Indian Orpheus

Salman Rushdie tangled with the Orpheus myth for his rock exercise in the Ground Beneath her Feet (also the title of a U2 single meant as accompaniment for the book). The novel is both rock saga and epic romance with some very masala overtures to it. Like most Rushdie novels this is a compulsive read even when it does not necessarily live up to its great ambitions. In Rushdie’s imagination the ‘rockstar’ of our contemporary universe becomes the modern equivalent of Orpheus and now he has a willing partner for this project in Imtiaz Ali who seems to borrow from much the same source material for his current work. Despite the film’s obvious allusion to another epic romance in the female protagonist’s name the work has far less to do with the ‘local’ legend of Heer Ranjha, even in the loosest sense, and is far more connected with the trials and travails of Orpheus and Eurydice. This makes for a rather singular point of departure in the annals of Hindi commercial cinema.

Rockstar is a relatively rare genuine film from contemporary ‘Bollywood’, an industry otherwise quite prone to bathing in cynical romances or quite happy to plumb various Hollywood genres to provide the latest ‘wannabe’ high to its multiplex cheerleaders. It cannot be said that Rockstar entirely avoids this charge either. Enough of the familiar afflictions plague Imtiaz Ali from the tourism bug to patchwork story-telling to the improbable nature of the film’s essential premise within an Indian context. The ‘rockstar’ genre much like the ‘road movie’ just does not represent a plausible Indian archive (and this was a problem even in Rushdie’s novel and to a greater degree). But for all this the director somehow manages to hold the film together aided primarily by Rahman’s extraordinary score and then in turn by Ranbir Kapoor’s assured performance. This is not to underestimate the director’s often great visual flair, especially in the film’s first half, but in the second half much of the promise he sets up initially vanishes rather rapidly. The principle confusion at the heart of film is that the director cannot quite decide whether this is a great love story with the rockstar’s profession as a back-plot or if it is more of a fictional ‘biopic’ with a strong romance angle to it. This is obvious rather early on when Janardhan Jakkad, otherwise so obsessed with pursuing his musical ambitions, is completely distracted by his romantic entanglement. Ultimately the work manages to remain truer to the love story and the rockstar’s journey then becomes a series of vignettes to intersperse the narrative. The latter is fairly clunky for this reason once one gets through some wonderful montages in the film’s first twenty minutes or more. The rockstar’s history is delivered a bit too imprecisely, the viewer never quite experiences the various stages of this life. He is either very far from fame or too much its hubristic victim. His ‘becoming’ or his success in an optimal sense is not quite apparent. Similarly the rockstar’s life seems to be a bit of a tabloid-driven sketch with not enough nuance or detail attached to it. The director indexes familiar archives to reveal each stage of his protagonist’s musical journey but the viewer can never really see the character ‘age’ with his experiences, can never quite see the evolution. On the other hand the opposite is true for the romance where Imtiaz Ali takes his time and as a result this aspect of the story is genuinely affecting at many points. In the second half when the narrative becomes repetitive in some ways the romance keeps the viewer invested and even as the film ends, to its credit ambiguously, the Rahman ballad and its ‘otherworldly’ notes seem rather justified.

Imtiaz Ali’s Delhi is marvelously buoyant without being the familiar claustrophobic, hyper-energetic metro of other imaginings. In keeping with some of the film’s themes and certainly Rumi’s epigraph the city’s sufi heritage gets highlighted and the director is superb at capturing some of the related paraphernalia. If at all one might venture a mild criticism here it is that perhaps the director sometimes get side-tracked with the sights and sounds of the city or at least his loving portrait, otherwise so entrancing, seems less justified than than a comparable one in Delhi 6 where the quasi-documentary approach ‘introduces’ the city to the outsider’s gaze. Janaradhan Jakkad is not new to the city the way the Delhi 6 protagonist is. But this is a minor quibble given the strong representation offered here, assuredly one of the noteworthy ones of this city in its industry’s history, and one rather regrets the unnecessary Prague excursion Imtiaz Ali decides to take later on. It does not seem necessary to the plot in any case.

It is hard to state more than what ought to be supremely obvious about Rahman’s score in the film. Other than Rang De Basanti it is hard to think of another Hindi film where the maestro’s soundtrack is so effective employed. The cues are not quite as well-handled as in Mehra’s work but the music is still integrated rather well and seems inherently part of the narrative, perhaps even moreso than in the older work. None of this film’s triumphs can quite be conceived without Rahman’s interventions.

