Film Review: Rock On

Rock On
Rock On
Rock On
Rock On

Film: Rock On

Director: Abhishek Kapoor
Producer: Farhan Akhtar & Ritesh Sidhwani
Banner: Excel Films

Cast: Farhan Akhtar, Prachi Desai, Arjun Rampal, Purab Kohli, Luke Kenny, Shahana Goswami, Koel Puri, Dilip Tahil, Anu Malik

Rating: 3/5

Rock On!!, the story of four friends who ate, breathed, slept and made rock music together but cant sustain that dream brings some beautiful vignettes of cinema that treats realism with a delicacy of handling a touch-me-not.

This is the world of young boys who can die for the music they make, a world of idealism and passion, a world within this world of harsh realities. The twain engage and youthful ideologies find it hard to survive in the real world. Dreams shatter and lives separate. But life has a weird way of moving on despite everything and it does. Until one day when it comes full circle.

A coming-of-age film, Rock On!! is in many ways DCH retold but with wider implications and unique voice. The biggest achievement of this small film is it brings realism into mainstream story-telling. And makes significant leaps with it. It is a sanitised reality, a feel-good space that one takes as seriously as it is meant to be taken.

The backdrop the film chooses for itself is of a rock music band but it avoids going into the darker territories that rock stands for. The angst, the intensity, the dual-vision world-view seen through a constant purple haze, the headiness of rock and its illegitimate relationship with drugs, booze, substances that give a new meaning to expression and vice-versa. Rock On!! creates an imaginary world taking the ‘heroism’ of rockstars, passion of the music and leaving out everything that is dark or decadent about it. It places itself in a context which is in between commercial, feel-good cinema and arthouse realism and makes an interesting recipe for the new youth. To its utmost credit it does a commendable job of telling a story in a setting more suited to pop than rock with a fervour and sincerity usually lacking in such attempts. But for a film which has rock at its soul, the youthfulness of the lyrics, tunes and instrumentation remind one of college bands, not professional or aspiring. Yet the verve and earnestness of the film carries it over and that is one of the film’s biggest strengths.

The film’s strongest region is its emotional handling of its relationships. Each relationship gets a layering that gives it enough depth to convince and engage. Saakshi and Aaditya’s half-fulfilled relationship but a lot of will to work. Debbie and Joe’s frustration thriving alongside their deep love for each other. And the fledgling romance between KD and Koel Purie’s character which is light yet not fickle or superficial.

Such delicacy speaks of good characterisation and Rock On abounds in it. Be it KD’s sensitivity despite his happy-go-lucky act that evokes empathy or Aditya’s tight-lipped  pain hidden just under the surface of his cold demeanour. Or Joe, to whom we connect, even feel for, Joe who by all means is a loser and has failed to come to terms with life. Or the pain and joys of Debbie or Saakshi. And it is precisely this characterisation that helps bring an array of admirable performances from the entire cast.

A 4 star performance by all the lead actors will continue to make Rock On, memorable long after it is forgotten. Farhan Akhtar’s much-touted debut proves to be a successful attempt at expanding one’s repertoire. Arjun Rampal, fabulous in his role of the passionate hot-headed lead guitarist plays it controlled and seething just under the surface. Purab Kohli in his ‘joker’ role and Luke Kenny despite his discomfort with Hindi deliver subtle performances. Prachi Desai who makes an impressive debut but it is Shahana Goswami who steals the show with her energetic and full of life Debbie with a never-say-die-attitude.

But it is not all the time that these elements come together in an epiphanic harmony. The long screenplay slackens the pace of the film more than once disconnecting the beautifully aroused interest. Post interval the screenplay meanders, introducing situations and plot-points that cut away from the sharpness of the film bringing it to the doorstep of cliché. The story is full of a number of sensitive issues young minds are faced with, those of following your heart, fighting the world for your passions, growing-up pains of friendships. It does not exploit their complete potential, even letting go moments of intense drama to a mere no-show which ultimately seems like the only attempt at realism that fails in the film.

The film has excellent cinematography by Jason West. It paints the world of the film with a delicacy. The evocative hand-held shots, hard and soft shadows, decisive, mood lighting, true-to-life locations, sets, people, language, the drawing of the ambience which is at once absorbing but at the same time fictional. While at times slow and dragging, the camera caresses every moment of a shot and editing retains this indolence. It exploits rock concert moods with its coloured lighting and impressionistic photography bringing alive the energy of soul-stirring rock. The film uses background music excellently; limited but adding a million nuances by efficiently using silences and natural sounds.

The makers of Dil Chahta Hain come have come with a movie of wider implications. It is not about living your dream. It is as much about continuing to live despite your dreams being shattered, unfulfilled, finding new ones and letting the old ones die a natural death. Maybe, that is what makes it significant despite its flaws.