Cast: Farhan Akhtar, Arjun Rampal, Purab Kohli, Prachi Desai, Shraddha Kapoor
Director: Shujaat Saudagar
Eight years ago, I fell in love with a rock band called Magik. Their lyrics were simplistic – you remember ‘aasman hai neela kyun, pani geela geela kyun?’ But their music was infectious and enduring – especially the anthem Rock On. These boys – Adi (Farhan Akhtar), Joe (Arjun Rampal), Kedar Zaveri (Purab Kohli), also known as KD or ‘Killer Drummer’ and Rob (Luke Kenny)– weren’t heroes. They were confused and vulnerable, ambitious and hopeful. KD cracked bad jokes. Joe had anger management issues and Adi was a bundle of angst. But when they reunited for that one last gig before Rob’s death, it really was magic. And then they grew up.
In Rock On 2, directed by debutante Shujaat Saudagar, the band has scattered. Joe, who used to give guitar lessons to neighborhood kids to make money, is now a successful reality show host and club owner. KD still makes music. Adi has moved to a village in Meghalaya, where he runs a farmer’s co-operative and a kid’s school. That for me was the first alarm bell.
This move – from Mumbai rocker to Meghalaya social worker – is so random and far-fetched that the film is instantly weakened. It becomes difficult to take any of what follows seriously. In fact, the story by Abhishek Kapoor and Pubali Chaudhuri, is so convoluted that we have KD’s running voice over to explain what is going on and why characters are doing what they are doing. He even explains emotions. Shujaat is clearly not a big believer in the classic writing rule – show, don’t tell.
The Meghalayan landscapes are stunning and the performances are strong. The standout is Shraddha Kapoor who plays Jia, the daughter of a famous classical musician. In a moving scene, Jia rails against her censorious father – her face a defiant mix of anger and ache. Arjun Rampal also reminds us that when he chooses to, he can deliver. His good looks have frayed and he invests Joe with a bruised, bristling dignity. Purab Kohli and Prachi Desai ooze warmth and I really enjoyed the character of Manjot, a reality show contestant who saves the day.
Of course, the centerpiece of Rock On 2 is Adi, which is inherently problematic. Farhan Akhtar is both sincere and effortlessly cool but the narrative insists on positioning Adi as heroic. It’s not enough that he’s a rock star. He must also be a savior – when a fire ravages the village, he leaps in to save a trapped mother and daughter. We are treated to shots of his ripped body. He brings food to hungry children. Eventually he puts together a Woodstock-like concert and helps Jia to discover her voice – both literally and metaphorically. Really?
Like the first film, Rock On 2 moves to a rousing musical climax. The lead up to this point isn’t very convincing but it will give you goose-bumps to see the fabulous Usha Uthup on a stage singing the hybrid Khasi-Hindi song Hoi Kiw/Chalo Chalo. Shankar-Ehsan-Loy’s music in this film doesn’t match the brilliance of the original score but the adrenalin is palpable. They create several high notes.
So there are elements that you will enjoy but the film is felled by the under cooked writing. The dialogue by Farhan Akhtar doesn’t help to disguise the flaws. At one point, Jia turns to Adi and asks about the starving villagers – Listen, gaonwale thik hain – as though she was casually inquiring about a sick relative. The Meghalaya angle is, of course, entirely superficial. The local characters are paper-thin and we get little sense of the world.
There’s just not enough to invest in.