A performer spurning his talent and spiraling into self-destruction, another plucked from obscurity and destined for greatness – this is the enduring A Star is Born formula, and in Aashiqui 2, the director Mohit Suri gives this story a refreshing spin. Rahul Jaykar (Aditya Roy Kapur), a singer-songwriter-composer who was once the “nation’s heartthrob,” has become a boozehound, getting into scraps at second-rate performing avenues. And then, at a third-rate performing avenue, he sees Aarohi (Shraddha Kapoor) – she’s singing his song, the one we just heard him perform on stage. She’s also gazing at a picture of Lata Mangeshkar behind him. Later, he says he knows she’s going to make it big because – apart from her obvious talent – she was regarding the picture of the legendary playback singer like a child looking at the moon. She asks, “Usse kya hota hai?” He replies, “Shuruaat.” To become a success, you have to want something badly – she does.
And he doesn’t. At least, he didn’t. Success came his way too easily, and he never learnt to respect it, value it. In films like Abhimaan, the woman’s success becomes the source of the man’s shattered ego. But here, Rahul doesn’t feel a smidgen of envy. Aarohi’s success, instead, becomes a source of self-flagellation. Around her, he’s constantly reminded of the way he treated his talent – he had a gift and he threw it away. He turned into his own worst enemy and he doesn’t want to become hers, and he isn’t strong enough to fix himself. In some ways, he’s just a big baby. The bottle of booze in his hand could well be a bottle of milk — and Aarohi wants to be his mother. She wants to take care of him. She bathes him, shaves him, clothes him. At one point, she even invokes her inner Chhoti Bahu and says she’ll start drinking if he won’t quit – at least that way, she’ll be in his world. The kindly record producer who hears this confession shakes his head sadly. “Paagal ho gayi ho,” he says. She’s mad – in love.
Like the earlier Aashiqui, this is a simple love story with strong emotional beats and a splash of psychological colour — derived almost wholesale from A Star is Born. And like the early Mahesh Bhatt movies, the leads are surrounded by vivid characters – like Aarohi’s mother, who’s stuck with a husband who won’t bring in any money and has therefore had to take over the reins of the household. In a lesser film, this character would regard her daughter as a golden goose, or she’d be a failed singer foisting her dreams on her daughter – but here, she’s empowered Aarohi. She’s provided expensive music tuitions so that the daughter can do what the father won’t, which is to keep the household running. (Never one to leave things to chance, this mother also keeps trying her luck with lottery tickets; in Aashiqui too, the mother was the pillar of strength.) Rahul, on the other hand, has a distant father – literally. The man’s in New York, and his only contact with his son is through phone calls.
There’s also the friend, Vivek (Shaad Randhawa), who, at first, seems to be a villain, hell-bent on preventing the union of Rahul and Aarohi. But later, we see that he is a good guy after all – he just wants Rahul to concentrate on his career instead of someone else’s. Suri isn’t afraid to embellish all this old-fashioned drama with suitably ornate dialogues (“Main marne ke liye nahin peeta, peene ke liye marta hoon” got a roar from the audience in the theatre I was in), and he gets strong support from a soundtrack whose male voices ooze anguish. At least on screen, the songs work very well – even if you struggle to recall the tunes later. Suri’s staging, too, is gently instructive. A scene where Rahul teeters on the railing of a verandah prefigures a later scene, and Rahul and Aarohi are frequently shot with a barrier between them – we’re left with the sense of so near, yet so far. When they mouth their I-love-you’s, they’re on opposite sides of a door, and elsewhere, they’re separated by windows and the glass walls of recording booths.
The few missteps are scenes with extraneous characters, like the one with an obnoxious journalist, or another one where the film’s crux is explained ahead of time by two men at a bar who don’t realise that Rahul is beside them. And the film goes on a little too long, with tragic events that seem to be on endless loop. But this could also be a casting problem. When Suri tackled this kind of temperamental-artist material in Woh Lamhe, he had the good sense to cast Kangana Ranaut, an actress capable of embarrassing amounts of emotional nakedness (if nothing else). Shraddha Kapoor looks very pretty, but she’s a blank – we know what she’s going through because of the story (which is already familiar to us) and the screenplay, not because of her halting performance. Apart from eyes that frequently well up, there’s little clue that these storms are raging under that placid surface. And Aditya Roy Kapur comes across as too casual, as if he couldn’t be bothered to get worked up about his plight. There’s a time for subtlety and this isn’t it.
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