Rock On

Rock On begins with a band setting up their equipment and tuning up for a practice session. There’s some clunky dialogue about the lyrics for a new song on Things We Never Wonder About In Life (you really feel the capital letters when Farhan Akhtar utters those lines), and another howler about how nobody takes over Magik (the name of their band), and they begin to play. Ho-hum.

And then a wonderful thing happens. The movie flashes forward ten years later to these people, no longer in the band, no longer in touch with each other (or even with themselves, it seems). One is an investment banker with a wife who loves him but wonders if she knows who he really is behind the walls he has built around him. Another works in the family business with his dad. The third plays the keyboard for Anu Malik. And the fourth seems to do nothing while his wife manages a fish business and keeps the home fires burning.

These scenes depict seemingly well-ordered lives that betray the past only in little ways. Like deep calming breaths taken in the privacy of one’s car. Or turning the volume down on a rock song playing on the radio. Or a blank, yet searching look in the eye, as if one is seeing not the present but a practice room ten years ago. These scenes are so quiet, yet so well observed and true that they draw you into these characters’ lives.

And that is how it goes, back and forth. Rock On seems to have some kind of dissociative personality disorder, wanting to be a movie about a rock band getting together after many years and an observation of these people’s lives. The latter is extraordinarily good. The good news is, the former is pretty good despite the occasional clunky dialogue and overt string-pulling.

Working with an ensemble cast (the most experienced happens to be Arjun Rampal, not exactly confidence-inspiring) who come up with surprisingly solid performances and a script that eschews melodrama for the most part, Abhishek Kapoor fashions a movie that is a lot more about regret and a chance at redemption than it is about music. The music is fairly ordinary, but it works because you care about these people and the joy they take in making it.

The acting is solid. Farhan Akhtar, debuting before the camera, turns in a fine performance as the lead singer turned investment banker. His performance is notable for what it doesn’t do, and the more he holds back, the stronger you empathize with him.

Arjun Rampal gives what is probably the best performance of his career to date. He was surprisingly watchable in Om Shanti Om, but this one expects him to do more by doing less. The scene where he and Akhtar meet after a long gap is amazingly well done. We know what they are thinking and so do they, and the movie makes a wise choice by trusting our intelligence and leaving it at that. A while ago, I wrote about the less-is-more principle wherein I asked: Why is Aamir Khan’s nothing better than Arjun Rampal’s nothing? I am glad to report that Rampal’s nothing has become pretty damn good.

Purab and Luke Kenny (on drums and keyboard) turn in competent supporting performances. While the movie is primarily about these men, Prachi Desai and Sahana Goswami turn in wonderful performances as Akhtar and Rampal’s spouses respectively. The latter is especially good as a woman who has lost her own dreams so her husband could continue brooding about his.

In his review of Rock On, Baradwaj Rangan starts off by saying that Farhan Akhtar has the perfect voice for rock music. In some ways, the experience of watching the movie is like that: there is the occasional bum note, but the overall experience is of hearing someone sing from the heart. And that makes all the difference.


7 thoughts on “Rock On

  1. Amrita says:

    Ha, you’re the only one I’ve found who fels about Arjun Rampal’s last two performances the way I do. There was something about him in OSO especially in the second half that was suddenly very attractive. The way he spoke maybe? Fake accents work for him!

    I understand the criticism diected at him for this movie and frankly, he’s never gonna win any major awards for his acting but that scene where he leans in and asks Adi to talk on his behalf – he’s so adorably goofy in that scene, my heart couldn’t help but melt a little.

    I had a blast watching this movie without feeling it shattered any conventions or was earth-shaking cinema but for some reason I couldn’t begin to write a review for it. There was simply nothing to hold on to, I found. Except for the performances, I suppose. Shahana Goswami is someone I’m gonna watch out for. And Farhan too! Squee!

  2. Amrita>> I think Arjun Rampal is slowly gaining ground. His voice in OSO sounded sinister and positively nicotine-stained — quite nice!

    I quite liked those scenes that built up to the confrontation — the interplay between Adi and Joe, the reaction shot on the periphery of the frame when Adi signs the contract first… But I felt the fight itself didn’t work as well as it needed to.


  3. Sanket>> Farhan was quite good in this movie. My wife mentioned the other day that the role suits the sort of person we think he is in real life. That makes sense, I think. I wonder how he’ll fare if he has to do something completely different. Can’t wait to see that.

  4. i think the movie does not offer anything fundamentally new but whatever it does its done well and it connects well. i could form following equation after watching the movie 🙂

    Rock On = DCH + Jhankaar Beats – Passion for R D Burman + Passion for Rock Band

    i think one of the fine points is again the friendship, it connects well with youth and they can identify with the characters. much of the cast has done really well (btw I have always found arjun rampal to be a good actor but perhaps not getting right roles) and overall a very good finished product.


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