Saturday, November 19, 2016

Rock On 2: Review

When we last met Aditya, Joe, Kedar and Rob, members of the rock band Magik, they were seemingly headed for fame and fortune, having overcome assorted monetary, professional and mid-life crises. Since then, Rob, on his deathbed at the end of Rock On!!, has passed, though Luke Kenny makes an appearance in a flashback, his tresses greying but still worthy of some sort of hair-shimmer award. Joe (Arjun Rampal) has given up music and become a reality show judge and the owner of a swanky club. Aditya (Farhan Akhtar), haunted by the suicide of a fan, has decamped to Meghalaya. And Kedar (Purab Kohli) still goes by KD, short for ‘Killer Drummer’, which might be all you need to know about his emotional growth.

Had Rock On 2 rehashed Abhishek Kapoor’s 2008 film—simply given us another variation on good-looking, well-to-do people bemoaning life passing them by—it would have been trying. But director Shujaat Saudagar and writers Abhishek Kapoor and Pubali Chaudhuri have a new hook: altruism. The film opens in the mountains of Meghalaya, where Aditya has helped the local farmers form a cooperative and start a school. It’s good to see Hindi films try out new settings, and the valleys and lakes look idyllic, but the idea that it takes a big-city musician running from his demons to organise workers (that too, in the northeast) comes across as fairly patronising.

Aditya’s social work is put on hold when singer Jiah (Shraddha Kapoor) enters the picture. She’s the daughter of a disapproving classical musician (Kumud Mishra), and—as KD’s voice-over makes blindingly clear—has her own demons, just like Aditya. The film reveals the source of her trauma very slowly, though an educated guess should get you there about an hour in advance. There’s some potential in the film’s conception of Jiah—a shy woman who makes field recordings and writes tunes she doesn’t want people to hear—but there’s little that unfamiliar about the disapproving-father-dutiful-daughter route her story takes.

Like the earlier film, the best thing one can say about Rock On 2 is that it’s a professional job. The storytelling is straightforward, and just in case anyone’s having the slightest difficulty understanding what’s going on, there’s KD’s voice-over. The writing is stolid, full of unmusical truths like “Move on kehna aasaan hai, karna mushkil hai”. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy contribute bright, catchy pop-rock. Everything is tied with a neat bow in the end—nothing like a good gig to set right deep-seated emotional issues and, it would seem, a corner of Meghalaya.

With Akhtar and Rampal doing strong-men-in-agony routines, it’s left to Kohli to inject some fun, which he gamely does, even though it makes him look silly at times. Shashank Arora is intriguing as an ambitious shudhh Hindi-speaking semi-classical musician who joins Magik, but it’s an underwritten part. Kapoor does her own singing—fairly well, it must be said—as does the hoarse-voiced Akhtar. What is perhaps most surprising is that a film about musicians has nothing insightful to tell us about how music is made. In the fantasy world of the film, abandoned takes and flubbed notes don’t exist. It sounds right but rings false.

This review appeared in Mint.

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