Thursday, April 02, 2009

Rock On!! Revisited: I love you, man!

Often I'll get asked this question: did you like (the 2008 Bollywood hit) Rock On? And right after I say with much honesty, "Why yes, I very much did" I'll get asked "What is it about that movie that people like so much?"

After acknowledging that there is a legion out there that was left cold by the movie, I always come up with something inarticulate and muddled. But I recently watched the DVD with my sons that seemed to clear my thoughts. The reason is entirely because I was able to connect it to another piece of entertainment I had consumed just a week before.

A few weeks ago I picked up Sean Murphy's graphic novel Off Road - a helter skelter retelling of a spiraling, madcap road trip. "Off Road" is the story of three long-time friends who take a newly acquired Jeep into the wild and end up stuck in the woods with no help in sight. Along the way, there is the somewhat rote subplots of friendship being tested and selves being discovered. But what makes the whole thing super entertaining is that Murphy allows us to wallow in the dude-ness of his tale. Its a book about men and men behaving like boys, period. No compromises.

Sean Murphy - who has credits like Batman and Star Wars - is a terrific artist. Operating in black and white, switching between the urgent scrapes of an ink nib and the more lush lines of a brush, Murphy is able to portray a gamut of emotions on his characters faces. When he pans out upwards to depict a scene from overhead - something he does quite often in his book - coolness abounds!

So back to Rock On!!, which I decided to screen for the family after having seen it once before. A quick note - RO is a reasonably safe movie for kids to watch. There are two minor infractions - a gesture that mimics copulation and a reference to drug abuse. They are fleeting - I don't think my sons picked up either.

You could say RO is about a lot of things: about holding on to your passion, about second chances, about never giving up, about music, about friendship. I'd like to make the case that RO works entirely because of its dude-ness.

There are four guys at the heart of RO. All of them reject the straitjacketed life they have been socialized into to connect back with their friends and their dude-ness. And they go do exactly what they did before they were shackled down into being family men.

Farhan Akhtar (Aditya) resolves a marriage on the rocks by going back to being a dude. Luke Kenny (Rob) rises momentarily above his impending demise by embracing the dude life again. Purab Kohli (Kedar), well, never stops being a dude. Arjun Rampal (Joe) walks away from a steady paying job and his wife to let his hair loose and stroke his guitar (metaphor alert!) among friends. Lest we forget, just as his ball buster of a wife crumbles (it is to Shahana Goswami's credit that she manages to pull everyone in her corner in a thankless role), he is egged on to reclaim his back slapping dude-ness by his son - clearly a dude in the making.

The movie itself ends slyly. Life ends well in dude-land. Everyone lands somewhere safe and profitable (except poor Rob who bites the dust - well someone has to die otherwise there is no lasting bittersweetness.) Yes, everyone is married and has responsibilities - but every weekend those can be forgotten as dudes romp around like they did before.

Fair enough, you may argue - but how does that explain why women loved the movie? Despite the fact that Prachi Desai (Sakshi) provides a tried and tested hook for women (supportive, loving sati savitri out to save her husband from himself), I'm not quite sure they organically did.


Anonymous said...

Any how I liked songs in Rock ON!!!
Farhaan is tooooooo awesome in the movie..

Beth Loves Bollywood said...

I really disliked this movie, and I'm not sure if it's because I don't give a crap about dudeness (for either gender) or because it was presented in such a trite, predictable, indulgent way. I also can't get out from under the feeling that the men got to do everything they wanted in this film and the women got stuck just dealing with it. Men get to do whatever they want, regardless of whether it's responsible to the families they've chosen to create, and women get to be responsible for responding to their male partner's wants. (Which maybe isn't all that different from some other movies or typical plotlines.)

But on the up side, a fight broke out on my blog about it, and that's always fun.

I know three women who liked it; two have been in or very involved with rock bands, so I think some of it resonated for them in ways that it didn't for the rest of us mere mortals. Also, so people find the man-child type attractive. More for them, say I.

Anonymous said...


Beth has said it way better than I could, but the whole premise of leftover teenage angst in adults is not something I have a lot of patience for. Also, there was no real reason the 4 could not have planned to be a weekend band earlier, when they all got real jobs. I might have appreciated the movie more if I liked the music, there are some real clunkers I watch simply for the songs, but Farhan's voice put me right off, and none of the songs made an impact, probably because most Rock songs don't on me anyway :-) (wrong background, prefer classical music :-))

The women I know who liked the movie (about 5~6 desi women) have all fallen squarely into the Farhan Fan girl club, so that explains it for them - and they all agreed, that apart from FA, the movie itself did nothing for them.


