Rockstar: The Music and the Movie

‘Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it.’ – is a one-line, reductive message one can construe from Imtiaz Ali’s latest movie Rockstar. But as I mull over this well-crafted, brilliantly edited movie with an astounding soundtrack (and background score), I realize that this is one of those movies can’t be defined in terms of such meager measures. Like in real life, the joyful and romantic moments pass by in a jiffy, while the sad ones hover around indeterminately. The way the story unfolds in the first half – by the means of snippets, interspersed with flashbacks, and even news clippings – also underscores this point. The masterful craftsmanship by the director Imtiaz Ali is superbly complemented by A R Rahman’s music in this angst-ridden journey of a Rockstar. The story-telling relies and weighs heavily on silent moments, unspoken words, and anguished fury, and often resort to the pulsating soundtrack to express the lead character’s musings, agony and dilemma.

When I first heard that Mohit Chauhan had voiced 9 out of 14 songs in this album, I was skeptical if he would be able to pull it off. But as I heard ‘Phir Se Ud Chala’ (few months ago when the album released), the choice of Chauhan started to make sense. He hails from the mountainous regions of Himachal Pradesh and has mastered the local pahadi folk music style. His reverie-inducing, dreamy, almost careless rendition is exactly what this song needed. The song has a very effervescent quality. Nothing repeats itself, but there’s an underlying order in apparent randomness. The beginning chorus reminded me of the ‘Sone ka pitara’ line from the ‘Jahan Piya’ [Pardes] – which is probably influenced by a traditional wedding song in Northern India.

Imtiaz Ali effectively utilizes most of the 14 tracks. The only song that doesn’t get materialized fully on screen is ‘Tum Ko’ (the Kavita Krishnamurthy version). Harshdeep Kaur’s playful ‘Kateya Karoon’ plays in the background and conveys Heer’s adolescent and naughty ambitions well. I kept thinking that ‘Kun Fayakun’ was somewhat redundant – if not forced into the script. It doesn’t really add anything to the story. (Except for the fact that Shammi Kapoor notices him at the dargah, but that could have happened anywhere.) The whole spiritual awakening was an unnecessary detour that was irrelevant to Jordon’s transformation into an artist. The actual transformation was triggered by his broken heart and lost love; the Sufi spiritualism seemed out of place in Jordan’s life given his character.

‘Jo Bhi Mein’ is so melodious and instantly catchy that it’s hard to believe that Irshad Kamil wrote the lyrics of this song first and ARR developed the tune afterwards. I just loved the guitar work (by Kabuli and Shon Pinto) complimenting the simple tune, and Kamil’s commendable poetry. This song is picturized during the early phases of Jordon’s musical journey – before the real artist is born. Hence the undemanding/easy tune makes sense. On the other hand, the anthem-like, guitar-laden, stunning ‘Sadda Haq’ comes much later as he matures as a musician. The contrast in Ranbir’s expressions between these two songs is enough for one to realize how much hard work he has put in to portray this character. The way Ranbir has performed this song, the tensed nerves on his neck, fuming mouth shouting into the microphone, moody head swings, and angry eyes full of chutzpah make you believe that you are looking at a true Rockstar who really knows the game. Notice how he hastily shakes his fingers several times before starting to play guitar. These small yet careful touches by Ali and Ranbir make this movie a treat to watch.

‘Sheher Mein’ was such a perfectly psychedelic pastiche (ARR doing Nadeem Shravan!) that I was a bit disappointed that it was reduced to few lines in the movie. All the interjections (‘Tum sun nahi rahe ho yaar’ etc.) were retained though, and serve well as comic relief. This is a fun song, something ARR has rarely done before. Other amusing song in this album is ‘Hava Hava’ with a complicated structure where ARR takes some inspirations from gypsy rhythm and sound. Chauhan does Masakkali again, and his voice suits this song well. I especially liked the lyrics, a Raja-Rani anecdote that also reflects (in parts) Heer’s dilemma as she trudges along her unhappy marriage.

