Movie Review: Rockstar (2011)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

The trailer for Rockstar presented the movie as a typical rom-com in which a dork melts an ice queen’s heart before the interval, only to have obstacles to their love thrown in their path for the second half of the movie. Rockstar is less conventional than that. At times, it’s an extended music video, at others a hypnotic tale of passion. It’s not always successful, but director Imtiaz Ali deserves credit for trying something different.

As in Ali’s two previous hits — Jab We Met and Love Aaj KalRockstar features a hero unable to articulate his feelings for his beloved, even if it means losing her to another man. This time the tongue-tied protagonist is Janardhan (Ranbir Kapoor), a dorky college kid with superstar ambitions.

Cafeteria-owner Khatana (Kumud Mishra) tells Janardhan that his life has been too easy, and that all musicians must suffer for their art. Janardhan’s real problem is a lack of charisma and a fondness for unflattering sweater vests, but that’s not much of a movie set-up.

Janardhan humiliates himself in a clumsy effort to woo the most popular girl in school, Heer (Nargis Fakhri), who’s already engaged to a rich guy from Prague. The two become pals, and she gives him the stage name “Jordan.” She also gives him an opportunity to express his feelings for her and perhaps forestall her marriage. He doesn’t take it, and Heer heads to Prague.

To this point — about the first hour of a 2-hour 40-minute movie — the story is laid out rather predictably: the kids have fun in seedy back alleys and amidst beautiful scenery in Kashmir, the setting for Heer’s wedding. The snowy mountain passes and gorgeous costumes are a real highlight.

Things veer from the expected during the film’s second hour. It begins not chronologically, but rather with a reporter investigating Jordan’s early career. It’s two years after Heer’s wedding, and Khatana recounts the emotion collapse that preceded Jordan’s rise to Indian rock stardom. An international music competition brings Jordan to Prague where he and Heer rekindle their interrupted romance, despite her now-married status.

Much of this storyline unfolds through A.R. Rahman’s incredible soundtrack. The second hour of Rockstar is primarily a string of music videos, the lyrics of Jordan’s music (voiced by Mohit Chauhan) providing insight into his emotional growth in way he can’t express in conversation. Thankfully, the lyrics are translated really well, allowing the story to unfold in an intriguing way.

Kapoor and Fakhri are terrific together. Their love scenes are sexy and passionate. Fakhri’s big screen debut is a promising one, as she plays Heer with the right mix of vulnerability and strength.

It’s unfortunate, then, that the movie ends the way that it does. While the movie’s main character is clearly Jordan, the second hour of the film gives equal weight to the choices both he and Heer must make. As the movie shifts into its third and final timeframe, Heer’s choices are taken from her, reducing her from a lead character to a mere catalyst for Jordan’s emotional growth.

That disservice to Heer’s character — along with an awkward bridge between the final shot of the movie and the closing credits, made up of scenes of Jordan and Heer in happier times — left me with mixed feelings about the movie. It’s uneven (and too long, of course), but the solid performances, beautiful scenery and intriguing story-telling mechanism make it worth a trip to the theater.

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21 thoughts on “Movie Review: Rockstar (2011)

    1. Kathy Post author

      You were right, Tanay, though I won’t go so far as to say I “loved” Rockstar. I loved Imtiaz Ali’s previous movie, Love Aaj Kal. I just liked Rockstar a lot (though I think I understand why you found it boring). πŸ™‚

      Reply
  1. Tanay

    Ya it was boring. Have u noticed kathy, that this movie its writer are trying to prove or u can say justify extra marital affair. Love after marriage that happens but getting physical again n again??? Thats lust not love. Ha ha ha…. Seriously what a movie. That girl in the whole movie going to strip clubs, watching porn etc. N where is her husband? He is missing.

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      Heer’s husband doesn’t get enough screentime, and neither does her immediate family, for that matter. I love Shernaz Patel, the actress who plays Heer’s mother.

      As for the movie condoning extramarital affairs, I think “Rockstar” sends the opposite message. It treats extramarital sex in the same way that horror movies from the 1980s treated sex in general. As soon as the audience saw a couple of teens making out in the backseat of a car, they knew that Freddy or Jason would show up to chop the teens to bits. (Spoiler Alert) After Heer consummates her affair with Jordan, she becomes seriously ill. When they have sex again, it kills her.

      Reply
  2. Abhi

    Kathy,i actually didn’t like the movie much. The end was so cliched and kitschy.I loved the first half,with the lead couple doing all crazy things in a typical imtiaz ali fashion.But 2nd was a downer making it boring.But its watchable because of Ranbir’s excellent performance and ARR’s superb music.Nargis irritates,her acting is unconvincing to say the least.

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      I agree about the ending, Abhi. Part of the problem with making movies that are over two-and-a-half hours long is that it’s hard to sustain any one emotional tone for that length of time. It forces the director to try and include every type of emotion in one movie, and that’s just as hard to do. If Rockstar was about 30 minutes shorter, it might have been a little more emotionally cohesive.

      Reply
  3. shekhar

    hi kathy, I liked this movie a lot, may be because of the performance and the music. It stayed with me for a long time. especially the chemistry between the couple and the second half performance of ranbir.

