Artists aren't born. They're made. The greatest of them, over centuries and worlds apart, have surrendered themselves to a world beyond mere mortals - a world visited by few, but spoken of in hushed tones by many. We call it debauched, they deem it necessary. We call it uncivilized and downright unacceptable (while duly fantasizing about the same), they find it exhilarating, routine and liberating, all at once. Rules aren't made to be broken for them, because rules cease to exist after a point of time. They breathe in impulse, and breathe out spontaneity, often symbolized by structured chaos or a series of unexplained, yet ingenious acts of impracticality. In the end, it may all come together in an orgy of wealth, fame, love, admiration and awesomeness but the journey is anything but linear, especially when the concerned artist sits back and tries to put together fragmented memories of his ascent to stardom. The process is more intriguing than the destination, especially through the eyes of a curious onlooker - in this case, a world craving for divinity.
The question is: How many of them actually turn their struggle, torture, their soulless desperation and absolute hopelessness into their calling? And more importantly, how many of them consciously CHOOSE this life of suffering as opposed to actually being subjected to misery against their wishes? Surely, they don't create a mirage of madness around them just because it is, as cliches would suggest, a pre-requisite to cultdom and greatness... or do they?
These questions and more have been addressed, with brave significance (and firm wit), in Imtiaz Ali's new offering to the world. Rockstar, as one would expect, could be just another Soundtrack - a film that aspired to torturous heights but fell short due to an unhealthy bout of overambitious characterization and lack of narrative coherency. The menu, after all, for most self-destructive-musician biopics reads the same - ghosts of memories past, drugs, booze, sex, conscious arrogance and inflated egos. Scintillating live performances, stage shows, trippy montages and a 'hatke' soundtrack are a must, as always. Simply put, these are director's films, because a simple mistake in the execution of these routine devices could spell complete doom (generally characterized by a groan or chuckle by hungry knife-wielding critics in the audience).
But, there, dear viewer, is where this film separates itself from it's pre-conceived genre. Rockstar does not boast of ANY of these ingredients in excess, and some not at all. There is not a cigarette smoked, and not an ounce of cliched (Oh, Khandelwal, what have you done?) hash-induced hallucination. There is no abusive father, alcoholic mother or poverty porn as Janardhan, amusingly, tells us. There is hardly any booze either, and all that is left is pure unbridled passion, anger, frustration and... (wait for it) love.
Not much to work with, you'd think, but what it does boast of is Ali's impressive narrative flair with all things love, his ever-improving technical prowess (evident in dozens of concert sequences), AR Rahman's musical score (that has been publicized more than the film itself, but it all makes beautiful sense with hardened visuals and famished lyrics) and finally, Ranbir Kapoor's coming of age as not just an outstanding 'talent to look out for', but as one of the greatest lead-acts this country has ever seen. Not since the SRK of the 90s has a young actor catapulted himself into the blinding lights of trainwrecked Bollywood, only to come out unscathed, stronger and dare I say at the very top of an overrated heap of underutilized talent.
Rockstar serenades us with the story of an Artist's rise to cult status in a country increasingly intolerant of wayward acts. Janardhan Jakhar's journey to Rockstar Jordan (or Johnny Cash, or Ray Charles for y'all) is musically illustrated to us in a refreshingly unapologetic, contemporary style that has won the director many admirers amidst his peers. The most delicious part about this character is that, unlike his spiritual colleagues like Morrison and Page, Janardhan has never experienced sadness and turmoil, and hence, finds himself in an unusual dilemma. In a delightful sequence (his first interaction with Fakhri), he even tries to CREATE the madness, consciously at that. Thankfully, he fails. And in failing to do so, he falls in love.
Love, as we all know, is the birth of our soul. Emotions and experiences follow, as naturally as the word 'Himessh' is spouted from the mouths of floral-shirt-wearing visionary producers. Just as we begin to expect Jordan's world to explode into an orgy of madly-innovative, electrifying acts of self-destruction and art, something familiar happens. The story begins to mould itself back into the shape of the saga of love that it was meant to be, and finds a tough time maintaining the lethal balancing act - even the camera refuses to leave the angelic radiance of newcomer Nargis Fakhri's delicate face. For some reason, we can sense Ali's desperation to fall back into his comfort zone, but his reluctance is curbed by nothing more than the title of the film. You can almost envision Deepika Padukone being pulled back to a poker-faced Saif Ali Khan, in a series of logic-defying impulsive decisions. Call it a flaw or a margin call, but during this sudden identity crisis (beginning of the second half), Rockstar manages to score where the other 'epic' Mausam failed. Rahman's liltingly relentless score, combined with Ranbir's obsession to impress (and Chauhan's prodding voice) drags us through this tiny black hole that threatens to derail the authoritative, brash material at hand. Effortlessly, as it may seem, they guide us through into the final quarter, where an ingeniously-edited climax awaits our sapped minds. To be fair, though, inspite of overstaying her welcome in a product designed around the Rockstar himself, Fakhri exudes a fair bit of responsiveness herself. Shammi Kapoor, a certain Khan should notice, is not there just for the heck of it. His presence deserves applause for the wisdom in his eyes, and not merely for his 'Box-Office Pull'.
A tad bit overambitious, Rockstar just about manages to cram in two intensely personal genres of storytelling and convinces us, in the nick of time, that this is nothing but a doomed love story centered around some genuine Rock 'n Roll...and not vice versa.
As an eloquent British filmmaker put it, a few years ago, in a film reflective of the real dichotomy of fame, "they all like a bit of the good life - some the money, some the drugs, others the sex game, the glamour, or the fame. But a RocknRolla, oh, he's different. Why? Because a real RocknRolla wants the fucking lot." Well, in the world of Bollywood, Mr Ritchie couldn't have been further off the mark. For once, we're mighty thankful, and almost proud of that.
- Reel Reptile