I’ve been a fan of Imitiaz Ali since Socha Na Tha, one of the sweetest films made in the last few years. But Love Aaj Kal was such a disappointment, that I wasn’t sure what to expect from Rockstar.
It’s impossible for me not to react warmly to the first half, fleeting scenes of Delhi University, and a departure from the usual way Indian film makers show ‘college life’. The scenes set in the university felt real, with all sorts of in-jokes about friends who linger around only for samosas, and the class wars on campus. It reminded me a bit of the adventures of lovely Miss Chamko in Chashme Badoor. (Look, all you have to do is make a film set in Delhi winters, half the battle is won already.)
Yet, this is a film with a very dark heart. In a lot of Imtiaz Ali’s films, the irony doesn’t come from unrequited love, but indecision. A character’s lack of self awareness in the exact moment that it will make all the difference. Put simply, the characters are in love with each other, but the love is asynchronous. In the moment that he loves her, she is indecisive. And vice versa.
Never mind the shifts in reality, an India where musicians have a massive following, and an existence independent of playback singing. All that is irrelevant, I don’t go to the cinema for realism. I go to the cinema for an amplified experience of a stray emotion in real life. The details help me identify with that emotion. So for all I care, Ranbir Kapoor a.k.a Janardhan a.k.a Jordan could have been a famous film star and not a rockstar.
THis is a film about Ranbir Kapoor’s character, Jordan. In the rare moments when Heer (Nargis’s character) shines, it’s because of her interaction with Jordan. She is ‘pretty’, in the way a lot of girls are pretty when they are in their early 20s, in fact, in some scenes she looks absolutely divine. But in the end she is the vanilla-flavoured girl, who wants a little bit of the risqué before she gets married, but is probably too afraid to do anything that really challenges the way the world operates. She is a passive actor in her own life. She is brought to life (and indeed to death) by her love for Jordan. She is the backdrop. (Made more obvious by how you never quite go inside her head – what does she really feel towards her husband? What is eating away her soul?)
In the beginning, Jordan talks about how he has no problems in life – everybody loves him, there’s no reason to be angsty. But actually, he’s never really a happy man who feels like he’s found his corner in the world. You realise later, that perhaps his family doesn’t really care for him, nobody understands his music, his friends don’t really seem to stand by him. He is lonely, spontaneous and impulsive.
I thought perhaps the departure for Imtiaz Ali was how the name of this film focuses on one person, rather than the overwhelming emotion in a relationship. (Jab We Met, Love Aaj Kal etc.). But perhaps the real departure is the idea that the heartbreak is not caused by a ‘misunderstanding’ or ‘circumstances’. Sometimes, heartbreak is imminent, and will come because intensity is what Jordan has learned to thrive on. Jordan turns to Nargis to heal his own despair – but there’s no telling how happy he will be with that. It’s poignant because she’s on her deathbed. If she was attainable, he might well be bored.
The film meanders, and fails to hold itself together in the last 45 minutes. The plot device of skipping into different ‘eras’ is quite alright, but for a film that departs from the usual stuff, it then becomes formulaic. It’s a bit too long. And yet, I walked away feeling a knot of empathy, sadness and joy in my heart for the khanabadosh that Jordan is.