“Rock On II”… As needless sequels go, not entirely a waste of time

Posted on November 14, 2016

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Spoilers ahead…

It took me a few listens to get into Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s score for Rock On II. The music is somewhere between fantastic and forgettable – but that’s just another way of saying it’s the perfect background for chores. Like dicing carrots. Or doing the laundry. Or watching this movie. The songs are better on screen. The cinematographer is Marc Koninckx, who shot the Dhanush film Maryan, and he (with director Shujaat Saudagar) captures a variety of moods. Manzar naya is a cosy, intimate gathering of old friends. The outside world vanishes. It’s just them. They could be the last people on earth. The anthemic Hoi Kiw/Chalo Chalo – featuring the ageless Usha Uthup, with the Summersalt band – lies at the other extreme. The whole world, apparently, gathers to celebrate music. The super-catchy You know what I mean lies in the middle. Magik, the rock band from the first film, no longer exists, but this number takes us back to a performance at a wedding. It’s staged like something from Richard Lester’s Beatles films – the musicians perform Fab Four-ish pranks as multi-coloured confetti rains down around them. And Jaago is for those of us who want to feel we’re in the mosh pit of an outdoor rock concert, but don’t really want to handle the sweat and the adrenalin. It’s a virtual-reality alternative.

All of which is to say that more attention has been paid to these music videos than the screenplay. As Rock On II opens, we see where the three surviving band members are. (The fourth, Luke Kenny’s Rob, died in the earlier film and was resurrected in the recent Banjo.) Joe (Arjun Rampal) is now rich. He runs a club and is a judge on a reality show. KD (Purab Kohli) composes ad jingles. He also narrates voiceovers that sound like liner notes written by Chetan Bhagat. When we make music, it feels like we are birds in the sky. Or this, about a fateful recording: This CD is actually a key that opens doors behind which lie bitter secrets. You wish for a door behind which you can lock up these lines. And then there’s Adi (Farhan Akhtar), who’s become a recluse due to events surrounding that CD. He’s now in a small village in Meghalaya, surrounded by clean lakes, green mountains, and clearly an endless supply of steroids. There’s not a gym in sight, and yet, his muscles pop out from the screen like bas-relief sculpture.

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Shashank Arora plays Uday, a penniless sarod player who’s classically trained but is looking for other means to pay the bills. The story gets going when Uday befriends Jiah (Shraddha Kapoor), the daughter of a sarod maestro (Kumud Mishra, who doesn’t have much of a role, but who so looks the part that the buy-in is instantaneous). This is a world far-removed from Magik. It’s a more formal world, the world of Vivah, where people use words like “prashansa” and “preraneeya.” How does someone from this world cross over the beer-swilling world of Magik, especially when your legendary father is a close-minded purist in matters of music? And when you’re weighed down by a ton of unresolved family trauma? And when you suffer from stage fright? And when your two-week-old puppy goes missing. Okay, I made up that last bit, but you get the point. There’s a lot going on with Jiah, enough to fill up a whole movie. In Rock On II, this is simply a subplot. (The writers are the same: Abhishek Kapoor, who directed the earlier film, and Pubali Chaudhuri.)

Rock On II has so many subplots that after a while I found I could make up a Hrishikesh Mukherjee movie by assembling the pieces. Disapproving father + guilt-ridden musician + rehabilitation of people who’ve been rendered homeless = Alaap. Brooding, self-absorbed musician + estranged wife = Abhimaan. Father devastated by loss + daughter who can’t speak up = Anupama. A star-struck fan who needs a reality check = Guddi. Smooshing all this together isn’t the recipe for a movie. It’s the recipe for mixed-fruit jam. Each character is rationed out a loving spoonful, no more. Like Joe, when he agrees to help stage a concert not because he loves his friends or because he’s sorry he’s been so money-minded of late, but because the concert is for people who’ve lost everything and he remembers what that’s like. He remembers what hunger is. It’s a nice moment. It’s also the end of the scene. Cue reconciliations, hugs, smiles. End of Joe. On to the next cast member, the next flavour of drama.

