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Why the 2015 Oscars are worth celebrating

The good guys won.

Actually, it was bigger than that. I’ve annually whinged about and berated the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences shortsightedness and predictability in columns like these for far too many years now, and this is the first time I sat back through the Oscars — occasionally tense with fingers crossed as often as befits the occasion, naturally — but with a smile on my face. It was very clear that despite the eight nominated films, there were only three frontrunners this year, and each was majestic.

I loved ‘em, I loved ‘em to bits, these brave and visionary and beautiful films: Birdman, which I reviewed breathlessly, Boyhood, which I reviewed with moist eyes and lumpen throat, and The Grand Budapest Hotel, which I reviewed with jaunty fingers and a candied grin.

And this was their year.

inarritu1Just let that sink in for a moment. That the three films tipped to win, the three films that held the most nominations and got the most awards, the three directors singled out for career-revolutionising triumph… were all masterworks. They were all brilliant and incredible, films any cinephile around the world should be proud of. The fact that it was these three films who led the pack and battled for the spotlight — instead of some dastardly Academy-friendly choice that upset a great yacht —  made this year’s Oscars a spotlight worth sailing through.

There was no King’s Speech to mug The Social Network, no English Patient to shoot Fargo in the foot, no Crash to rob Brokeback Mountain, no Forrest Gump to hold up, unforgivably, both Shawshank Redemption and the revolutionary Pulp Fiction. No, this year, instead of the big, the gun-toting, the maudlin, the British — and, most criminally, the obvious — films, the cool kids this year, the ones tipped to win were a Boy, a Bird and Budapest. How can you not love this year?

Sure, signs pointed to a Birdman/Boyhood split, with Alejandro González Iñárritu possibly taking Best Director for Birdman and Richard Linklater’s Boyhood taking Best Picture, or vice versa, a peace treaty that would leave the filmloving world in peace, but that wasn’t, alas, to be. As Iñárritu said while picking up the Best Director trophy, moments before he picked up Best Picture, “We’re talking about that little prick called ego. Ego loves competition, right, because for someone to win, someone has to lose.”

And that’s possibly why it hurts us, the film fans. Because we don’t want to see Linklater win over Iñárritu, or Budapest director Wes Anderson leave the other directors in the dust, or even young Damien Chazelle, helmer of the electrifying Whiplash, be left behind or spoil anyone’s party. We aren’t used to seeing these underdogs competing at the top of the heap; we just want ‘em all to enjoy playing together and all go home happy.

To a large extent, they did: Boyhood won for Patricia Arquette, Whiplash for JK Simmons, The Grand Budapest Hotel for everything to do with how beautiful films look. All while grumpy veteran Clint Eastwood sat grouchily, his American Sniper not showing up to ruin our film-lovin’ fun, while Oscar host Neil Patrick Harris wagered he’d do a Kanye West and disrupt the proceedings.

As for Neil Patrick Harris, alas, he didn’t sparkle. He started with a terrific musical number about the love we have for ‘Moving Pictures’ — as I’ve written elsewhere, rhyming “Brando” with Sharon Stone going “commando” is a moment of genius that will linger forever — but the rest of the evening he was flat and unfunny and just not very good.

But — and here’s the thing — are we expecting the wrong thing from an Oscar host? Earlier the Oscars were the only show we’d all watch, and we’d eat it up because it was the only choice. So we’d love Steve Martin and tolerate David Letterman. Now, not only do we have far more wicked and irreverent, alcohol-aided shows to watch, from the Globes to the Independent Spirit Awards (which, seriously, is must-see), but we’re all tweeting and pronouncing judgement immediately, rating a joke on a sliding scale before we even get through with the show.

Last week I assembled a list of the best ever Oscar hosts, an amusing (albeit cumbersome) process that made me realise something. In this age of sharp, biting jabs — started by Globe host Ricky Gervais and surpassed by Amy Poehler and Tina Fey — we’re too quick to dismiss anyone who doesn’t immediately match up. That Frank Sinatra opening monologue from 1963, for example, one of my very favourites, would be ripped apart mercilessly on Twitter.

