The realism that made the relationships in 2008’s Rock On!! so compelling is missing from Rock On 2, replaced by bizarre behavior masquerading as drama.
Following the events of the original film, the surviving members of the rock band Magik (RIP, keyboardist Rob) had a good run for about three years, playing shows and running their own recording label. Then the suicide of an aspiring musician broke them up once again.
Fast-forward five years to the present day, and formerly destitute guitarist Joe (Arjun Rampal) is a wealthy club owner and reality show judge. Drummer KD (Purab Kohli) still dabbles in music, leaving him with enough free time to narrate the film. Singer Adi (Farhan Akhtar) is living near Shillong on a farmers’ collective, despite having no background in farming whatsoever.
There’s a real logical leap required for Adi’s choices to make the slightest bit of narrative sense, let alone make him a hero. His overblown reaction to the aspiring musician’s suicide is to flee to the hinterlands of India (Shillong is on the other side of Bangladesh), not only breaking up his band and depriving Joe and KD of their source of income, but also abandoning his wife, Sakshi (Prachi Desai), and their then three-year-old son.
Somehow, Adi’s version of penance for playing a minor role in a troubled young man’s death means punishing everyone who loves and depends on him. As Adi puts it: “Every time I’ve tried to make music, I’ve hurt someone.” Substitute any other activity for “make music” to hear how dumb and selfish that rationale sounds: “Every time I’ve tried to clean the bathroom, I’ve hurt someone.”
Adi’s commitment to his new farming community isn’t as solid as he thinks it is. Days after rejecting an in-person plea from KD, Sakshi, Joe, and Joe’s wife, Debbie (Shahana Goswami), to return to Delhi, a suspicious fire destroys the farmers’ crops and homes. Adi gives the farmers some cash and heads back to his old life, telling the farmers to call him if they have any problems.
More than a month goes by without Adi giving so much as a thought to his buds in Shillong, let alone check on them to make sure they’re okay. When his former right-hand man finally rings to say that everyone is starving, Adi yells, “Why didn’t you call me sooner?!” Probably because he was trying not to die, you entitled dope!
Adi’s solution to raise awareness of the farmers’ plight is, not surprisingly, to hold a Magik reunion benefit concert, including new band members Jiah (Shraddha Kapoor) and Uday (Shahshank Arora, whose role is too small for an actor of his caliber). Yet dumbass Adi has the bright idea to hold the concert in a field in Shillong, Woodstock-style.
Consider all the reasons why this is stupid. All of the infrastructure for the concert — stage, restroom facilities, equipment storage — has to be built from scratch, at great expense. All the people with the money to afford concert tickets — the farmers are all broke, remember — live far away, meaning they have to travel (at great expense) just to get to the show.
Joe owns a freaking music club! Just have the concert at his place and charge a couple hundred bucks a ticket! All that money that went into setting up the stupid concert and travel expenses could’ve gone directly to the farmers instead of enabling Adi to waste it on another vanity project to ease his troubled conscience.
Joe is the only rational character in the story, dutifully fulfilling his responsibilities, while refusing to be blamed for things that aren’t his fault. Yet he’s written as a kind of villain, just because he considers events in context and isn’t guided entirely by his emotions. Joe, you’re the real hero of Rock On 2.
P.S. Since this is a movie about a rock band, I should mention the music. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy did a great job writing songs in distinct styles for Jiah and for Magik. Shraddha Kapoor has a good voice, and her character gets the film’s best songs, including “Tere Mere Dil” and “Udja Re” (both embedded below). Magik’s numbers are okay, but I don’t think I can keep trying to convince myself that I like Farhan Akhtar’s singing voice.
2008’s Rock On!! is a great Hindi film about a rock band and the tensions that develop between band members. Though London Dreams is also about problems within a rock band, it’s every bit as bad as Rock On!! is good: shallow and lacking an understanding of human emotions.
London Dreams is about Arjun, a Punjabi boy who dreams of becoming a great musician. However, his family hates music, blaming that particular form of entertainment for the death of Arjun’s grandfather.
When Arjun’s father dies — an event Arjun interprets as divine confirmation of his musical destiny — the boy moves to London with his uncle. Arjun runs away in the airport and buys his way into a music school with pocket change. (What? It could happen.)
As an adult, Arjun (Ajay Devgan) is so singularly focused on his goal of headlining Wembley Stadium that he won’t let anything distract him, going to far as to whip himself with a belt to suppress his sexual urges for his backup dancer, Priya (Asin Thottumkal). Arjun’s band, London Dreams, takes England by storm, even though their music is mediocre.