Before watching the movie, I felt that the fireworks of acoustic and electric guitar riffs and heavy drum beats (by Shivmani) in ‘Naadaan Parindey’ tried a little too hard to take this song to a climactic height that it wasn’t really meant for. I felt that the extraneous orgy of sounds in this song was borderline dissonant at times. But this song was metamorphosed very successfully on screen – again, kudos to Ali and Ranbir. This is the only song that breaks the one-singer rule as some of Ranbir’s lines were rendered by ARR. In spite of ARR’s presence in the elevated mukhda, I think the song really gets life when Mohit enters with ‘Kaate chahe kitna…’ and ‘Kaga re kaga re…’ lines.

Surprisingly for a love story, there are no duets in this movie. And ‘Tum Ho’ is the only song that Jordon actually sings to Heer. (All other songs are either in the background, or are performed by Jordon to some general audience.) And I thought this was a wonderful way to end this movie – it shows snippets from the times they spend together. Not only we see Jordan sing for and to the object of his inspiration, but we are also reminded yet again how short-lived their romance was; how little time they actually spent together. (A side note: Their adolescent love affair started as a gimmick which involved list-making of things that are social taboo. Eventually, as their relationship matured, they end up breaking one of the biggest social customs – their illicit love affair carries on in complete disregard of the institution of marriage. How ironic!)

Finally, the cinematic pinnacle of the movie for me was the picturization of ‘Aur Ho’. Not only did ARR put Chauhan’s singing ranges on anvil (and Chauhan scored triumphantly), but Ali’s direction, Anil Mehta’s cinematography, Kamil’s lyrics, and the display of emotions/dilemma by the lead actors also attain an artistic high in this song. Some of the best lines in the album come from this song – like ‘Tujhe pehli baar mein milta hoon, har dafa’ and ‘Mein hasrat me ek uljhi dor hua…’. And what can I say about the way this song ends – that unruly kiss at the end of a passionate performance! Loved it! Imtiaz Ali, take a bow.

[Picture Courtesy: The official movie site of Rockstar]

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11 responses to “Rockstar: The Music and the Movie

  1. sownthar

    I was awaiting this review for sometime really!!
    It is because I read the music review of Delhi 6 in your blog and was impressed by the way you described Rahman sir’s music. That was the time I started following your blog. And then on.. was following all the AR Rahman tagged stuff in your blog.

    And your Rockstar review really a good treat again.
    Your description of the best lines is really what I liked it about.
    But unlike you said, ‘Kun Faaya Kun’ is a master piece of the album again and in some of the reviews it is described as one of the best Sufi songs in years. I loved it.

    Anyways, Well scripted, Keep writing!!!!

    • Hey, thanks man! I am glad you enjoy my posts about ARR.

      Kun Fayakun is a wonderful song indeed. The maestro can not go wrong when it comes to Sufi/spiritual songs. I just thought that the song didn’t really belong to this movie/story-line — at least in the way it was picturized.

      By the way, I am looking forward to the music release of Ek Deewana Tha – can’t wait to hear the Hindi version or Aaromale.

  2. I agree! This easily one of the best Rahman album in years and I think Imtiaz Ali has used the songs beautifully! Agree that “Aur Ho” is that “crescendo” moment in the film — just breathtaking the way its sung, composed and finally picturised by Ali. It’s my favorite moment in the entire film.

  3. Jatin

    As always, very well written Vish!!! no doubt, one of the finest work of ARR; i didn’t realize some details of music and movie until i read your blog and now its perfectly making sense!!! Keep writing!!! its a treat…

  4. VJ

    As always, excellent Vishal! Due to the circumstances under which I watched this movie, I didn’t get much time to think and analyze it’s after effects. I knew that I had some hangover related to movie but didn’t get a chance to think what/why/how/etc. Your review actually helped me analyze on how much did I loved this movie and its connection with all of the songs and also my hangover reasons.

    More when we meet! I echo all others here….. keep writing!

  5. I want to watch the movie after reading your post now:) first I dared wtaching it thinking it might turn out to be a stupid flashy film.

    • Anar,

      It is a commercial movie, so there are “typical Bollywood” elements that may throw you off, but I think Ali did a pretty decent job of balancing art with commerce. Oh, and beware of Nargis Fakhri. As some other blogger quipped (can’t remember who), she makes Katrina look like Meryle Streep! 🙂

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