Ranbir Kapoor is of course at the heart of this film. His first ‘showcase’ part as a star-actor. With a part that is sometimes under-written and a script that does not always offer the most reliable support Ranbir makes the film quite his own without by any means being a superlative performer. His initial act as the gawky and earnest ‘simpleton’ belongs to a whole archive of Indian commercial cinema where such characters quite often come across as mentally-challenged. He is certainly less stereotypical and much more edgy as the ‘Rockstar’ even through the characters different moods but the transition from his older self to his later one is not easy to read. The ‘older’ persona he slips into every once in a while as he ‘matures’ into a star is perhaps the one that should have been referenced starting out. Actors and their directors frequently make the mistake of introducing too wide a chasm between two selves of a character. This decision undoubtedly creates effective results in cinema without always constituting a convincing enough fiction. It is often rather the little differences and the minor nuances that preserve the character’s evolution or frame of reference. These distinctions are less obvious in the telling, less discernable even but often acquire cumulative force as the work reaches its conclusion. It is nonetheless a tribute to Ranbir’s overall success here that despite these deficiences he constantly keeps the viewer engaged and specially as the ‘rockstar’ struggling with fame and fortune. Even here the actor’s impassioned portrayal might have been better served with a script willing to explore his talents a bit more but also with a greater admixture of subtlety. One witnesses a ‘gallery’ of the rockstar’s emotions but not quite the connecting tissue. All of this is not intended to be too much of a criticism. Ranbir does admirably to keep some of the film’s incoherence glued together but it is nonetheless a relatively obvious performance with very few unpredictable flashes. Rockstar possibly points to greater things for the actor but it is not yet that canonical moment for him.

Nargis Fakhri meanwhile is extremely scattered in her debut in what can hardly be termed a ‘performance’. But she certainly has screen presence and even screen chemistry with Ranbir Kapoor despite striking all sorts of false notes on the acting front. Piyush Mishra is always a joy to behold though one senses that his Dil Se outing has served as a template for most others following in its wake and something better than caricature could be attempted with this quirky actor.

Early on in the film Ranbir’s confidant and benefactor berates him for not having experienced enough of life’s anguish to truly become a significant artist. At one point the chiding introduces a humorous catalog of traditional commercial film woes (the lover has a disease, the hero is poor and so on). All of this is a useful trope for Imtiaz Ali’s own concerns vis-a-vis ‘Bollywood’ which in turn is in exemplary fashion the industry that knows no anguish or heartbreak unlike its older historical selves. Perhaps Rockstar is then an effort to induce passion and pain into an increasingly plastic cinema. Perhaps the director in this context is also atoning for his own sins in Love Aaj Kal. Shammi Kapoor (purposely ignored earlier in the discussion), with this bitter-sweet appearance (because so wrapped up in the event of his death), is a rather mysterious figure here. A presiding deity in the film, representing the ‘pastness’ of the industry but also inviting a dialog with the ‘present’ in the brief scenes he shares with Ranbir Kapoor. The film indeed opens with a pop art dedication to the star’s iconic 60s self and later on Ranbir offers tribute to his grand-uncle’s ‘Kashmir Ki Kali’ moment. This does not come across as merely cynical but a genuine desire on Imtiaz Ali’s part to reinvest ‘Bollywood’ in at least one chapter of its glorious history. However far or not one wishes to push this entire metaphor the current movie offers for all its ‘misses’ something cumulative, even an afterglow that stays on in the mind. Not strong enough to be experience but authentic enough to leave behind a residue…


85 Responses to “Indian Orpheus”

  1. Alex adams Says:

    Seems heavy duty so may “attempt” this one later
    But this seems standout even from here–“Rockstar is a relatively rare genuine film from contemporary ‘Bollywood’, an industry otherwise quite prone to bathing in cynical romances or quite happy to plumb various Hollywood genres to provide the latest ‘wannabe’ high to its multiplex cheerleaders”


  2. Love the title here and the parallel you’ve touched upon with respect to the Orpheus myth. Wonderfully written as always and your point on Shammi Kapoor is especially fine, though I wish Ali had been as aware of this as you (!) and exploited this aspect of things and that character a bit more…


    • “though I wish Ali had been as aware of this as you (!)”

      heh heh..!

      Thanks much..


      • That is true on Shammi Kapoor (also referencing Alex’s comment in the other thread on the question of genealogy). I suppose this is one of genealogy’s blessings, in that Ali’s seeming lack of awareness can be “made up” to an extent by the over-determination introduced by the genealogical angle.

        [Aside: note how the “traditional” musicians in this film don’t seem to follow any of Khatala’s rules: the Nizami brothers and Jamil Khan seem well-grounded/adjusted and don’t give off a vibe that they are living their angst. This is of course historically true, inasmuch as the “tortured Romantic soul” is, at bottom, a Western import on these shores (it doesn’t make it any less legitimate, of course — I am merely pointing out the contingent nature of the trope — although it does go to the question Satyam has mentioned, namely that of the archive’s plausibility; even within India, the archive is most plausible in Calcutta with its profusion of rock/neo-rock acts (I am referring to, for instance, the “jibonkatha” genre of socially-relevant lyrics etc.)), but Ali doesn’t seem to have noticed.