Arjun’s childhood friend, Mannu (Salman Khan), leaves his life of philandering in Punjab to live with his pal in London. For kicks, Arjun invites Mannu to perform on stage with London Dreams.
There’s a freak confetti accident during the performance, and Arjun gestures to Mannu to take over as frontman. Turns out, slacker Mannu is a more charismatic singer than Arjun. Mannu gets all of the accolades, as well as Priya’s affections, and Arjun sets about trying to destroy his best friend and take back the spotlight for himself.
Overall, London Dreams is a sloppy movie. The same footage is used for concerts that are supposed to take place separately in London, Paris and Rome; try to spot the girl in the blue basketball jersey in the crowd at all three concerts.
Worse, the band members barely even pretend to play their instruments. The old, mohawked drummer never comes within an inch of the cymbals he’s supposed to be playing. Heck, he’s not even an official member of the band, which consists of two singers, two guitarists and a backup dancer. It’s impossible for them to produce the music that makes up the movie’s soundtrack; it should have also been impossible for Mannu to auto-tune his own voice without the aid of a microphone and computer.
Trumping all of the movie’s other problems, the lead characters in London Dreams are deplorable. Arjun is a sociopath, and Mannu’s alternately a promiscuous lout and a simpleton. Their relationship with each other doesn’t develop, and Arjun never faces any consequences for being a terrible person.
Skip London Dreams and rent Rock On!! If nothing else, the music’s better.
If any Indian director can become a crossover success in the United States, it will probably be someone from the Akhtar family. Farhan Akhtar updated the movie musical with last year’s Rock On!!, and now his sister, Zoya, shows just how mature and sophisticated Indian storytelling can be in Luck By Chance.
Zoya’s directorial debut follows the careers and personal lives of up-and-coming actors Sona (Konkona Sen Sharma) and Vikram (Farhan Akhtar). As the two navigate their way through auditions and bit roles with titles like “Dead Sister’s Friend”, their struggles prove the adage “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”
The world Sona and Vikram inhabit feels authentic, in part because the characters in Luck By Chance actually talk with one another. In many Bollywood movies, feelings and worldly truths are expressed via extended speeches — and not in the course of normal conversation, as happens in real life. Zoya & Farhan’s father, poet Javed Akhtar, wrote the movie’s dialogue, and he deserves much of the credit for its creative success.
The plot proceeds in unexpected (yet always believable) directions, further separating Luck By Chance from typical Bollywood fare. A smart U.S. distributor would’ve marked this as an Indian arthouse film and targeted it toward Western audiences. As it stands, it may not be in theaters much longer, so I recommend seeing it while you can.
Hitting theaters this weekend is Luck By Chance, a movie about the role luck plays in making Bollywood dreams come true. Produced and written by Fahran Akhtar — and co-written and directed by his sister, Zoya — Luck By Chance is a spiritual successor to Akhtar’s compelling 2008 film Rock On!!, which was about the challenges of making it big in the music industry.
Luck By Chance is only opening in two theaters in the Chicago area: the AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington and the AMC Cantera 30 in Warrenville. It’s a surprisingly limited release, given that the movie stars high profile actors like Akhtar, Konkona Sen Sharma, Juhi Chawla and Hrithik Roshan.
In 2008, the Indian film industry proved that it’s still the most reliable source for romantic comedies. International settings made Dostana and Kismat Konnectionstand out from the crowd, while Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi closed the year on a high note.
Taking a slightly more serious tone, U Me Aur Hum effectively combined comedic and dramatic elements in a touching story about love and responsibility.
Beyond the romantic comedy genre, historical epic Jodhaa Akbar featured gorgeous cinematography. Rock On!! took the movie musical format in an exciting new direction. And Black & White thoughtfully addressed the subject of terrorism. I only wish it had been India’s official entry into the Oscar competition for Best Foreign Film, instead of Taare Zameen Par.
But the most accomplished, satisfying and entertaining Hindi-language movie of 2008 was another romantic comedy: Bachna Ae Haseeno. The high quality of the acting, cinematography and story-telling gave the film universal appeal. Actor Ranbir Kapoor redeemed himself after an awkward debut in Saawariya, and Deepika Padukone’s charming performance demonstrated that she might be Bollywood’s best young actress.
Ten years ago, the rock band Magik broke up as they were on the brink of stardom. After moving on with their lives, the band members reunite for a second chance at glory. Rock On!! thoughtfully explores the compromises people make in the name of security and family — and the danger of giving up on your dreams. Anyone who ever left a band for a “real job” will appreciate this film. The music’s good, too.
Rated PG; 150 minutes
This review originally appeared in The Naperville Sun on September 4, 2008