Burdened with a wooden story, anemic characterisations and two hours forty minutes of focused, exaggerated emotion, Rockstar boasts very pretty visuals, but faint soapy story-telling. Ranbir Kapoor as Sufi Rock God Jordan charms millions of young folks of the world, but from Imtiaz Ali’s staid direction you'd scarcely see why. It is something more than a shock that a story of an Indian Rock idol not only fails to raise the spirits, it also tramples on them. It makes for a cinematic belly-flop instead of a picturesque swan dive.
Yes Ranbir Kapoor is incredible here. But even though he does his utmost to live in the skin of his character, he is too suffocated to be believable. The story of Rockstar is an inventive mess filled with pock marks. One gets the feeling that writer-director Imtiaz Ali took a bunch of incongruent films, hurled them in a blender and poured the results on the screen. Mr Ali invokes the contemporaneous presence of grunge, sufi rock and forbidden love, but believes that those alone would magically produce narrative or thematic substance. At some parts Rockstar even quits being a film, and turns into high-brow tourism when the gorgeous locales of Prague take over from the muddled up plot.
Here we have college boy Janardan Jakhar (Ranbir), who worships Jim Morrison and dreams of being a rock god himself. His friend and mentor (Kumud Mishra) advices him that one must experience the sorrow of a broken heart to produce truly great music. Janardhan tries to achieve this by flirting with and eventually befriending a pretty Kashmiri girl named Heer (Nargis). Needless to say, hell breaks loose, and Janardhan transforms into Jordan - a bitter, torn, successful star, while Heer struggles to swallow her own grief. It doesn’t help that our heroine can’t deliver a single line without hamming uncontrollably. You need buns of steel to sit through the dramatic scenes that she appears in.
Imtiaz and co seem to have a wealth of compelling material at their disposal, but somehow the film doesn't quite cohere. Flitting through past and present, the bloodless screenplay runs dutifully through Jordan’s life as though ticking off the points against a checklist. The story’s themes of creative genius, complex humanity, irony and misery seem to have defeated everyone involved with the film. There was so much more there that could have been told, more struggles that should have been shown. Moreover, the second half feels like walking down a never-ending aisle. Everything after the interval makes for a barrage of ludicrously banal and pretentious verbiage. To make matters worse, Imtiaz ends up presenting the bitter and ‘evolved’ Ranbir as little more than a fatuous groupie, instead of a terrific shattered hero.
Technically, Rockstar is breathtaking. The lovely Prague locales are complimented by the otherworldly pulp rock hues of Jordan on stage. Though the dreamlike climax is a stylistic jumble and is mostly wrongheaded. Rockstar is not a grand work, but it is terrifically tasty eye and ear candy – Rahman’s music extracts full attention. ‘Kun Faaya Kun’ and ‘Sadda Haq’ are as stunning as they are superbly picturised. Sadly, all the plusses here are negated by the superficial soap opera treatment.
The magnetically gifted Ranbir is an acting tour-de-force. He tries his best to bury the film's sillier tendencies in a performance of lively despair. Nargis, on the other hand, comes off not as a sassy trailblazer but as an indiscriminate oaf afflicted with a short attention span. She is so bad an actress, so clumsy and oblivious with her dialogue, one wonders why she was cast. Any sober viewer who tries to follow her facial contortions is going to wish he'd brought along a cache of aspirin. The supporting characters, including Shernaz Patel and Piyush Mehra are jarringly superficial and icy and it's hard to care about them. Aditi Rao Hydari’s character exists in the film for the simplistic twofold message – that she is hot and that she is a supreme rhymes-with-witch.
Rockstar has neither passion nor vivaciousness, let alone a decently constructed screenplay to deliver the goods. It is far too demure to explore the subject matter and make much of a lasting impression. Catch it to see a major performance by a charismatic actor, but go in with patience and the realisation that the film is something of a fascinating failure.
First published in Mumbai Boss