Rock On

Posted on February 10, 2011

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“What ails thee, Aditya” I asked.

I thought about that for some time and realized that he suffers from poor writing.

Think about it. The guy has everything going for him, a rock band, great friends, lovely girlfriend, his music and even a contract for an album. Of course, like all innocent babes lost in their innocence and music, the band does not realize that they will have to compromise to make a start. Clever Aditya realizes this and signs the contract. In doing so, he asserts his status as the leader of the band. But then something happens, the leader starts enjoying the attention and fails to see that his friends are being sidelined. When this point is made clear to him, what does he do? He cuts loose, breaks up the band, gives up his music, dumps his girlfriend (don’t ask why).

And to become what? A sullen, joyless, Investment Banker man (in the world of this film Investment Banker is a negative adjective). The movie callously implies that all those who work from 9 to beyond are soulless and lead unfulfilled lives.

So the erstwhile rocker, now an investment banker, ends up very successful. He has an uber-chic apartment, a beautiful wife languishing in designer clothes, an office with a view, and all the luxuries you can want. And yet all he ever does is look glum. It is an effort to break into a smile when his wife throws a surprise birthday party.

So what ails thee, I asked.

Could it be that he is trying to lose himself in his work so that he doesn’t have to think about what could have been? Could it be that he is punishing himself for not following his dreams? But you punish yourself when there is no remedy, when something can’t be undone. All this guy has to do is call up his friends, apologize, and go back to his music. If he can’t bring himself to do it then, what is it that is stopping him? Well, you see Joe (accidentally) pushed him. Ouch. If it sounds like we are talking about a 6 year old, we are not or well maybe we are.

The writer believes that Aditya is representative of the countless young Indians who gave up their calling in life to conform or to survive. But does Aditya really typify this generation of broken dreams? The answer is a resounding NO!

Aditya is a case of willfully abandoned dreams — a man who let an utterly trivial incident break apart his dreams. It begs the question whether his dreams were truly that important; whether music was truly his calling; whether he was secretly a banker at heart and shuddered at the thought. Who knows? Who cares? The writer obviously didn’t care. He was too busy bolstering up Aditya as the voice of the lost generation to pay any attention to these minor details.

Yet how does one explain the passionate defense put forward by audiences who swear they see themselves in Aditya? My own theory is that Aditya, a cardboard cutout as written on paper made wafer-thin by Farhan Akthar’s insipid acting, serves as an empty vessel into which the audience pours all their grief and emotions. One of those cases where the actor simply has to stand and the audience reads whatever they have been told to read or whatever they want to read. It reminds me of the Kuleshov experiment where some people were shown shots of an expressionless actor intercut with shots of a bowl of soup, a child playing, and a dead body. The audience felt the actor was conveying hunger, love, and sadness. Thus were the reviewers fooled into believing that Farhan Akthar is a “gifted actor.”

However shallows this puddle of a film may be, it does touch the edge of an abyss. It is in the character of Debbie that the depth of untold sadness and unfulfilled promise finds its truest expression. The aspiring fashion designer who gave up her dreams to run her husband’s fishing business, who applies cream on her hands every night to remove the stink, who haggles with fisherwomen, who arranges auditions for her husband, who dreams of a better life for her son, who fights to live and loses the fight everyday — it is Debbie who embodies life in all its sadness and indomitable spirit.

And what a lovely performance this is. In just a few scene and lines, she tells you all that you need to know about her without compromising on the depths of her feelings and despair.

Fittingly, it is Debbie who reminds Aditya and us how shallow and false his sorrow is compared to others, esp. hers. He creates a situation and wallows in it and just as easily decides to fix that situation without the slightest regard for others.

I see the same fire for life in Luke. He has a dream and he will not let petty rivalry get in the way. He continues making music, he is not successful but he is doing what he loves. Unfortunately, he is killed with a cliché.

KD aka Killer Drums is the proverbial happy idiot who realizes that he and Luke are just the sideshows in an implied tug-of-war between Aditya and Joe. Just how flimsy can a character’s existence be?

And that brings us to Joe. The brooding good looks, the long mane, the magic fingers, the empty eyes. Rock On may actually be the love story of Aditya and Joe. There is an almost Abhimaan-like moment when Joe sings a song that he has written. It is clearly a superior song and everyone congratulates him. Aditya doesn’t volunteer his opinion and we detect a pang of envy. And as they say “Where jealousy is, love is not far behind.” Predictably, the idea is never taken up by the writer again.

About Mr. Rampal’s performance, he is gifted with a devastatingly handsome face that is devoid of any emotion. That is a boon. Mr. Rampal’s looks like a man whose soul is dead but when he opens his mouth, garbled words and emotions ruin the illusion. Like Mr. Akthar, this is a non-performance.

And I haven’t yet got to the worst part — the ending.

Killing one of the band members is clearly not enough, the writer had to create a Shangri-la for the middle-aged rockers and their brood. As Aditya, Joe, and KD happily sip their wine, dip in the golden water, and soak in the general atmosphere of well-being, they retreat further back into the little cardboard boxes that they came out of. Not even the music stayed.

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Posted in: Reviews