12 November 2011

ROCKSTAR (Dir. Imtiaz Ali, 2011, India)

It’s strange but for the first hour or so of Rockstar I felt director Imtiaz Ali was about to show real progression and evolution as a film maker. Unfortunately, my hopes were soon dashed in the second half of the film in which Imtiaz Ali loses control of his material, thus leaving everything to self-destruct into a hyperbolic mash up. Before I talk a little about the film’s flaws, I want to begin by pointing out some of the virtues. Rockstar arrives at the end of the year with a lot of hype behind it. It is director Imtiaz Ali’s fourth feature, having directed three films that are predominately led by predictable boy meets girl romantic entanglements. Rockstar has a lot of money behind it (it’s all up there on the big screen, which makes a change) and a big name in the form of Ranbir Kapoor. The film is about Janardhan Jakhar / Jordan (Ranbir Kapoor), a middle class Delhi boy, who has musical aspirations and gradually succeeds in becoming a famous singer and ‘rockstar’. Along the way, Jordan falls in love with Heer Kaul (Nargis Fakhri) but his explosive diva attitude makes him a controversial figure. Firstly, Imtiaz Ali should be commended for thinking on an epic scale, and this being a musical, he largely succeeds in conveying a certain international grandeur about the way music can be a real leveller in society. Although, the narrative does shift around geographically with an alarming frequency, the cinematography and especially the choice of framing seems like a real contrast to most big budget mainstream Hindi films. Secondly, the brilliant music by A. R. Rahman certainly gives much of the images a certain weight and emotional resonance; at least they got one thing right for a film about a musician. Thirdly, Imtiaz Ali is right to make many of the parental figures peripheral rather than allowing them to typically shift away the focus from the youth to more traditional dilemmas. Nevertheless, like so many recent Hindi films which have arrived with an incredible fanfare behind them Rockstar has notable weaknesses that one finds problematic to overlook or push to one side. Admittedly, one of the crimes committed by Imtiaz Ali is in a way uniquely Indian – which is the exhausting running time of the film. I don’t mind intervals, its part of the experience of Hindi cinema, but I think the producers missed a trick by not releasing this film as two parts. Not only would this have solved the problem of narrative momentum but also it may have given the writers more scope with which to do something more creative and engaging in the second half. Another problem is that so many directors still undervalue the importance of the script. It is telling in the way in which the film wants to break with tradition but simply ends up reinforcing many of the stereotypical images associated with out of control musicians that circulate in the media. For me, Ranbir Kapoor seems more assured and appears more comfortable in the first hour as the hapless college youth but his transition to petulant rock-god is unconvincing and confusingly performed. Screaming into a microphone and strumming a guitar may appear workable in the context of a trailer but when included in a full narrative, they come across as terrible cliques. The other major element missing from the character of Jordan is ideology. In the film, Jordan’s transformation into a symbol of political protest is largely redundant because we never see him demonstrating any such political overtones; his defiance of the establishment is yet more premature, superficial posturing. In terms of the final third and conclusion, director Imtiaz Ali has no idea how to end his film. By unnecessarily invoking the most tiresome of romantic conventions (terminal illness) the desire to become a tragic epic musical comes to fruition but brings with it a transparent and manipulative ending that strikes all the wrong notes. The considerable flaws do outweigh the strengths of Rockstar but don’t let that get in the way of what has to be one of the most enjoyable soundtracks of the year.

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