Rock On vs Rock On 2

There are some movies and books that remain close to your heart much after you’ve watched them in awe, absorbed them with all your emotions and made them a part of your life, coming back to haunt you with delicious nostalgia in snippets. The music, the dialogues, the characters and sometimes certain situations in your own life that you can join dots with in the plot of the film. Rock On was one such Hindi film that I had connected instantly to, as did many others, for the essence of the film being the need for following one’s passion, which is as vital as eating, drinking and breathing. After all, life is not only about leading a robotic existence. What drives us after our basic needs are fulfilled, are our interests, our passions, our dreams.

It was in the year 2008 when Rock On – a rock musical drama film was released. I was based out of Bombay around that time which made me live this film in the heart of its concept. For months to follow, I hummed, ate, drank, grooved, drove around the lanes of Bombay living the Rock On experience through its music. Notice that I call the place Bombay instead of Mumbai. That is what the film touches you with. The charm of old Bombay set as a backdrop to the trials and tribulations of a gang of lost musicians, who finally brave the odds to find their call. A dead band by the name of Magik, is revived with each character fighting their demons to meet their ultimate source of nirvana – music. The characters are so real that you would expect to bump into one of them any day in the by-lanes of Bandra, be it Joe (Arjun Rampal) strumming his guitar intensely, or his wife Debbie (Shahana Goswami) who is frustrated, handling their fish business, compromising on her dreams of becoming a fashion stylist, or Adi (Farhan Akhtar) who prefers to bury himself in the stiff tight corporate world after breaking up with his ex-girlfriend, or be it Sakshi (Prachi Desai), Adi’s wife, who one fine day discovers how talented her husband is when she goes through his old things. Quite unlike his boring current day investment banker image. Not to mention K.D. (Purab Kohli) on the drums and Rob (Luke Kenny) on the keyboard who eventually dies fighting a disease in the end. A pleasantly surprised Sakshi brings them all together to finally revive Magik. The music true to the film’s genre is pure adrenaline rush! The generous dose of talent that the star cast was sprinkled with only elevated the film to another level altogether, with Farhan Akhtar’s flawless performance and Arjun Rampal’s intense screen presence. The beautiful Prachi Desai’s calm composed rendering of her character and Shahana Goswami’s slipping under Debbie’s skin so effortlessly were quite admirable.

Well, so when talks of a sequel started off a few months back, I rubbed my hands in excited anticipation! When I saw the promos on television, I waited to see the best part that was yet to be highlighted. Shraddha Kapoor seemed oddly out of place and I just could not fathom why she was singing when she clearly did not seem to have an ounce of singing talent. But I chose to ignore the minor irritants hoping that there was more to it. Who knows the audience was in for a surprise from her? Some hidden talent that we were unaware of. After all, it was Rock On 2. It had to have something backing it. Rock On 2 hit the screen last Friday. The weekend saw me heading to the multiplex with hope of watching another history in making.

The film starts off in Meghalaya. Surprised? Yeah, me too. Well, I love nature and I must agree that some of the shoot locations were just out of this world. But hey, it simply did not strike a chord in the world of Rock On. The verdant greenery, picturesque landscapes and the earthy log cabins just did not seem to gel with the rock culture and the mood of the story. Well, so the story goes further ahead with Adi (Farhan Akhtar) having now moved to Meghalaya due to some tragic experience that makes him leave Bombay. Turns out that he holds himself responsible for a budding talent’s suicide, being unable to give the guy his time. He now gets peace out of managing farms, running a school for the village kids and providing livelihood for the local rural folks. His wife (Prachi Desai) and son still live in Bombay and so do the other members of Magik. Joe Mascarenhas (Arjun Rampal), is now out of his financial difficulties and is doing pretty well for himself. He’s one of the judges for a popular television music show and runs a club that gives a platform to young music talent. It is along this journey that the group discovers Jiah (Shraddha Kapoor), a singer with immense talent but wary of public performances due to her father, a well-known pandit in classical music, who’s traditional views on music discourages his children from following their dreams.

Honestly, off the records, Shraddha sure needs to be wary with the kind of voice and flat renditions she has churned out! There are times I’ve just had to plug my ears to escape it! This, after she’s been trained in classical music and Jazz. Unbelievable! There have been other films where I’ve had no issues with her performances, but I’m sorry to say, in this particular film she stuck out like a black scar. The feeble attempts to style her into a rock diva strikes distinctly refusing to blend into the character. Sometimes, no matter how passionate an actor is about doing a role, his or her personality just doesn’t do justice to the role that they are playing or for the genre of the particular film. The grunge, the bohemian feel and the raw passion was something that just did not come through her. I was left wondering how Kangana Ranaut or perhaps, newbie, Taapsee Pannu (of the film Pink fame) would have oozed wonders through Jiah’s character. For that matter, even Alia Bhatt has surprised us with some really unconventional performances recently and pulled it off brilliantly. But well, there’s a difference in the Shakti Kapoor gene pool as compared to the Mahesh Bhatt gene pool! With due respect to both the Kapoors and Bhatts, they do well when they stick to their own respective scope of work.

Anyway, even if I keep Shraddha Kapoor aside and think, its surprising to note how it could all go so wrong with the likes of Farhan Akhtar and Arjun Rampal backing the script with their strong renditions. The script obviously was weak. Several loose threads hanging. This time the band comes together to raise funds to help a village in Meghalaya which was burnt down by the corrupt government officials. It is the same village that Adi had lived in. A concert is planned to happen in the middle of wilderness, with claims of Shillong being a rock capital of India and that it was a perfect destination for a concert. What I fail to understand is if the intention of the concert was to raise funds, why would artistes from Bombay perform in some isolated valleys of Meghalaya, especially in a hostile environment that had caused the very need to help the villagers there? If the idea was to generate funds, wouldn’t it be easier and more profitable to have a concert in the commercial capital, Bombay, instead? But it seemed like the director wanted to promote Meghalaya tourism, so somehow, the last chance of salvaging some of the Bombay magic in the film was also lost.

Come to think of it, the most vital ingredient for this film was missing. The music. It did nothing to me. Whatever happened to Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy? After the directing the soulful music of Rock On, their quality seems to have dipped exponentially in the music of Rock On 2. The number, Jaago that was probably intended to raise some noise, shot in Colaba with the Hotel Taj in the background, this was seriously noise to the ears. So much so, that the character in the film himself ridicules the screeching words strung together intended as a song. The only melodious sparks that flew were on two occasions in the movie: 1) when the ever flamboyant Usha Uthup gave a surprise appearance and charmed our hearts as always, and 2) when Sinbad the Sailor was replayed (although the energy of the previous version was missing here). I wished the team had not brought this up as a sequel for Rock On. On its own with a few tweaks in the music, script and characters this could have been a decent movie but as sequel to something as enthralling as Rock On this is a pure let down. Overall, I would give it 2/5.

Sadly, the true magic of Sinbad the Sailor never happened in Rock On 2. I came back home thoroughly disappointed and here’s what I streamed on YouTube on loop mode. Turn up the volume and enjoy!