        Where I do give Ali credit for is in the little touches that add grey: Jamil Khan isn’t some chap with his head in the clouds — he and Piyush Mishra’s character aren’t really from different worlds: Jamil Khan counsels the producer to invest big in Jordan, because “aap bahut kamaayenge”; for his part, while it might be easy to dismiss the producer as a philistine, he isn’t — consider the respect he has for Jamil Khan in particular, but classical music in general. Similarly, the twist at the end (won’t give it away) underscores the narcissism that perhaps all celebrities must (have to?) succumb to over time; Ali didn’t do much with it, but it was still a nice touch.]


        • insightful comment here..


        • On your last paragraph this is where more could have been done with Mishra’s character. Some shades of grey would have worked well.

          Imtiaz Ali says in a recent interview that this is the film he wanted to make before all else. Not surprisingly it is the truest! But in any case one of the risks of returning to an ‘old script’ or ‘idea’ after success one has had in between is that the appropriate re-writes don’t really come about. Of course it works both ways. A proper re-write might render the film far more cynical. Because to the extent that such a venture becomes a ‘nostalgic’ effort or remains one closer to the director’s heart it retains a certain genuineness for all the rough edges. It is generally much harder to do both. but this is also where for all of their investment in a project for any number of reasons great directors are always quite ruthless with their material. Whether it comes to having it re-written using professional writers for the greater ‘good’ of the narrative or when it’s about the editing process at the end.


  3. I am curious as to whether Imtiaz Ali had the actual myth in mind with this story or just a different cinematic source like Black Orpheus or Cocteau’s Orpheus or something. Or if he has read the Rushdie work.


    • Unfortunately I don’t think the likes of Taran or Komal are up to the task of asking such questions! But yeah one would really like to hear from him on some of this stuff…I actually haven’t picked up that Rushdie novel but I perhaps should.


  4. A very good review of an above average film. Ranbir and ARR save the day but heck this is way better than most stuff Bollywood makes. It atleast has a soul…..and the moment when Ranbir says do whatever it takes, but his heart should not break, really stirred me.


  5. Superb superb piece Satyam.


  6. Awesome! I remember reading the Rushdie novel ages ago — like many of his other works, it starts off full of sound and fury but runs out of breath in the last fifty pages or so. I love how you have drawn a parallel with this film — it makes sense and offers a really interesting perspective.


  7. Does anyone else think that Sonam Kapoor would have made a great Heer and possibly could have given a far greater performance? I am just wondering about Imtiaz’s choice of a fresh face.


    • Sonam would have been fine in the film. I am somewhat partial to her anyway. But I think Nargis Fakhri does, for all the inadequacy of her performance, match the character she’s portraying. There is a certain sensuality to her which along with the character’s sense of ‘freedom’ makes the whole part quite plausible. Or to put it differently I get why the director decided to cast her over many established actresses.


  8. This is a superb piece, very close to my sense of the film (though not, of course, “superb” for that reason!). Your concluding lines are as good a summation as any I’ve read of this film:

    “However far or not one wishes to push this entire metaphor the current movie offers for all its ‘misses’ something cumulative, even an afterglow that stays on in the mind. Not strong enough to be experience but authentic enough to leave behind a residue…”


  9. As a follow-up I should also offer an additional note here on the kinds of performance I truly value. One of the things is that in India this term is used in a very abstract sense unlike say in the US where there is usually a specific critical vocabulary backing it up. In other words of course the same word is used but the critic’s writings almost always illustrate what he or she means with it. No one assumes an obvious meaning of the word ‘performance’. Much as different approaches to acting are similarly evaluated. Everything that is ‘effective’ on screen is not of the order of a fine or great performance. But also sometimes a certain sort of ‘showy’ performance is more ‘effective’ in commercial cinema than a better one elsewhere. It is the difference between Guru and BM where it is not clear to me that the latter is lesser compared to the former or necessarily ‘easier’ to achieve. DMD falls somewhere in between the two on this spectrum (more showy than BM, less so than Guru).

    I tend to like actors and performances where everything on display isn’t ‘all’ there is but there is something also held in reserve. This is not an argument against Ranbir by any means. He certainly carried this film. It is however an argument against the superlatives the media has conferred. It often sounds politicized when Hindi film stars are discussed so let me offer a current Hollywood example. Ryan Gosling, specially on the heels of Drive and Ides of March, is probably my favorite Hollywood star-actor, among those who belong roughly to his generation. DiCaprio for example can be a fine actor, he’s certainly never less than ‘good’, of late especially he’s done so much great work with so many important directors. However again with DiCaprio what you see is what you get. with Gosling the performance is always a bit enigmatic. and this is a quality I’ve constantly celebrated as ‘Shakespearean’. This is something that I’ve often celebrated in amitabh Bachchan. It is incidentally often why despite some ‘great’ performances from the latter in recent years I cannot often put these alongside the older ones (though there are important exceptions). Because that sense of ‘reserve’ and something being held back isn’t as apparent. Similarly this is why I love watching Kamal Haasan before he gets into this ‘thespian’ act where the burden of his history becomes overbearing for him and he gets into the showy act in film after film. He’s still a great actor but that restraint of the earlier performances is simply not available anymore (again with exceptions). Mohanlal in the same way is a master of this mode (quite exceeds Kamal at any stage of his career in this sense). And here again the supreme Iruvar could be referenced. These examples could be multiplied but from Abhishek to Ryan Gosling to Madhavan (something like Kannathil Muthamittal is a good example..) this is the sort of actor I adore. Even the ‘showy’ performances of these actors are not necessarily over-pitched.