Unknown said...

Beth, you are holding RO up to a much higher standard than other Bollywood stuff. That is probably good news for the creative team. But your critique is still both good and valid.

Bitterlemons, about not staying a weekend band - I think the whole band breakup scenario is underwhelming, yes? People picked up on it. The irony of it is that bands have broken up over less - such are rock band egos. But cinematically, the payload has to be bigger otherwise it doesn't work.

Teddy but you may as well call me Arjun ki deewani said...

I'd watch it just for the perfect hotness of Arjun Rampal (sigh). Can't act to save his life, but he is so darn beautiful. He belongs in that select group of beautiful men who should just do what they do best....look good. They should just be seen and not the old proverb says.

Unknown said...

My son is with you Teddy and he doesn't even understand "hot" yet. He asked me a question during the movie. Which Joe did you like? Sauve Joe (pre-rock bottom) or slovenly Joe?

dockaul said...

Regrettably I belong to the legion of phillum goers who have been left cold by the frat trash "Crock on"...agree wholeheartedly with Beth's viewpoint about the movie...
btw Great music by SEL but asininely infantile lyrics by Javed Saab..the vocals .. the less about the 'acoustically speckled" voice of FA the better..Lizard king he ain't yet ..
overall IMHO a mediocre film with drab performances by most (Sahana da honorable exception)

da fillum clicked somewhat coz of the current crapfest innundating Bolywood.. andhon mein kana raja types..

Just a POV..

Patthar chaloo.. :D

musical said...

Haven't watched Rock On, so won't comment on that, but shades of what Beth, Bitterlemons and Dockaul point out were also visible in "Dil Chahta Hai". Shalini's character was always at the mercy of one guy or the other. I mean,how different were Aamir and Ayub's characters??

LostCow said...

VS Fans & Megania:
VS & Shubha Mudgal are back as Judges in Kiddies VOI show - Mummy Ka Superstar !

Unknown said...

musical, I haven't seen Dil Chahta Hai lately so don't remember much, but in general if you consume enough entertainment and related critique you realize that the material seems to matter as much as its source.

You can make similar critiques of Zoya's Luck By Chance, but it would be interpreted as a comment on the state of women rather than part of male entitlement.

Anonymous said...


re: DCH, while I enjoyed its relatively realistic portrayal of urban rich-kid life when I first saw it (the Hindi movie I saw before DCH was Baadshah, to give you an idea of what I am comparing it to :-)) the move treats women the same was as most mainstream Hindi movies do: glamourous add-ons who get married. No one has a job, or a career. To be fair to DCH, only Akshay-the-artist is shown as pursuing his dream career - I can't remember what Saif did, and Aamir simply went into the family business in the best Bollywood tradition.


musical said...

Aspi, Bitterlemons, thank you :).

Aspi, I agree, material matters just as much as the source. And i do agree that the expectations from Farhan Akhtar are higher :). May be because he is young and clearly looks interested in what he is doing? As for DCH, some of the portrayals may be stereotypical, but atleast Akash was not too far from some guys you may encounter in everyday life. And thanks for pointing out how similar portrayals may be interpreted as radically opposite, depending on the source-completely agree on that one.

Bitterlemons, Baadshah was silly (i actually liked it, he he)-though for a moment i read it as "Lal Badshah", now that would something totally different :-D.

Hridya said...

I think most women, like me, watched it for the hotness of Farhan Akhtar.

Anonymous said...

totally disliked the movie and the songs as well. Waste of my time

Anonymous said...

Though funny, I think this talk of 'dudeness' doesn't fit the movie. I think people liked this movie because it offered hope that it is possible to be happy despite life (and its assorted complications). In this movie, everybody turns out happy. Happy-go-lucky types, dreamy types, domineering types, drifting types, supporting types and what not. Even Suraj Jagan turns out to be happy. Hell, even Rob is happy though he dies in the end! Coupled with non-bollywood type melodramatics, rocking music and great concert performances, its 'things will turn out to be good if you just be' mantra was seductive. Much like DCH in fact. Cool movie.