Rock On (I am going to refrain from the two exclamation marks) is an interesting mix of clichés neatly arranged in a fresh (for Bollywood) theme, a story that has its ups and downs but climaxes on a rare high that makes everything hitherto pardonable.
The story seems inspired by biographies of rock bands – such as Aerosmith’s Walk This Way and Kurt Cobain’s Heavier Than Heaven and picks up its characters from real life though they’re much toned down – I’m not entirely sure of the personal lives Indian rock bands’ members lead but for international rock stars, whose every move is documented, leading lives that don't have high-octane creativity-inducing drugs, reckless spending beyond their means, groupies, and multifarious relationships in them, will probably result in their excommunication from the club. But they also produce defining music and poetry music with soul and meaning that affects millions. Our boys are convent-educated girls in comparison and whose ‘poetry’ is about rhyming ‘na na na’ with ‘na na na’. Not that one is suggesting that the characters should’ve been like this, but this is what wannabe rock stars aspire for. And Magik is a band that aspires.
Abhishek Kapoor chooses a structure for the film that adds no substance and adds only a little style. The choice is flawed because it makes the film predictable at every stage. There are no twists or surprises at any juncture and you pretty much conjecture what happens next. You know there is going to be a fall-out, you know who it’s between and easily speculate why. Of course you also know what’s going to bring them back and what happens when they do reunite. Perhaps a more conventional non-linear structure would prevent this.
The build-up to the break-up is akin to one for an Ali-Fraser bout, but the actual event itself is anti-climatic. It needed more meat – as did the reunion. Imagine if the three have met at the old warehouse after ten years and in walks Akhtar. A moment’s pause, Rampal and he size each other up, the tension is tangible… Cautiously Rampal strikes the first few notes and Akhtar follows with the first few words– hey if you’re going the Bollywood way, run the full-course, eh?
The pacing is slow and deliberate. Though it takes its time to get into the groove after kick-off, eventually viewers have enough time to empathize with the characters (and there are 6, rather than the usual 2 which the best of Bollywood find hard to establish in three hours) and set the mood for each scene. The transitions are well thought out and the film flows unhindered, albeit predictably. The introspective scenes stand out as do Farhan’s dramatic ones. While some experiments fail (like the misplaced song from Prachi Desai’s point-of-view over the band rehearsing), most others work (the lead actor smokes!)
What really, really works for the film are the concerts. This is how concerts should be shot, this is what good cinematography is about (it’s pretty darn good for the rest of the film too) and the actors are in their element. But it’s the sensational, phenomenal music that puts the magic in Magik. Shankar, Ehsaan, and Loy have got the riffs to reverberate and the beats to boom for a long time to come. This is real rock. And it’s in a Hindi film. Take a bow.
Farhan Akhtar is surprisingly good, exuding a sense of naturalness in what he does – ignoring, yelling, and singing. In fact in certain scenes he reacts like you or I would, not like an actor at all! (Let’s hope this is good acting and he’s not like this in reality.) Purab Kohli fits like a warm sock and is very dependable, and the feisty Shahana Goswami is superb. Luke Kenny is the least effective of the band members and generally below par and every single time Prachi Desai makes an appearance, the film dips a few notches. But the real (rock) star of the show is Arjun Rampal. Easily his best performance ever, his screen presence is unmatched and so his restrained performance. Plus he must’ve seen hundreds of concert DVDs – he is Joe Perry, Steve Vai, Jimmy Page, and Eddie van Halen rolled into one. Spot on AR.
You’re never quite sure who this movie is for. Can’t be the forty-pluses, can’t be the older ladies. Can’t be young kids, can’t be the stall front-benchers at Gaiety-Galaxy. Could be college-types and twenty-somethings – but you’re messing around in their hallowed territory of rock and roll so it’s got to be pure and honest and un-Bollywood. Whatever, you’re going to probably like it.