    Now moving back to Ranbir in Rockstar I don’t consider it this sort of performance obviously but neither do I find it authoritative in the sense of a strong Hollywood actor (DiCaprio or otherwise) taking on a biopic kind of role and succeeding (incidentally Hollywood too tends to value this sort of performance when it comes to giving out awards). Ranbir is a promising talent, he held the film together for me, I even think in that ‘better’ film that could have been made here an actor perhaps more deserving of those reviews could have emerged. He certainly showed some flashes even by my criteria. And I don’t insist that everyone see things as I do here but the review attention was hyperbolic to be quite frank. And based on Ranbir’s interviews I think his father would agree! But in any case this is where I come from on actors. And this is something I’ve said consistently by the way in all sorts of discussions.

    Now whether my sort of performance is always the best one in a commercial sense is a different matter. Mohanlal is very fine but also too subtle for the Hindi film industry (as a historic matter). Bachchan could miraculously split the difference for the same industry. But these are supreme star-actors who can often do ‘double duty’ relative to the expectations of their commercial audiences. Lesser ones often run the danger of not creating the right impact for the very same audience. Nonetheless the box office isn’t the crux of my argument here. I am simply privileging a performance of greater surprises, perhaps even an enigmatic one over another kind that even when very successful seems to belongs to a mode of the ‘obvious’ if not of the ‘predictable’.


  10. Great write-up Satyam. Now let’s celebrate it with this possibly cringe-worthy but potentially joy-inducing clip… 🙂


  11. On a slightly different note, saw a few trailers with Rockstar

    Players- actually looks good and am sure will do well.
    Don 2 – still looks good but the trailer was treated with derision and disinterest
    Desi Boyz- Not for me but could be a commercial success. Akshay should seriosuly rethink.
    Hero Hitler in Love- Strictly for GF.


    • the only trailers I saw were for Hollywood movies.. because of course it was an AMC screen (incidentally the best place to see Rockstar for the soundtrack).


  12. Alex adams Says:

    A write up beyond my purview to comment on as of now lol ^^^^

    As the ” dust settles” —some standout scenes in rockstar —

    Opening scene of a “beaten up freshly bruised” ranbir struggling to enter his own concert!!!–sets the tone

    shammi kapoor “spotting” ranbir and the “jugalbandi”

    “Saada haq” & ” naadaan parinde” picturisation

    The scene where ranbir is pulled out from the brothel and is “dazed” on the road seeing a crowd

    Nargis F in Kashmir

    nargis F in Prague facing “dilemma/conflict ” (lol)

    Nizam shrine and “kun faya kun”–done in a non-gimmicky way with good intent

    The prelude to naadaan parinde and soon after….


    • Glad you mentioned the brothel scene Alex, that was the Bombay scene I was referring to in my review. Also note how real it is: he is singing a 1970s Bollywood song, which is spot on — his audience there likely would know Hindi film music a lot better than non-filmi rock/pop…


  13. Kashyap has gone nuts. He’s arguing about Rockstar with critics on twitter trying to arrange a press event where Imtiaz Ali can answer all these questions and correct impressions! This is rather ridiculous!


    • Wow! I noticed he was raving about it on Friday. Had not followed later.


    • then he’s pleading with some others to give the film a second chance. And suggesting the same to those who liked it the first time. arguing that it’s even better a second time. Unbelievable!


      • I think Rockstar resembles to RDB in terms of box office. Youngsters are liking the movie more compared to others.


        • But RDB was universally loved by that demographic. Also I don’t think an older audience when it showed up disliked the film. It was in some ways (accounting for everything) arguably the best trender in Indian metros over the past decade or so. Doubt Rockstar has had that same sort of response even with its target audience. Also remember that if BOI think the film might do 75 crores at this point (based also on a strong second weekend) that’s way behind the RDB gross. In today’s terms the latter would have easily done a 100 crores and probably more. Also RDB wasn’t too far from the record initial of its time.


        • will say that I would like this film to gross as much as possible. Some successes genuinely please me. despite the insufferable Kashyap (on this matter) I am certainly rooting for it.