    I would like to recommend you few movies and am curious about the reviews –
    1)shaitan
    2)gulal
    3)Raat gayi baat gayi
    4)no smoking

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      Thanks for the comment and suggestions, Shekhar. I’m still waiting for Shaitan to become available on Netflix or YouTube in the U.S., and I’ll have to check on the availability of the three other titles as well.

      Reply
  4. BCaldeira

    Hi Kathy .. this is my 1st time on your website ,,, it interests me that an American has got so finely tuned to Indian emotions. I saw Rockstar last night and have just read a few reviews by well known Indian critics … yours was quite simply head and shoulders above the rest in terms of sheer quality ..
    I normally go to imdb.com to check out Roger Ebert’s appraisal of a movie … now I will come to your website for Bollywood

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      Thanks, BCaldeira! That’s one of the nicest comments I’ve ever received. I’m glad you like the site, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts on movies in the future.

      Reply
  5. BCaldeira

    Kathy.. may I recommend Chandni Bar to you .. the lead actress is Tabu who is quite simply India’s greatest actress by some distance

    … at the time I saw Chandni Bar I was quite fond of visiting dance bars (the focal point of this film) in Bombay/Mumbai … this movie and particularly Tabu’s performance shook me to the core and I’ve never stepped into once of these bars for the last 11 years..

    Tabu is not a prolific actress and to pay the bills she does occasionally act in mediocre stuff but Chandni Bar is a real treat ,,, this is serious stuff .. not a Friday night beer n chips movie for sure …Cheers Bosco

    Reply
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  9. Deepa

    So here I am again Kathy πŸ™‚ I browsed through the list of movies you’ve reviewed and I realised that you watch more Hindi movies than I do πŸ™‚ Rockstar was one of the few movies that I have watched and your review was interesting. Unfortunately I hated the movie. There were too many flaws in my opinion.

    First of all the title was a misnomer. There was one song that could perhaps be classified as a rock song but all the other songs were very Bollywoodish. Not to take anything away from the quality of the songs or the lyrics, but they were just not rock songs so I was a bit disappointed. I guess I had other expectations.

    And I didn’t subscribe to the ‘a musician must suffer a broken heart in order to create good music’ bit. Because in the flashbacks, it is revealed that Jordan had written most of his music even before he met Heer. So it just didn’t make sense. Perhaps his problem was not being able to express when singing but it certainly was not to do with writing/creating music.

    And my biggest pet peeve, which most Hindi films are guilty of – people in Prague going crazy about an unknown Indian musician who sings in Hindi. He hadn’t sung for an Indian audience before he left for Prague for the competition, that is if you do not count the unsuccessful roadside gigs, let alone have a hit song in India. Why would people in Prague buy tickets to a concert to listen to songs in a language they do not understand. And he has one successful concert in Prague and suddenly he is so popular in India that he has the media waiting to interview him on his return. No one questions him on the fact that he actually got deported back to India and yet somehow he is able to enter the country again for a second time.

    Also there is a consistent theme that runs in all of Imtiaz’s movies. Say nothing of your feelings (although the female protagonists do give subtle hints which the men don’t get), get married to someone else and then have an affair because you didn’t have the courage to follow your heart in the first instance. You are right though about there being consequences. It’s the women at the receiving end of it though. The ending was poorly written.

    I know I have been too picky but I think I had very high expectations and this movie fell flat on its face for me. I’m sorry to have bored you with this long rant – I do tend to get a bit passionate lol πŸ™‚

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      Hi, Deepa! As far as “rants” go, yours is a good one! πŸ™‚ “Rockstar” is one of those movies where, even though I liked it, I completely understand why other people hated it. You’re right that the very premise of the movie — that all artists must suffer heart-break — is totally stupid.

      The only way I can explain Jordan’s success in Prague is that he was supposed to have won a Eurovision-style televised competition, which would be a big deal. Otherwise, you’re right, there’s no way anyone in Prague would give a fig about him. I can tell you from my experience living in Chicago, which has a large population of Indian immigrants and Indian-Americans, that Indian artists get no mainstream coverage here. On two occasions, I missed seeing A.R. Rahman live in concert because there was no publicity about his appearance. I only learned about it when I walked by a local Indian grocery store and saw a poster promoting the concert in the store window.

      What I can say in Rockstar’s defense is that it’s one of the few Hindi movies I’ve seen that I would consider truly sexy. Indian directors are experts at depicting passionate longing, but not so much active romance. I know that has a lot to do with censor rules and cultural standards, but I was just happy to see a couple in a Bollywood movie really making out! πŸ™‚

      Reply
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  11. Mayuresh

    Hi kathy,
    Brilliant review. Just one point, u said it is unfortunate that the climax was predictable, but I think that’s the whole point of a film right? I mean there cannot be any other climax. I dnt thinl it as a drawback or minus point. Anyways I read lots of ur reviews. They are amazing.Thank u.

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      Thanks for being a loyal reader, Mayuresh! I appreciate it. I didn’t find the climax predictable (though a tragic ending was, as you said, inevitable). My problem with the ending had to do with Heer’s character arc in the film’s third act. Too often in movies, something awful happens to female characters just to make the male character’s story more interesting. I hoped for a little more creativity from Ali, since I’m such a fan of his.

      Reply

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