I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with several additions to the catalog. Jab We Met made its triumphant return to the streaming service, joining the newly added 2017 film Anaarkali of Aarah, starring Swara Bhaskar. Also new is the 2016 American-Indian co-production Tie the Knot, which stars Omi Vaidya and Tara Reid. The Netflix original documentary series Daughters of Destiny — which follows a group of impoverish girls through their life at a boarding school — is available as well. The show looks inspiring, and it features music by A.R. Rahman.
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 Kal — Rockstar 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.
The recent release of Milenge Milenge prompted me to watch Jab We Met (“When We Met”), a 2007 romantic comedy. Both movies star Kareena Kapoor and Shahid Kapoor (no relation). Had I not committed myself to reviewing the movie, I would’ve turned off Jab We Met within the first 45 minutes.
The movie’s first act is a prolonged meet-cute between the two leads, Aditya (Shahid) and Geet (Kareena). Aditya, emotionally exhausted by legal battles over the rights to his deceased father’s wealthy corporation, wanders the streets in the kind of depression that only exists in movies. He stares at nothing, silently boarding buses and trains, with no idea where he’s going.
He’s a lot more mobile in his melancholia than most depressed people. If the movie was going for authenticity, Aditya would’ve left the boardroom, headed home, and crawled into bed.
On the train, Aditya is verbally assailed by a fellow passenger, Geet. To call her a chatterbox is insufficient; Geet won’t shut up. She jabbers in a manner that, like Aditya’s ambulatory despondency, only exists on film. She flits from topic to topic without pause, utterly self-absorbed and failing to notice Aditya’s blank stare out the window.
The clueless chatterbox is one of my most hated movie clichés, because she doesn’t exist in real life. At least not in such an extreme and irritating form. An ordinary person wouldn’t last a minute on the receiving end of such a soliloquy before faking a trip to the bathroom and finding an empty seat at the other end of the train, thus depriving the clueless chatterbox of her audience.
Writing deliberately annoying characters is tricky because — as with Geet — they often wind up annoying the audience as well as their fellow characters. An example of annoying-done-right can be found on the television show Glee. Supporting characters refer to the main character, Rachel, as annoying, but she rarely acts in a way that’s irritating to us viewers. We get that she annoys the other characters, without having to be annoyed ourselves.
Through a series of idiotic decisions, Geet gets herself stranded at a station, minus her wallet and luggage. She berates Aditya into helping her, then berates cab drivers and beverage vendors on the way to her parents’ house. Geet’s abuse of service workers further diminishes her attractiveness.
Thus ends the first 45 minutes of a 140-minute-long movie.
The rest of the movie is pleasant enough, as Aditya finally engages with his surroundings. There are colorful wedding decorations and Geet’s equally colorful family to liven things up. But, for the most part, the remainder of Jab We Met is just above average.
The big problem is Geet. Though Kareena Kapoor does a fine job acting the part, Geet is not a nice character. She starts out annoying and fails to develop throughout the film. She reacts but doesn’t grow, remaining clueless until the last few minutes of the movie. It’s hard to believe a decent, rich guy like Aditya couldn’t have found someone better.