  14. Alex adams Says:

    Agree qalander

    Another good scene was when ranbir recounts how he was “unlucky ” that his parents were still alive and he wasn’t homeless etc etc
    One of the central themes (or what should had been a central theme ) was –is adversity and pathetic circumstances not o ly helfil but essential to achieve greatness and rise above mediocrity (&boredom)

    On slightly irritating thing pointed out by a few was Ranbirs over insistence and even desperation at having a quick “hug” or “kiss”; which probably didn’t go down well other his supposed emotional attraction–( but maybe he wanted to cure nargis by his “magic touch” lol)
    This “desperation ” was perhaps more a reflection of imtiaz Alis hidden urges and impulses which took expression via the “vehicle” of his protagonist . Saw bits of an interview and imtiaz ali seemed quite “shy” & even intimidated by his “heroine ” who he should have been “directing ”
    Anyhow not sure if a “screen test” (my style !!) was employed here or not before “casting” lol


    • I didn’t find the irritation at his insistence on a kiss warranted: I thought it was clear he was trying to lighten the moment with humor, and, on a more serious note, the moment reflected Jordan’s faith in love rather than science (the whole sequence with Shernaz Patel and her own (desperate) conversion confirms that was on Imtiaz Ali’s mind. It was hardly just some moment that was out there — Heer had never been the “damsel made of china” right from when Janardhan first makes her acquaintance (Junglee Jawani; wher wild side, etc.) and Jordan continues in the same vein (i.e. “rescue” her from the comfortable blandness of her life in Prague; or even “rescue” her from the (emotionally safe) cocoon of her life as an invalid)…


      • Alex adams Says:

        Good attempt to “rescue” imtiaz Alis urge or desperation(rather than Ranbirs) to “hug and kiss”!!
        As I said: maybe that was to help out by the “magic touch” lol
        That almost evey guy claims to have ……

        Actually liked and enjoyed vigil idiots cartoons ingeneral and the naunty tone
        As for drawing nargis–well he doesn’t call himself an “idiot” for no reason hoho


        • Alex adams Says:

          Also:q: hope Ranbir wasn’t “lightening up” the mood whilst getting the poor girl pregnant rotflol

          Ps:Amy: suggest u watch bridesmaid –of not already –simple


      • I think the Kiss scene or moment was an important part of the narrative. And depiction of the kind of love/infatuation/attraction that Jordan felt. Yes, initially he was trying to lighten the atmosphere but hwen she resisted, he got quite desparate and it was obvious it was important for him to get that kiss- anywhere, even if not on the lips.
        There is another such moment highlighted by BR when he say – Mein nahin J a Paoonga and not Main nahin Jaoonga. In a way, his feelings were a little selfish and self serving. I am sure that is how Imtiaz wanted to portray it and thats is how it came across.



          That’s a persuasive reading rajen — and ties in with the pregnancy at the end too (i.e. Jordan’s narcissism)….


          • I second that.. one of the interesting things here is (and this gets back to Rajen’s comment) that Jordan’s is not a particularly likeable character (someone else made this point here too.. can’t recall who..) but it’s not clear whether Imtiaz Ali was aware of this. Obviously the girl does point this out a number of times but the director might have felt that Jordan’s passion is excuse enough for his self-centric ways. This is incidentally why in the older romances (the last real representative of which was probably MPK) you had the guy either roughing it out for the girl, often giving up on his inheritance and so on, or ‘sacrificing’ for her in some other crucial way. Here there isn’t that dynamic. Jordan/Jakkad is never driven by more than personal ambition, personal desire laced with self-pity each way. And here, again getting back to Rajen’s comment, the whole ‘kiss’ dynamic (which I actually liked the way it was handled at different points) is consistent.


          • I dont think Jordan is meant to be a likeable character and that is fine.
            One could still sympathise with him. And, I always like it when there are real shades of grey in characterisation. I would bet that is one of the reasons why some people are not liking the film. Because this is not the noble kind of love where the hero sacrifices all or mouths the bhaag ke shadi nahin karenge line.


          • agreed all round..


  15. Ami (formerly 'Annoyed') Says:

    I have a genuine question to ask- and before some besotted fanboy jumps on me and calls me jealous- I am perfectly capable of admiring naturally stunning women like Chitragadha Singh, Deepika Padukone, Tabu and Aishwarya Rai.

    But how can all of you men be so taken by Nargis Farkhi’s ‘beauty’ when its obvious that her most striking feature is due to collagen injections? Seriously asking this- I saw the old video of her on America’s next top model and pre-surgery she certainly does not look good enough for anyone to excuse her ‘acting’ in Rockstar.


  16. Tabu is too huge, something masculine about her.


  17. Alex adams Says:

    ” before some besotted fanboy jumps on me and calls me jealous–when its obvious that her most striking feature is due to collagen injections? ”
    Hehe thanx Amy for “pointing” that out and for not being “jealous”.
    Actually that “collagen injection” was the FIRST thing pointed out by members of female species at her entry in the film and at almost every close up
    But guess almost every other starlet in Bollywood who obviously has had the same injections (in this and other sites including Botox) didn’t achieve the same results
    Infact some have been grotesque ….
    Yes she was quite uninteresting in americas next top model…
    But inspite of that–she remains interesting and no-won’t “jump onto u” for stating the obvious….Lol


  18. Ami (formerly 'Annoyed') Says:

    Hmm….I have a theory- and this is a little explicit, but no personal jokes directed at me please- that some men find her so attractive because her lips make it look like she is always about to fellatiate somebody, but she still somehow manages to look innocent and not vulgar in spite of this, which makes her the perfect dichotomy.

