Rock On 2 Review: A modest, mature sequel

None of what happens in this sequel is surprising but director Shujaat Saudagar equips these conventional beats with energy

Director: Shujaat Saudagar

Cast: Farhan Akhtar, Shraddha Kapoor, Shashank Arora, Arjun Rampal, Purab Kohli, Prachi Desai

Rating: 3 stars

We’ve known from day one that Rock On!! (2008), a rare mainstream film about a fictitious Indian rock band, was never really about music. Or, more specifically, the band’s (Magik) music. But the members of this band – long-haired guitarist Joe (Arjun Rampal), brash drummer KD (Purab Kohli), keyboardist Rob (Luke Kenny), and most of all, lead vocalist Adi (Farhan Akhtar) –didn’t know that.

They took themselves very seriously. They wanted us to care for them, even positioning themselves on Mumbai’s (imaginary) rock pedestal to earn our support. They were either not aware, or in denial, about their relative mediocrity in the real world. And fair enough, because they weren’t adults yet.

The sequel, however, somewhat acknowledges the fact that Magik was a middling band to begin with. This is its biggest victory – mirroring life, and going from arrogant hot-headedness to a humbling maturity, without making it glaringly obvious.

As regular chaps who simply acted upon their passion, they were worth feeling for. Even though their talent didn’t quite justify the magnitude of their spats, ego tussles and conflicts, we cared in an underdog buddy-flick way. But there was always an underlying feeling that Magik wouldn’t really make it. The juvenile name was reason enough. It was all about closure within context of their individual lives – while using music as a crutch to do so.

They even had their diehard fans, houseful concerts and cult following, and as difficult as it became to believe Farhan Akhtar’s raspy and rather wishful stage presence, it always felt like their fleeting five minutes of fame. Like a cute dying wish of an average starry-eyed musician – which it ironically became, given that Rob was later diagnosed with cancer.

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The sequel, however, somewhat acknowledges the fact that Magik was a middling band to begin with. This is its biggest victory – mirroring life, and going from arrogant hot-headedness to a humbling maturity, without making it glaringly obvious. More importantly, the members seem to have made peace with this too. They don’t say it aloud; we read between their compromised adulthoods. Watching them go about their ‘alternate’ careers (Joe is a reality-show judge and club owner; KD is an ad-jingle composer, a profession condescended on again after Farhan’s track in ZNMD), it seems to have dawned upon them that it wasn’t always rotten fate that kept tearing them apart. When you don’t believe in something hard enough, circumstances become an excuse to abandon the dream.

But a rugged, reclusive Meghalaya-dwelling Adi’s situation is less of an excuse. He has quit (again), and turned into an all-round do-gooder, a guardian angel of villages – the kind who’d fit perfectly in a Rajkumar Hirani film. Because he genuinely believes that his music ruins lives. Which isn’t entirely false. Actually, let me rephrase that: he believes that his pursuit of music always hurts people. He has punished himself for something he feels responsible for: the tragic suicide of a struggling young singer whose calls he once refused to take.

But a rugged, reclusive Meghalaya-dwelling Adi’s situation is less of an excuse. He has quit (again), and turned into an all-round do-gooder, a guardian angel of villages – the kind who’d fit perfectly in a Rajkumar Hirani film.

So, naturally, he abandoned civilization, his wife (Prachi Desai) and little boy (named Rob), and was allowed to do so. His family allowed it. The fact that she and his pals still visit him means that they expect him back at some point; they’re treating this as just another temporary phase of his. Maybe they’re simply indulging his grief, despite his five long years away. Otherwise what kind of partner puts up with these selfish mournful bouts of isolation? But theirs was always a painfully arranged marriage, an arrangement with one good woman and a whiny self-important man.

When disaster strikes in Meghalaya – and it seems to strike Adi more than anyone on this planet – it’s interesting to see how he reacts. After years of literally suppressing his voice, even his frustration is muted; he violently slaps his jeep’s steering wheel repeatedly, refusing to scream out. He’d rather run away, like always. His tears are silent, too. Tragedy, yes, but even serendipity is a recurring theme in his life – which is why he comes across pretty Jiah (Shraddha Kapoor) at this exact moment.

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Jiah is an aspiring untapped singer determined to escape her own demons at home. When he moves back to the city, the Bollywood universe aligns again to bring her into his life. After the mandatory second-act revelation meant to tear them apart, they bump into each other again at Shillong airport. One suspects if he falls off a cliff, he’d find her flaying mid-air too, just below him, coincidentally hurtling below together.

But the filmmakers’ handling of their equation, which you’d think is romantic destiny by now, is very heartening: they try to heal each other to heal themselves. There are no overt indications of falling slowly. In fact, Kapoor’s voice, which sounds extremely attractive at a low acoustic pitch, when almost whispering into the microphone, aids our understanding of their strange mutual respect.

Tight close-ups of her singing face, and her (Kapoor’s) jittery imperfect tone, somewhat recapture her deer-in-headlights innocence from Aashiqui 2. She radiates a childlike under-confident coyness far better than artificial filmy spunkiness.

Tight close-ups of her singing face, and her jittery imperfect tone, somewhat recapture her deer-in-headlights innocence from Aashiqui 2. She radiates a childlike under-confident coyness far better than artificial filmy spunkiness. Towards the end, when Adi advises her to step out of her famous father’s (Kumud Mishra; deserves better) shadow [“trees cannot grow in the shade of bigger trees”], one senses Akhtar’s own heart taking over. Javed Akhtar, after all, is now recognizable to the newer generations as Farhan’s father.

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We see a lot of things coming from far away in this film – the timely exit of Adi’s wife, a reluctant limp back to music, the integration of North-Eastern socioeconomics and politics into Magik’s final resolution, Joe’s existential conflicts, Jiah’s emotional coming of age and the band’s embrace of a greater good.

The markers are the same; one protagonist rallying his middle-aged buddies, treading the thin line between nostalgia and evolution. None of what happens is surprising, not even the stock characters (the ‘heartwarming’ quota is filled by an amusing reality-show contestant), but director Shujaat Saudagar equips all these conventional beats with energy. There’s a sense that he is taking a life forward, and not simply a script or a franchise.

None of what happens is surprising, not even the stock characters (the ‘heartwarming’ quota is filled by an amusing reality-show contestant), but director Shujaat Saudagar equips all these conventional beats with energy.

He gets a bit carried away by the picturesque final concert though, and decides to go ‘full-retard’ with the ambitious closing voiceovers. It’s at this point you wonder if the men have truly understood that music is only their metaphor. If the Rock On series ends here, that’s an affirmative. But all clues point toward a Jiah spin-off, which, to put it mildly, vehemently contradicts the old “quit while you’re ahead” proverb. Brooding Adi gave up so often, and even while he was ahead and killing it. It’s the perfect time for his little universe to follow suit now.

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