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Masand's verdict: Rock On


Rajeev Masand,CNN-IBN
Aug 30, 2008 at 01:30pm IST

Cast: Farhan Akhtar, Arjun Rampal, Purab Kohli, Luke Kenny, Koel Purie, Shahana Goswami

Director: Abhishek Kapoor

With Rock On, director Abhishek Kapoor promises a true-blue band film, but ultimately delivers a masala Hindi film that just happens to be about a band. Farhan Akhtar, Arjun Rampal, Purab Kohli and Luke Kenny star as once-aspiring musicians who chucked up their dream of taking their band professional. But a chance reunion ten years later inspires them to consider returning for one last gig.

The film's basic plot stays faithful to the blueprint of your standard coming-of-age film, but the screenplay of Rock On is bursting at its seams with so many clichés that fifteen minutes in you can predict pretty much everything that's going to happen then on.

Despite terrific cinematography and some very enjoyable music, Rock On has few surprises because the writers stick to the safety of tried-and-tested formula instead of pushing the envelope. As a result the film moves at a snail-like pace, dragging on instead of picking up steam when the story moves towards its climax.

Yet, Rock On is rescued by some marvelous moments that stay with you until the end. Like that hilarious scene in which the band must perform an old Nadeem-Shravan hit at a dandiya event to raise cash for new equipment. Or the one in which Purab's character blows a prospective 'moment' with Koel Purie when he doesn't know how to return a compliment.

There are many things to like about this film. Its little moments reveal so much. Like how the band's 'home-made' music and lyrics are instantly put into perspective in that telling scene in which Arjun knocks down a glass of tea and Farhan instantly makes up a song about it. How can anyone criticize the amateurish lyrics of their songs after they've shown you exactly what inspires them to come up with their lines?

Or then that scene in which Prachi, the rich-wife of an investment banker, is spoilt for choice when in the comfort of her living room a designer displays an array of outfits for her. It seems like such a mundane scene, unnecessary even, but it says so much about Prachi's character and instantly illustrates why she really does have nothing better to do than go through her husband's things, arrange surprise parties for him, organize reunions between his friends and serve them a hearty lunch after a jamming session.

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It's difficult to believe the writer who came up with such layered subtlety, is also responsible for all the gaping holes in the script. The tiff between Farhan and Arjun that leads to the band's break up looks so contrived; Farhan's overnight abandoning of his girlfriend is hardly convincing; and what does one make of the ridiculous scene at a party where Farhan runs into his ex?

You cringe during that predictable scene in which one of the protagonists is diagnosed with a fatal tumor but insists on performing nevertheless; you sigh when you've correctly guessed that a character who was expected to skip the big night shows up eventually and brings the house down. This is such poor writing and I'm surprised nobody noticed it.

The heart of any film lies in its characters and your ability to empathize with them. The protagonists in Rock On are full of flaws and many aren't even particularly well written. Yet they come off as endearing, and the credit for that must go to the actors inhabiting those roles. The extremely talented Purab Kohli may be reduced to the comic sidekick here, but he gives the film some of its nicest moments.

Prachi Desai, saddled with what I think is the film's trickiest role, comes off unscathed because she's an actor who oozes warmth. Farhan Akhtar exercises both his vocal chords and his acting chops to play the band's lead singer and the film's central character. He does both adequately. Of the boys, it's Arjun Rampal who towers above the rest with an earnest performance as the idealistic musician.

But the powerhouse performer in this film is Shahana Goswami who stars as Arjun's girlfriend-turned-wife. It's an instinctive, performance that stands out for its combination of strength and vulnerability.

Rock On wouldn't be half the film if it wasn't for Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy's remarkable score. And it's courageous on the part of the film's makers that they went with Farhan's vocals for the songs that are filmed on him.

The film isn't great, far from it actually. It's watchable because it's set in a new world, and because it's got a bunch of wonderful moments. For the novelty of the experience I'll go with three out of five for director Abhishek Kapoor's Rock On.

Watch it because it at least tries to be different.

Rating: 3 / 5 (Good)

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