The most interesting subplot, for me, was the one involving Adi and Jiah, who keep running into each other as though they were the opening and closing reels of a Manmohan Desai movie. She is in Meghalaya to record the remote region’s music. He’s there running a farming cooperative and a school. One part of me squirmed at this desi equivalent of Hollywood’s White Male Savior trope. The other part said, Why not? If he wants to genuinely make things better for the impoverished locals, who are we to judge him?

The real issue, though, may be that this angle comes across like Excel Entertainment’s version of CSR, so we know they don’t just make films about rich people on cruise ships. Which is why the personal angle plays out better than the social angle. I loved the scene where Jia forgives Adi. It’s Akhtar’s best piece of acting since he sat across a joint-rolling Naseeruddin Shah in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. That thing where he wants to be in complete control of his emotions and finds that he can’t – Akhtar does that really well. I kept wishing for more scenes between these lost souls, with enough angst between them to make up the Pink Floyd discography. That’s how we salvage some films, by completing the stories in our heads, like fan fiction. My version of Rock On II had Adi dumping his wife (Prachi Desai), jumping into bed with Jiah, and writing ballads in the afterglow of their magikal lovemaking.

The other subplot that’s somewhat affecting is the one about aspiring singers and the desperation with which they pursue their passions. One of them, the emotionally fragile Rahul (a promising young actor who seems set for a long career channelling his inner Kangana Ranaut), takes to stalking. He just wants Adi to listen to his CD. This part of the film came too close for comfort. I keep getting mails from aspiring critics and filmmakers asking me to take a look at their reviews or blogs or short films. And there just isn’t enough time.

Another aspirant, Manjot, is introduced in Joe’s reality show. He sticks to covers of hits (including a Magik number), and then one day, Joe catches him outside the studio, singing his heart out, with what Joe calls dil ki awaz. Manjot says it’s a song from his homeland. Joe asks why he isn’t singing this song on the show. Manjot replies, “Aaj kal jo market mein bikta hai wohi dil ki awaz ban jaati hai.” It’s a heavy line but the young actor who plays Manjot slips it over with a lovely, light touch. The actor is a real livewire. Watching him break into a bhangra on stage is the film’s biggest high. And Shashank Arora gets the film’s biggest laugh when, racked by nerves on stage, he bursts into a furious passage on his sarod – the others look on as if they know exactly where they’d like to shove the long-necked instrument. These newcomers are far more convincing than Kohli and Rampal, who is the acting world’s answer to modern art. Some see an expressionless face. The National Awards jury sees Best Supporting Actor, “for his moving performance as a musician trying to rise above personal tragedy.”

Rock On II is well-staged and not entirely unwatchable, but it would have been much better had it tried to do less. It’s a single that thinks it has to be a boxed set. The film just doesn’t know when to quit. Towards the end, we get a Live Aid kind of concert. We get a scheming 1970s-style villain determined to prevent this concert. (He gives us a hipper version of Yeh shaadi nahin hogi. He fumes, “Yeh concert nahin hoga.”) His existence is as unjustifiable as that of this sequel. (Was Rock On really that big a hit?) Finally, we get Jiah at the Video Music Awards. Is she still with Magik? Is she on her own now? The end credits are on, but her subplot just seems to be beginning

KEY:

  • Rock On = see here
  • prashansa = praise
  • preraneeya = inspirational
  • Maryan = see here
  • Banjo = see here
  • Vivah = see here
  • Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara = see here
  • dil ki awaz = music of the heart
  • Aaj kal jo market mein bikta hai wohi dil ki awaz ban jaati hai.” = What the market wants, that’s the music of the heart these days.
  • Yeh shaadi nahin hogi/Yeh concert nahin hoga = This wedding/concert WILL NOT HAPPEN!

Copyright ©2016 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

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Posted in: Cinema: Hindi