As many of you may already be aware, I’m currently residing in Madurai, a small city/town in Tamil Nadu, popular for its temples, rituals, culture and tradition. The “City of Temples”, as it is commonly known, boasts of all these and more. And yet, I feel like a fish out of water since the time I landed here to make a career of my own six months ago.
We shan’t go into the pros and cons of Madurai. That shall occupy an entire post. Let’s save that for the later.
I wish to narrate an experience that I never really hoped I would ever get to see/feel/know in a place like this. Perhaps, it would be an exaggeration to call it an “experience”; it wasn’t any epiphany or a Eureka moment. It was as simple an act as watching a movie in a cinema hall (as the title of this post may have suggested). What made it extraordinary was the fact that the movie was in a language (I assumed) no one speaks/understand here: Hindi
I was wrong. And I’m more than happy that I was proved to be so.
The film I’m referring to here is Rockstar, starring Ranbir Kapoor and Nargis Fakhri. Most of my readers, I’m sure, are aware of the movie (and have probably even seen it, provided that they live in a land that offers them the luxury of watching a Hindi movie in a cinema hall). I shall come to the review in a while…
Madurai boasts of some excellent movie halls. It is home to one of the oldest cinema houses and the city is filled with movie lovers and die-hard Rajni fans. But that’s where the bubble bursts. There are hardly any halls that take the risk of showcasing a Hindi movie—the common excuse for the same being that no one really ‘understands’ it, as Tamil and English are the city’s official languages. To spot a Hindi-speaking man/woman in Madurai is akin to finding an Indian in Brazil. The population exists. But, sparsely so.
Do not misunderstand me. It isn’t that people do not ‘understand’ the language. They probably do. I know that for a fact because in the first few months of my stay here, I spoke in Hindi, despite the fact that I knew Tamil, only to see if people make sense of what I say. And they did. But when it comes to speech, they do not go beyond Haanji, naaji, paisa and kitna.
It all began with the poster that I saw yesterday on my way to office. It was a huge one that proudly displayed a beautiful sketch of the lead actors romancing away to glory at the backdrop of the image of an electric guitar. It was a different matter altogether that the site of the poster was a little less romantic—adjacent to the government pay-and-use toilet.
I did not want to jump into any conclusions that since the city had posters of the movie, they were probably also showing it. This was because when Ra.One released during Diwali, the city was filled with its posters, too. The movie was even put up for an anxious audience: but it was dubbed in Tamil. The thought of watching Ranbir Kapoor lip syncing to Tamil dialogues made me feel nauseous and I dropped my high hopes.
But, curiosity got the better of me and I Googled my half-knowledge anyway only to see that Big Cinemas, a popular chain of multiplex in India, were actually showcasing Rockstar in Hindi (I double-checked—once with my naked eyes and once bespectacled). I couldn’t sit still in the office any longer. I knew I had to watch this. I didn’t care how the movie would be but the fact that here was an opportunity to witness a sizeable number of Hindi-speaking people (considered to be a rarity, perhaps even miraculous) turn out in public was enough to make up my mind.
The next step was to get company, which was tricky, as most of my colleagues are Hindi-handicapped. One of my immediate seniors—let’s call him O for name’s sake—saw my restless state of mind at work, enquired about the same and kindly offered to take me along. I wasn’t sure if that was a good idea. To watch a movie in a language one doesn’t know sans sub-title would be foolishness, I thought. Until when he informed that Hindi had been his third language in school; that he knew how to read and write Hindi. I couldn’t believe my ears. I was watching a Hindi movie. I had got company. And a company that claimed to understand the language. My ecstasy had reached its anti-climax.
The movie was to begin at 10.45 am show. Given the odd hours that I work in, I reached home yesterday at 3 am. Worried I might miss the advertisements (showcased five minutes before the movie starts) that I never like to miss, I hardly slept through the night. I got up early, wore my sweatshirt (that had been lying abandoned so far due to lack of usage), got some cash and headed for the hall. O was supposed to be there by 10 am.
O was late by a few minutes, which gave me the opportunity to scan the crowd carefully. For one, it was a real ‘crowd’ and not just a “sizeable number of Hindi-speaking people,” as I had so conveniently assumed. Interestingly, they were all male. (In fact, my joy knew no bounds when I spotted a Sikh at the ticket counter. Madurai has no Gurudwara to my knowledge. Readers, please correct me if I’m wrong).
