
The film, nearly three hours long, traverses long physical distances – from Delhi to Kashmir and from there to Prague and then back again to Delhi as JJ follows his lady love (who gets married quickly enough and settles down to drab matrimony in faraway Czech Republic to make matters difficult) halfway around the world, singing and dancing his woes away.
But despite all the frenetic movement in space that Rockstar offers, the film really goes nowehere. It feels strangely static.
However, in its initial build-up, informed with a robust sense of quirky humour, Rockstar shows a fair degree of promise.
Ranbir Kapoor, as JJ, makes a go for it with infectious intent. He gets the lingo and diction right; the gawky gait is delightfully apt.
Nargis Fakhri as the seemingly straight-laced but ‘wild at heart’ girl who decides to give vent to her repressed desires before her imminent wedding also hits the right notes.
Some of the more enjoyable moments in the film pan out when the girl drags JJ to Amar Tallkies in Old Delhi to watch a sleazy film titled Junglee Jawani and follows that up with a no-holds-barred country liquor binge.
Sadly, the narrative, lacks the substance that a film as long as this would have needed to sustain itself.
In Prague, when JJ and Heer meet again, they go to a strip show to relive the Old Delhi moments. Unfortunately, from the audience’s point of view, the sparks don’t quite achieve the same intensity.
JJ’s transformation from a simple-minded lad to a super-successful rock performer and his struggle to cope with the pressures of mass adulation springs no surprises. Neither does Heer’s suppressed urge for freedom.
Rockstar is a gig gone wrong. And that is sad. For there is much in the film that is worth commending. Anil Mehta’s cinematography is flawless all the way through, across the varied locations, settings and moods.
AR Rahman’s outstandingly lively and eclectic musical score presents a wide range of sounds blended into a harmonious whole.
Ranbir’s Shammi Kapoor act on a boat on the Dal Lake (he sings Chand Sa Roshan Chehra) is probably worth the price of the ticket, if the recently deceased Bollywood icon’s cameo in the film isn’t.
Moreover, writer-director Imtiaz Ali’s sensibility ensures that Rockstar, for the most part, steers well clear of the cliches that usually hound the average Bollywood love story.
When did you last see a full-on Mumbai musical that sang about the birds that have flown away never to return to the concrete jungles that our cities have become and then connects the fate of these winged creatures to that of all uprooted and oppressed people?
Rockstar has a Sufi soul. If only it had been set free and allowed to go the whole hog!