I watch a lot of movies. From the ones I like, I segregate three or four and air my views on them in the same post. I am making an exception in the case of Imtiaz Ali’s Rockstar because it is an exceptional film and deserves to be analysed at length. There are multiple strands running through this film, each more delicately nuanced than the other. And for any cinema literate viewer to relish the work, it becomes important to hold on to all of them.
The first and the most obvious among them is that Rockstar is a modern day retelling of the epic love story, ‘Heer Ranjha.’ From the names of its lead protagonists to their family backgrounds, faithful tributes are paid to the original. And that the boy plays the guitar instead of the flute is only fitting in this modern adaptation, given the milieu of the film. There is also a clever subversion by the writer and director here. He knows his female protagonist pining for her lover even after being married to another man may offend the purists, so he evokes the legendary Heer through the name. We are constantly reminded that the woman from the fable who acquired sainthood because of her love for Ranjha was also married and it did nothing to dim her ardour for her lover. If our traditional society can accept her, they jolly well respect her modern day avatar.
The film also vests this love fable with a subtext that the original did not have. Why did the rich and aristocratic Heer lose her heart to a poor and uncouth Ranjha? Ali decides to debunk all that nonsense about spiritual love that is woven into immortal love stories to make them respectable. Instead his female protagonist is driven by an unusual desire, hitherto unexplored in Hindi cinema. She falls for the rustic because he makes her feel dirty. For someone who has grown up in a clean and antiseptic environment, that isn’t an unusual motivation. The need to experience sleaze first hand. The desire to explore the underbelly of existence. And yet his heroine has a strange dignity even when she is giggling and watching ‘Junglee Jawani’ in a stinking theatre or wanting to touch hookers. There is something curiously feminist about her.
As for her Rockstar lover, his ‘rites of passage’ gets beautifully documented in the film. In a particularly poignant scene, he asks his inspiration ‘Meine pehle bhi kiss kiya. Fuck kiya. Lekin ye ehsaas pehle kabhi nahin hua.’ She tells him to stop as it would only spoil things. He sums it up succulently, ‘Ab mushkil hai.’ The tragedy of the lovers in the film doesn’t have to do with societal pressures. They know even as they embark in the perilous journey of love and passion, that they are going to eventually destroy each other and Ali nails that bit brilliantly. Helped in no mean measure by his two lead actors. Both give scintillating performances.
There is something about Ranbir Kapoor, maybe just his genes, that makes him give himself unconditionally to the camera and it repays him back by making him do very little to capture our attention and imagination. In this respect he is like Kajol. The new girl, Nargis Fakhri, has been criticized a lot but she too is a natural. And looks like a million bucks. What more do you want in a Bollywood aspirant who wants to make a career in commercial cinema?
Not content with weaving a compelling love story, Ali decides to chronicle the protest of an artist who starts by reacting to the injustice done to him and soon learns to integrate greater causes into his rage. It’s a pity that the censors have been so eager not to offend China and cut out all the Tibet bits. Otherwise this strand wouldn’t have come across as being puzzling sometimes.
And finally Ali mounts his work against the backdrop of an extended rock concert. The all nighters of the college festivals we all grew up on. The backdrop and the corresponding music evocatively set to tune by A R Rahman, angry and protest driven, only highlights the vision of the film. Besides being a brilliant design, it also explains why the film is getting to be so popular with the youngsters. It has all the makings of a cult classic.
Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee and Imtiaz Ali have redefined the grammar of Hindi cinema. That Ali has done this while remaining faithful to the song and dance cliché is a tribute to his genius.
I loved the film.