    I wouldn’t have minded her if she had the usual 2 bit ‘bikini bombshell’ type of role, but she played a complex and poorly written lead character in an epic love story- a real actress was needed to pull this off.


  19. Alex adams Says:

    Amy —haha
    “some men find her so attractive because her lips make it look like she is always about to fellatiate somebody, but she still somehow manages to look innocent and not vulgar in spite of this, which makes her the perfect dichotomy.r ”

    though your theory is perhaps wrong (in my case)— but it is brilliant and well thought out lol—-&NOW u have made me think ….hmmm
    Keep it up
    Insightful stuff…..


  20. Utkal Mohanty Says:

    Saw Rockstar last night. Far from perfect. But what a pleasure to watch something genuine, from the heart made with confident artistic flourish and not measured grammar.

    When the likes of Satyam and Rangan praise Raavan, Dil Se or Saawariya, I get mad. The intention is there, in these films but not realized at all. In Rockstar the ambition of telling a passionate love story, in a grand, melodramatic tone, blurring a few details of realism and narrative clarity if need be, as long as a a vibrant, throbbing tale of emotional truth emerges.

    Imtiaz’s writing, Ranbir’s performance and Rahman’s music meld seamlessly in the cause of this grand ambition. And unlike many, I think Nargis was perfect for the role. Maybe, or quite certainly, she is not a great actress. But she fits the role. She had to be an unearthly creature to arouse this kind of passion. And right from her opening dance number she evoked that otherworldly aura. She had the impish sexuality, a devilishly naughty mind and the diaphanous glow of a Nabokov heroine. Can’t think of any other girl loving up to the requirement.

    As to lapses, there are so many. Many scenes are used in a patchy manner, which could have been taken care of with a bit of deft editing ( The sehnai duet with Shammi, for example). Even while maintaining the non-linear narrative, which I thin k is right for the film, it was possible to outline the career trajectory of Jordan a little more credibly and coherently. And What is most inexcusable is not giving the film a rousing end with the Naadan Parindey song and letting it drift a bit.

    But a great effort for sure. And Bollywood has hope when films like this are backed by stars like Rannbir and patronized enough by audiences to give it a gross of 70 crores plus to make such projects viable.


    • thanks for your thoughts Utkal…

      “When the likes of Satyam and Rangan praise Raavan, Dil Se or Saawariya, I get mad.”

      Ha! We’ve argued before about this and I’ll just repeat that I think you like films with an obvious emotional tug to them. That’s perfectly defensible as a choice but it does not begin to exhaust the definition of the cinematic.

      Getting back to Rockstar there are indeed very many rough edges or loose ends in the film but Rahman’s music does create the illusion of greater ‘seamlessness’ in the narrative.


    • will have to see this one in the theatre now………praises all around ..
      glad to see Imtiaz also being credited here….


  21. Glad to know you liked it, Utkal.


  22. Alex adams Says:

    “And unlike many, I think Nargis was perfect for the role. Maybe, or quite certainly, she is not a great actress. But she fits the role. She had to be an unearthly creature to arouse this kind of passion. And right from her opening dance number she evoked that otherworldly aura. She had the impish sexuality, a devilishly naughty mind and the diaphanous glow of a Nabokov heroine. Can’t think of any other girl loving up to the requirement.”

    Utkal uncle : I’m proud of u lol


  23. Utkal Mohanty Says:

    Satyam, it’s not about emotional tug. ( No Smoking had no emotional tug, and DEv D very little, but I would rate them way higher than Saawariya or Raavan)) It’s about getting the mix of ‘ magic’ and ‘realism’ right. Even in Rockstar, I feel, the film would have benefitted if he had got ‘ the ‘ realism’ part a little more right.


    • yes but this once again gets to my other critique — No Smoking is perfectly right while Dil Se or Raavan or Saawariya aren’t. Isn’t this completely arbitrary? You’re once more presenting abstract terms which one could accept if the choices offered were completely consistent. But it’s hard to understand how films like ZNMD, Guru, No Smoking (just to quote three examples) could all satisfy the very same conditions of cinema for you.


  24. Utkal Mohanty Says:

    ZNMD, Guru, No Smoking.. are all good films by me, but not by the same canon. A Beach Boys pop song ( Good Vibrations) , a Beatles narrative song ( A Day In the Life) and Pink Floyd experimental song ( shine On Those Crazy Diamonds) are all good music by different yardsticks. but in each of these genres there will be many others who are mediocre or plain bad. Not every slap-stick comedian is not Charlie Chaplin. Some are Laurel and Hardy, some not even that.

    No, these choices are not arbitrary. But these are based on nuances and fine points. Someday I have to sit down and put them across.


    • Utkal,
      Your inconsistency is only matched by your immense belief in your judgement!


