Sunday, August 31, 2008

Rock On!! - A Very Personal Connection

I get a little uncomfortable and self-conscious every time I watch a film where there is a character who shares my name (that's been happening a lot in the last couple of years). Sometimes it is easy, especially when you have nothing in common with the character on screen (for example, the three films where Akshay Kumar was called Aditya). In those cases it does feel odd to have people on screen call out your name, but that's not a problem. But if you see even one trait similar to you in the character with the same name as you, it's a terribly uncomfortable feeling. It almost feels like standing naked in full public gaze. This happened to me when I saw Rock On!!

Not that I have a lots in common with Aditya (Farhan Akhtar), the lead singer of a rock band Magik in Rock On. But the fact that he cuts himself off from his friends, almost erasing them from his life as if they didn't exist, and is visibly uncomfortable when meeting them after 10 years, was something uncannily close to me. Although there's no 'past' or 'guilt' that prevents me from doing so, as it is in the case of the character in Rock On, I have hardly been in touch with any of my friends from college, avoiding re-unions or get-togethers for no particular reason. I just feel terribly uncomfortable. Why? If only I knew.

Rock On also opened the flood gates of memory for me. It took me back almost 20 years when I was in college. At the time I was closely associated with a college rock band. Not as a member, but as a close friend of the lead singer of the group. I saw them from extremely close quarters, from being around during their jamming sessions, to accompanying them for the various gigs they performed at five star hotels, to closely observing the differences of opinions and serious tiffs among the five members of the group. I saw all of that in Rock On!! And that made this film special for me.

Plot-wise there's nothing remarkably new in Rock On. Even the way some of the scenes unfold is quite predictable. Yet, the entire film is put together with such warmth and honesty that it does not fail to talk directly to the audience. It's the film that appeals to the heart. The credit for this must go to Abhishek Kapoor who has written and directed this film with utmost honesty and conviction. The primary theme of achieving your unfulfilled dreams is universal. Almost everyone at some point in one's life would have had a dream that got sidelined in favour of a more secure future. As Aditya says in the movie, "Compromise kaun nahin karta…."

One of the reasons why the film works so well is that almost every actor comes up with an instantly relatable performance. Farhan Akhtar as Aditya gets the meatiest character and he does remarkably well, even though I wonder if he really has a wide range. For this film, however, he is just right. He also uses is slightly croaky voice to good effect in emotional scenes. Prachi Desai as his wife is endearing. The subtlety of her expressions surprised me quite a bit, especially after having seen her in an irritatingly melodramatic performance in an Ekta Kapoor serial. Purab Kohli as "Killer Drummer" and Luke Kenny as Rob, the keyboard player, also suit their roles to a T. However, the characters that worked best for me were that of the on-screen couple Joe (Arjun Rampal) and Debbie (Shahana Goswami). Arjun works well within his limitations as an actor and comes up with a performance that is undoubtedly his best ever. But the real knock-out performance comes from Shahana Goswami. I seriously believe that Shahana's is the supporting performance of the year. She truly deserves every single supporting actress award next year, but the mechanics of most awards are such that it is unlikely that she would bag it, which will be quite unfortunate.

In a film about a rock band, music has an important role has to play. Shankar-Ehsan-Loy's rocking score works very well in the context of the film. Whether it's Socho Zara that plays right at the beginning, setting the tone of the movie, or the climactic medley of Tum Ho To and Sindbad the Sailor, each song is picturized extremely well. The climax is also emotionally uplifting, despite being predictable. A lot has been written about Javed Akhtar's seemingly 'pedestrian' lyrics, but I felt they were perfect for the genre.

While talking about how writers tend to take shortcuts when they can't think of any innovative ways of moving the screenplay forward, playwright Rebecca Gilman had talked about the 1983 Oscar winner Terms of Endearment - "Look at Terms of Endearment. We’re going along and going along, and there’s not really a plot. Then...oh, she gets cancer. You get it all the time when people don’t quite know what to do, and I think in those cases it is a shortcut to tragedy." This can very well be said of Rock On as well. The plot point about brain tumour clearly points towards a writer (Abhishek Kapoor) who just didn't know how to add an emotional element to the final act.

However, I connected with it at a very personal level. It literally shook me up. And my connection with the film was complete….

Last year I had received the news that lead guitarist of the college rock band I talked about earlier had succumbed to lung cancer.

This one is for you, Shiva.