Film: Rockstar (U/A)
Director: Imtiaz Ali
Cast: Ranbir Kapoor, Nargis Fakhri
Rating: ****

Jordan is sitting among prostitutes and strumming his guitar as they sing together -- 'Duniya ne humko diya kya, duniya se humne liya kya' -- when his manager pulls him out onto the street. Soon, a crowd engulfs the two and starts chanting his name, their voices drowning the sound of the manager pleading with the musician to get his act together. “This is what I have always wanted,” Jordan says, looking at his screaming fans. “But I am not happy inside.”

      Imtiaz Ali’s Rockstar is a bittersweet journey of a man, an artist, from being an everyman to a superstar. But while Ali uncovers layers off Jordan the iconic musician -- each layer as fascinating as it is intriguing -- he keeps the core of the character, Janardhan Jakhad, alive.

      He hurts like anybody else, falls in love like anybody else, and has to deal with moments of sheer frustration too. And all of it finds release in music. Music is Jordan’s identity, it’s what makes him rich and famous. But to Jordan, that’s incidental. In the end, his artistry makes him connect with the person he really is inside. For a Hindi film viewer, that is a fascinating story to watch unfold.

      The music itself is a delight. Each AR Rahman number is woven beautifully in the story, the high frequency of songs not hindering the storytelling, but enhancing the experience. Lyricist Irshad Kamil does an outstanding job, penning words that reflect the lead character’s state of mind and complement situations aptly.

      Imtiaz Ali, in trademark fashion though, isn’t content focussing on the complexities of a troubled musician; he gives us a dose of romance too, and a generous one at that. Estrangement from family, lack of fulfillment in life, and self-discovery apart, what really drives Jordan’s music is his relationship with Heer (Fakhri, beautiful but awkward). Volatile as the affair is, it’s also what keeps Jordan sane, and Heer alive.
For about 15 minutes in Rockstar, the narrative tends to resort to ‘Bollywoodism’; true love having the power to cure a terminal illness (almost), for example, doesn’t exactly fit with what the rest of the film has to say. Yet, Imtiaz makes it work somehow, interweaving the fantastical romantic part of the film with the more gritty, dark bits deftly. In the end, how much you enjoy Rockstar will largely depend on whether the balance between the story of a broken, unfulfilled musician and the more conventional love story works for you.
I prefer the former, but you can’t deny Imtiaz credit for his mastery over the romance genre. No contemporary filmmaker has dealt with love stories with as consistent dexterity as Imtiaz. His interest in the man-woman relationship often treads a similar path (the lovers are usually confused, meet at different points in life, there’s always the 'other man'), but he makes each story stand out with interesting characters and novel situations.

      Even in Rockstar, Imtiaz’s penchant for writing comes through -- the detailing is spot-on, the dialogue conversational and witty, the storytelling unhurried. Imtiaz the director doesn’t do too badly either. Rockstar is probably his most polished film, and he benefits from the association with cinematographer Anil Mehta and editor Aarti Bajaj.

     And he benefits from having a livewire of a lead actor on board. Ranbir Kapoor has been Hindi cinema’s next big thing for a while now. With Rockstar, he lives up to the hopes pinned on him to deliver big. Ranbir revels in Jordan’s complexities; another actor may have found it to be an obstacle. The character arc undergoes constant transformation and he adapts suitably. It wouldn’t be an understatement to say that Ranbir’s portrayal of Jordan may go down as one of Hindi cinema’s most accomplished performances for an actor his age. Just to see him work his magic onscreen, Rockstar is worth a watch.

     But while good acting is always an incentive, it’s a director’s vision that makes a film truly watchable, and Imtiaz deserves credit for trying his hand at something different from what the mainstream churns out every week. And for bringing back the one aspect sorely missing from Hindi films lately -- music.


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