    • Utkal, you’ve put them across many times but using your examples here you are ironically not willing to allow different yardsticks to those who would judge Dil Se or Saawariya differently (and some of the others you mention). And this to me is really what the argument is about ultimately. Forget everything else. I don’t understand your choices as a matter of consistency but they’re yours. But what I absolutely cannot accept is your insistence that there is not even the possibility of another judgment on these films. and it’s not as if we’re talking about completely mediocre commercial cinema or something here where it would be a harder defense to mount beyond the ‘entertainment’ factor. How can there be only ‘one’ correct opinion on a director like Rathnam? And clearly there were very many good reviews on something like Raavan (even if these were the minority these were very strong dissenting ones). So it’s not about debating these films or others. If you simply foreclose the possibility that there can be an important, interesting film which nonetheless doesn’t appeal to you it’s hard to get anywhere. There are tons of films in the history of cinema that I don’t like as a personal matter but that are still either canonical films or interesting experiments or something in between. How is it possible for any human being to be on the right side of every worthwhile work out there as a matter of personal reception? I would like to ask you a question: name me 10 films that you utterly dislike and/or cannot relate to but that you also think are important or worthwhile attempts? If there are such then you’re proving my point, if there aren’t any you’re still proving my point a different way!

      So again let’s forget about these specific debates. Why can there not be a ‘different’ opinion on some of these films that is at least as valid as yours? Whatever your “nuances and fine points” are why don’t you consider that these aren’t the only ones possible?


  25. By his succinct and brilliant “reading ” on nargis fakhri in rockstar , utkal has proven why I address him as “uncle” ( not in a derogatory way and Not only due to chronological age numbers)
    And now rajen uncle also seems to have joined in …

    With no disrespect to others , there are certain things that separate men from boys (& mostly nothing separates them lol)

    And thanks also to amy (ex annoyed) for her wonderful theory (which I now note may be partially correct…lol)

    Sometimes being “honed “, “skilful” & “competent ” may infact spoil things. The raw uncertainty and quiver gets lost in the method

    Also agree that mani ratnam is/ was a special case and needs to be spared comparisons with every upstart
    Eg his one achievement of introducing Rahman to the world music is more than the cumulative achievements of many….


  26. Lol
    Can’t /should not comment on the “worthy” wive”s” of utkal and rajen uncles….
    Besides they can get into trouble….
    –infact may have already lol —with this posting of pics of nubile females and appreciating the “Nabokov Diaphanous glow(wow!!)”
    though the plural in “wives” have made me think that the reason for their “maturity ” and “insight” is now relatively clear
    Anyhow need to scoot before any of their “wives” attack us


  27. Alex adams Says:

    About Nabokov that reminds me that apparently he was about to burn his unfinished draft “lolita”–that has so many fans now —
    His “research assistant” stopped him .
    Incidentally her main roles were using a phone,
    Folding an umbrella etc–Nabokov didn’t know how to do those !!!lol
    It’s his association with “individualism” that was quite
    Interesting ….


  28. iffrononfire Says:

    with due respect to ranbir one feels his portrayl of anger as jordan was not up to mark and also his transition was not upto mark( just different gets up with facial and real hair and loose trousers making way for dude look hardly alone contribute to bigger picture

    the editing is also one of the big factor and it has not been handled peoperly but in terms of cinematography it certainly is a visual delight just like ravan


  29. iffrononfire Says:

    btw if some of the critics think in built anger can only be shown by changing getup’s and by constant shouting and fighting they sure have got it wrong

    words like intensity , brooding and the constant portrayl of it by just eyes alone do the trick for a genuine performance ( may be one can say its pretty harsh on a young guy but having watched one short movie of ranbir in youtube much before the release of saawariyan one knows he is capable to do that )


  30. Ami (formerly 'Annoyed') Says:

    So Anurag Kashypa organised a discussion Imitiaz Ali for all those trolling him on twitter about the movie. And from this blogpost, it looks like all the so-called cinema aficionados could not come up with a single intelligent question to ask him!

    If you are going to go demand a director addresses your criticisms of a movie, at least ask better questions!


    • But I find this whole Kashyap exercise disturbing.. the man insists that everyone toe the line with his views on Rockstar and for all the negative critics he organized this event. Pretty bizarre! And Kashyap’s on a mission only with respect to his friend(s).


      • Ami (formerly 'Annoyed') Says:

        Really? I thought the opposite about this. I thought it was actually very democratic of him to organise a session where these people could directly communicate their criticisms of the film to the director. After all, these filmmakers assault all of us with their bad films, it’s only right that we get an opportunity to let them know our thoughts and grievances 🙂 (this is of course if you think that Rockstar was a bad film)

        I do not think the event was organised for the press, I thought it was just normal people who tweeted him about it? If it was organised for film critics, then indeed it is poor form and looks almost like they were trying to curry favour and get positive press for the film.

        Speaking of critics, a film critic called Sudish Kamath has made a ‘conversation film in the tradition of Before Sunrise or Before Sunset’. The trailer:

        Comments? 🙂


        • Ami (formerly 'Annoyed') Says:

          Good Night Good Morning is apparently releasing in December. it will be interesting to see how well it performs.