I waited a few more minutes but I was never blessed with the sight of a person of my sex. They were all men, some could be categorized as boys, and they all looked like college going students. I didn’t really go into their looks deeply to gauge their age. Frankly, I couldn’t. I was too busy trying not to feel out-of-place in a (literally) male dominated space. O arrived and expressed his complete surprise at the crowd turnout. He claimed that in his 2-and-a-half years in Madurai, he hadn’t seen such a huge population of Hindi-speaking people together, as a group, in the same platform. Ah! I was witness to a rare occurrence. I winked at God.
The movie began amidst extreme hooting, whistling and comments—a common occurrence in most reasonably priced cinema halls our country. The tickets, here, were priced at Rs. 85. Just about enough to invite an audience that had complete knowledge of most rustic slangs to be used efficiently, in a calculated way during the movie’s progress. Again, something I never imagined I would witness in Madurai. The hooting and whistling triggered as the movie paced forward. The frequency of slangs grew as the movie reached towards its closure. In short, my knowledge of the profane had increased by leaps and bounds by the time the movie ended. And I couldn’t be more thankful! My ecstasy had reached its climax. 😉
Here’s my take on the movie (FINALLY):
First things first: Rockstar is Ranbir. Ranbir is Rockstar. The movie belongs to him. It’s his and no one else’s. And rightly so. Agreed that the female protagonist fuels his character. Agreed that director Imtiaz Ali is the brain behind the concept and script. Agreed that A R Rehman is the composer of a movie that rests its foundation on music. Even so. It’s Ranbir Kapoor all the way. And he does not disappoint. Let’s take a moment and thank God for that.
*two minutes silence*
The story is simple, and even known once the narration begins. It follows the life of a man who wishes to be a great musician but doesn’t have a clue how to go about it, until his college canteen owner explains him the Sufian philosophy of art and music. How music is all about creativity. And that there can be no creativity if there isn’t any pain. It is pain, anguish and the pangs of an unrequited enterprise that becomes the catalyst of originality and creativity that all artists, painters and musicians swear by.
Our rockstar (JJ initially, Jordan later) begins to follow this religiously. He hopes to get his heart-broken so the ache would fuel his ambition of becoming the biggest musician. And that is when our female protagonist enters the picture. Heer (played by Nargis Fakhri) is a Kashmiri girl who comes from an elite, conventional upbringing only to jump into the pools of unconventionality in the last few days of ‘freedom’ that she wishes to enjoy before she gets married. She boozes, watches porn, goes to strip clubs, cheap pubs, sleazy bars and discotheques. All with Jordan, of course. Their romance, if it may be called thus, grows, faces trials and conflicts and remains unrequited till the end. A word on Nargis: A pretty face devoid of any knowledge of dialogue delivery. Blessed with some powerful dialogues, she could have done so much more than merely shout with inconsistent voice modulations. At times, you wish there would have been a better female actor with as much a promising acting potential as her screen presence.
The music is the spine of the movie. It comes and goes in various pitches and genre, though the same voice. (Mohit Chauhan and sometimes, A R Rehman himself). Chauhan is mesmerizing, as usual, and has probably re-launched himself as a playback singer, thanks to Rockstar. Rehman’s music is a relief, especially in the second half, when one faces the disappointment of Ali’s convenient escapist route of Bollywood-izing a movie that had the potential to be unconventional, going by the genre it had chosen to explore. Most of the songs are worth humming and add the needed flavour to the script of the movie. The pace with which the movie begins is a complete contrast to the way it fizzles post-interval. But, by that time, one is so enthralled by Ranbir’s screen presence that one doesn’t really sulk in anger. I didn’t!
The movie promises some great dialogues, breathtaking cinematography (especially when they show the Kashmir valley), decent music (though, Sadda Haq, fast gaining the tag of a “cult song”, still hasn’t managed to impress me) and a very memorable performance from Kapoor. Watch out for his powerful entry, the scene in which he is shunned by his lady-love and the one in which he confesses, amidst roaring fans, that despite his stardom, he could not bring himself to feel what they call true happiness. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to conclude that the movie makes you contemplate, if not understand, the importance and essentiality of pain in life.
My verdict: ***