Monday, November 14, 2011

A love story beyond right-doing and wrong-doing

Since Bollywood has been making love stories by the dozens every year for the past 100 odd years, one can be forgiven for thinking that Bollywood has explored all possible love stories within this period. There has been the obsessive love story (Darr), the incestuous love story (Lamhe), the teenage love story (Bobby), the adulterous love story (Silsila), the sanitised love story (DDLJ), the unrequited love story (Devdas), the tragically unfulfilled love story (Sadma) and all shades in between. What new shade could one impart to a done-to-death genre like the humble love story? Imtiaz Ali succeeds in doing the impossible and creates a love story with a soul. A living, breathing, pulsating soul which flows like a river - wild and tempestuous, but also enriching and rewarding. Sometimes placid like the Ganga in the North Indian plains, occasionally turbulent like the mighty Brahmaputra.

The movie begins with a voiceover in Hindi (Ranbir Kapoor's voice) about there being a field beyond right-doing and wrong-doing and he will meet his beloved there. The same quote is flashed at the end of the movie, where it is attributed to the great Sufi mystic Rumi. The rest of the movie is a flashback.

While Rockstar is an original movie, if asked to pick any literary classic as resembling it closest in spirit, I would pick Wuthering Heights - the great work of Gothic passion and romance, with Ranbir Kapoor being Heathcliff and Nargis Fakhri being Catherine. Theirs is a taboo love, though for reasons different from those in the book. And yet, it is a love too great to be confined within the bounds of societal morality. It frequently threatens to erupt, spill over and destroy the sanitised life that Nargis seemingly lives. At the same time it is a love which is un-selfconscious. A love which blossoms through friendship and through breaking taboos ironically never needs to say those 3 words in the entire movie.

The movie spans several years and the narrative jumps back and forth. However there is never any confusion about which point in the narrative one is in. Imtiaz ali takes care to avoid all cliches. He does not go for neat and artificial solutions. There is no last minute elopement, no long drawn out teary farewells and no proclamations of undying love. After a fun filled quarter of the movie, Nargis gets married and goes off to Prague to live with her industrialist husband.

It is in Prague that Ranbir and Nargis meet again after an interlude the length of which is never specified, but during which a lot has changed. In a scene reminiscent of Jab We Met, where Shahid meets Kareena Kapoor after a gap of 9 months when she has been abandoned by her lover, Ranbir Kapoor comes across Nargis. She is obviously trapped in a loveless marriage and all life and vitality have gone out of her. She is on her way to an appointment with a psychiatrist, who has been telling her in previous sessions that there's nothing obviously wrong with her. With Ranbir back in her life she learns to live and dance and sing again. And love again. However this is a love that goes against societal proprieties and has to be kept hidden. A series of unfortunate but inevitable events follow and their love does not remain hidden. Ranbir Kapoor self-destructs, Nargis Fakhri contracts a life threatening ailment, and just like Catherine in Wuthering Heights she dies.

The ending of the movie has been kept deliberately ambiguous. The movie ends at the same point where it had begun. Ranbir Kapoor having been beaten up by goons in a backstreet of Prague arrives bloody lipped for a concert, and the quote from Rumi is flashed again. The message is obvious - for a world which feigns inspiration from Gandhi, Christ and Buddha, it is a world which is surprisingly scared of love. Love in our world is a bigger taboo than war. For someone who is in an all-consuming love, society has no tools to control him with. Priests cannot threaten and politicians cannot entice the lover, so love is the biggest impediment to politics of power, dominance and religion.

The direction is multi layered and full of subtle nuances, which are suggested without being made explicit - lesson for the Madhur Bhandarkars of the world. However, no review of this movie is complete without talking about the music and the cinematography. The movie is shot at some beautiful locations in Prague and in Kashmir, and the cinematography is grand in a way which reminds one of Sanjay Leela Bhansali's creations. The music spans genres and is one of the pillars of the movie. After several middling efforts over the past few years AR Rehman comes into his own and shows us what he is still capable of creating if he is inspired. Faya Kun, Hawa Hawa, Nadaan Parinde and Sadda Haq are all superlative songs and each is as different from the other as the proverbial chalk is from cheese. Faya Kun in particular is the perfect devotional qawaali and is simultaneously elevating and gut wrenching.

I have seen critics quibble about Ranbir Kapoor's guitar playing skills as displayed in the movie or the inexplicable availability of a bike whenever Ranbir and Nargis want to go on a romp. Frankly that is nitpicking! Who cares about bodily imperfections when the soul is immaculate?

After inundating us with some soulless monstrosities that dementor like, suck all well-being and reason out of their audience (Bodyguard, Ra.One, Ready and Housefull come to mind) Bollywood redeems itself with Rockstar. After watching the movie I had told my friend that Imtiaz Ali has become to love stories what Farhan Akhtar is to tales of friendship. Having thought about it for 2 days I see no reason to retract my statement. Thank you Imtiaz Ali. Thank you for making me believe.


Sisyphus said...

This review does the perfect justice to the movie. If only I could tell Imtiyaz Ali not to be deterred by the mass opinion. The masses know not the good.

Fawkes said...

While there have been some critical comments, the movie has overall been positively received. Boxofficeindia estimates a business of 39 crores in 4 days which is pretty awesome for a non-Khan movie, not released during a festive weekend. Here's the link :

So don't lose heart yet about the movie's commercial viability :).

Anonymous said...

well i don't have much to comment on the movie as i have'nt watched it yet. The only thing that i would like to tell of Rehman's music...I would simply call it a good piece of music but which lacks what is called a song. For me a song is something that comes to ur lips naturally. Unlike others he uses lyrics on the background which i never get to understand much. So it's good as long as you are listening it, otherwise you just forget what you heard a minutes before...Chad...

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