  31. What a brilliant and deadly remix of Rehman’s songs-


  32. Granny passes heirloom to Ranbir

    The actor inherited the golden medal that was gifted to Krishna Raj by her father-in-law Prithviraj

    Amrapali Sharma

    Posted On Monday, November 21, 2011 at 02:52:26 AM

    Film critics have upheld him as the ‘best actor of recent times’. Cinegoers have been bowled over by his performance. But none of this comes close to the way his family has showed their appreciation for the fourth generation Kapoor lad’s performance in Imtiaz Ali’s Rockstar. Raj Kapoor’s wife Krishna Raj Kapoor gifted her little grandson a family heirloom – a gold medal gifted to his great grandfather Prithviraj Kapoor for one of his performances in Peshawar in 1920.

    An emotional Krishna Raj visited Rishi and Neetu Kapoor’s home Krishna Niwas last Wednesday to hand over the gold medal to Ranbir. Incidentally, Shashi Kapoor was present there at the time as well.

    When contacted, Rishi Kapoor told Mumbai Mirror, “The medal was given to Prithviraj Kapoor in the 1920s. It was for a performance in Peshawar during his youth. He gave it to my mother after her wedding in the 1940s. He had put it around mother’s nect and told her to keep it with her. It has since then become like a family heirloom. It was something grandfather had won for his talent.”

    “On Wednesday, Mummyji told me that she wanted to gift the medal to me after watching Chandni. However, she thought it was too early and wanted all of us to work further. She wanted to see who takes the family legacy forward,” added Rishi.

    “After watching Rockstar, Mummyji has decided to bestow the family heirloom on Ranbir. The medal might not have too much of an economic value, but for me, it is the biggest thing that my son could have been honoured with. It feels great to know that my mother thinks that Ranbir is the one who will take the family legacy forward,” added the proud father.

    Interestingly, the medal has something written on it in Urdu, which the Kapoor family is unable to decipher. “We don’t know how to read the Urdu script. I spoke to Javed Akhtar saab and invited him home. I wanted him to come over and read it out for us.” In fact, after receiving the medal, even Ranbir was seen asking everyone about what was written on the medal.

    When contacted Krishna Raj told Mumbai Mirror, “My father-in-law gave the medal to me after two years of my marriage. She wanted me to keep it safe. When I watched Ranbir in Rockstar, I decided to give the medal to him. I felt that he could take the Kapoor legacy forward.”

    Ranbir, who is currently shooting in Ooty was unavailable for comment.


  33. Alex adams Says:

    Could also sense this “legacy issue”
    The way Shammi kapoor looked at ranbir in rockstar had a certain timeless quality
    Whatever one thinks about the acting capability of kapoors, nobody can deny their collective place as the Bollywood first family (bachchans being the other although in the latter it’s more about one/two individuals)

    Even I never thought much bout ranbir but fee his time has finally arrived—
    Btw which khan (barring probably aamir) can play the rockstar character and rocket Singh with relative authenticity ….

    Liked Shammi kapoors cameo and this piece


    • The thing with the Kapoors is that once they were indeed considered India’s first family of cinema. But that ‘age’ has passed. The family doesn’t mean as much in contemporary terms because history itself does not mean very much anymore. The family then is a marker of some prestige when it comes to Ranbir but there is no direct investment in those older stars. With Bachchan you have the opposite. On the one hand the only history that matters anymore is more or less synonymous with Bachchan’s biography (not that I celebrate this development, I lament it all the time on Bachchan’s own blog!) and then he is still vitally present today. But the other thing here is that Ranbir is heir to a much more ‘corporate’ structure. The family has many members who were or are part of the industry. It’s like an industrial family with lots of representatives. Bachchan’s structure is more truly that of king and crown prince with the ever-deferred coronation (Abhishek’s name seems ironic in this sense!). And here perhaps RGV captured something essential about his dynamic in SR. In the earlier film you had Abhishek taking over by the end. In the second film he seems to be in control except that he’s shot at one point and Bachchan has to clear things up. In a weird sense doesn’t this too parallel his career in recent years? RGV has quite without meaning to I think stumbled upon the truth of Abhishek in each case. In 2005 he was on an India Today cover titled ‘The Rising Prince’. In 2008 things seemed to be souring and of course hit rock-bottom after this. In a sense the post-Yuva/BnB/Guru (to use some shorthand) Abhishek suffered a kind of death with his stock hitting the bottom of the barrel. So both films seem true even if the second goes completely counter to the logic of the fiction. I would argue that the kind of disappointed rage you often exhibit here (I just called you a bit of a jilted lover on this score!) is something the audience too shares. Where is the ‘coronation’?! This is the question! But what we tend to forget is that at 35 he’s still a very young guy. At 35 for example SRK was more or less doing Mohabbatein. Not that these things correspond exactly by any means. At 35 Bachchan was going from strength to strength two years after Deewar and Sholay. But the point is that he still has age on his side if he can recover strongly. If you have the same moment at 40 or 45 it’s that much harder.


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