Movie Review – Rock On!

Imagine you were cleaning out your closet and came across photos of yourself and your friends from a few decades ago. Would the pictures make you laugh or would you cry? Did you live up to the promises of those snapshots in time or did you end up making compromises like everyone else? And whatever happened to those great guys you knew?

Director Abhishek Kapoor explores the angst of nostalgia in his second film, Rock On, starring an ensemble cast with the only familiar face being Farhan Akhtar. Farhan, who directed another superb buddy movie, Dil Chahta Hai, gets in front of the camera this time, delivering a knockout performance which is sure to leave more than a few knees weak.

Rock On follows the story of a raw rock band and the fate of its members 10 years on. After an opening number, we meet the friends as they live out unsatisfying lives in the mainstream, having put away all their youthful dreams in favor of roti, kapda and makaan. There is a subtle hint that the parting of ways in the past may not have been entirely pleasant.

Farhan plays Aditya Shroff, the band(Magik)’s lead vocalist, who has so completely repressed his poetic and creative instincts that his wife Sakshi( Prachi Desai in an enchanting performance- am I allowed to say Audrey Hepburn?) cannot reconcile this distant man with pictures of him as a younger, happier soul. She conspires to bring the band together and sets the friends on a path to healing and redemption.

Rock On does not have a particularly path-breaking plot and is entirely predictable in the way it unfolds, but I have to say that it is one of the best directed, best scripted and best acted movies I have seen in a long time. It is just so technically competent – not one frame is wasteful, not one line of extraneous dialogue and not one character that panders – that I am tempted to say that it is heavily influenced by a western movie. Maybe, maybe not, so let me just reiterate that the movie is really well made. I am almost tempted to check out Aryaan, the director’s first movie starring Sohail Khan( almost, but not quite, I’m afraid Sohail Khan is just a dealbreaker!)

Unlike Jaane Tu…, the large cast of unfamiliar faces delivers near-flawless, polished performances. Even actors who show up for a scene or two look comfortable in the skin of their characters. Every role is well etched and believable and this is helped by the fact that Farhan and Luke Kenny, who plays Rob, both have some musical background and experience. Arjun Rampal as Joe Mascarenhas makes a valiant effort and comes off quite sympathetic and Purab Kohli as the happy-go-lucky K.D. is the glue that holds the band together. Sahana Goswami's performance as Joe's unhappy wife Debbie is spot on.

The music is a big asset too. The last significant movie about an Indian pop band was Jhankaar Beats, which suffered a little because of its lackluster and derivative music that undercut the theme. Here, Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy create a rough and raw rock score that is very authentic. All the actors sing their own songs and while Farhan Akhtar’s shaky voice may grate to some purists, I thought it captured the feel of a garage band very well and in any case you don’t listen to rock for the vocals.

Rock On makes this movie buff happy that such well-made movies have a chance in Bollywood. Last I checked, the movie had been declared a hit. Who knew there were discerning audiences left in India?

Rock On
*ring Farhan Akhtar, Prachi Desai, Arjun Rampal
Directed by Abhishek Kapoor.
Running in Naz8 cinemas in Fremont in the Bay Area

My rating – 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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