The Oscars are in a quandary: they’re classy, they’re big, they’re universal and they need to be family-friendly — otherwise morons like Seth MacFarlane sing about breasts. It’s clear they can’t be like other wilder award shows. Perhaps they just need to concentrate on the class and the charm and leave out the comedy, except in little unscripted bits and occasional dance numbers. No matter what people say about too many dances, this year’s top moments had to include the touching Glory performance and Lady Gaga’s Sound Of Music tribute. Pomp, done well, shines bright at the Oscars. Leave the jokes to the other shows who can perch out farther on the limb. Let the grandeur do the talking instead of the gags.

wes1Overall, as I said, it was a show to celebrate. Because with every gunfighter on our side, we’re all winners.

~

First published Rediff, February 24, 2015

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Review: Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash

“There are no two words in the English language more harmful than good job,” says Terrence Fletcher, the black-clad perfectionist conductor driving his orchestra insane with his demands. Fletcher wants more, always. Emotion, excuses, bloodied hands, commitment: none of it impresses him unless accompanied by actual greatness. And it never is. “Good job,” words many an American parent uses to condition a child, a verbal pat on the back for tying shoelaces or finishing a plate of spaghetti, thus, is naturally something that isn’t quite Fletcher’s tempo.

But then what does measure up? Fletcher demands the best, and his students bend over backwards trying earnestly, dutifully, vainly, suicidally to give it to him while he bites their heads off like an easily irked dragon. JK Simmons plays Fletcher with firebreathing abandon, using awful verbal guillotines every bit as lethal as the cymbal that almost decapitated Charlie Parker and spurred him to become the legend known simply as Bird. Near-death, Fletcher seems to feel, gave Parker his wings.

IMG_5430An unforgiving silhouette teaching at New York’s famed Shaffer Conservatory of Music, Fletcher’s longstanding dream of finding a Bird and letting him loose seems all but impossible till he runs into Andrew (Miles Teller), a young man craving to be pushed to perfection, one who fanatically sees himself as one of the greats, one who deserts romance because it may possibly distract him from the drums some day. After all, as the Buddy Rich quote on his wall screams at him, “If you don’t have ability, you wind up playing in a rock band.”

Director Damien Chazelle’s stunning and absorbing Whiplash takes these two freaks – this old man with a tongue made of daggers and this youngster with alarming amounts of focus – and pits them against each other in a delicious, deadly battle of jazz. They glide toward unscaleable peaks forsaking their lives, their careers, their families, their sanity… and all for what?

Whiplash is a sexy, sexy film, strikingly shot and beautifully paced, a film that captivates right from the start and reels in the viewer in that seductive way only the finest jazz can. The music is jawdropping and works its magic regardless of how unschooled the viewer may be, perhaps because of how Fletcher makes them play the same sections over and over again, especially the Hank Levy piece, ‘Whiplash,’ that lends its name to the film’s title.

Teller, playing the surly, self-absorbed Andrew, does spectacularly well as a character impossible to like, not to mention a phenomenal banger of the drums, a man savaging drumheads as if he were doing kung fu with chopsticks. Simmons, playing the maniac, is even better, all quips and one-handed quietening and the single-minded focus of a fascist who truly believes in himself. Scary good.

Chazelle’s film starts brilliantly and soon turns brutal, and it can be construed by some as a romanticisation of tyranny, a film that gives far too much importance to unrealistic standards and puts striving for them on a pedestal, but my reading is that Whiplash doesn’t idealize either of its two leads – though it is at times a tad sympathetic toward them – but rather shines a glaring, (mostly) unforgiving spotlight on both sets of unreasonable expectations, a spotlight that is best witnessed flashing across Simmons’ eyes at the very end of Whiplash.

We dream different dreams, and if two men tear their own lives apart in pursuit of something they treasure above all else, then who are we to dictate the price they ought pay? As a certain Mr Inarritu will attest, there’s something to be said about embarking on an impossible hunt for a Bird.

Rating: 4 stars

~

First published Rediff, February 20, 2015

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Review: The Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis

1961. The sixties but not quite The Sixties just yet. America had picked up a revolutionary new guitar but was only beginning to learn how to strum, plucking at it tentatively as genres and heroes and venues were birthed and discarded in blinks of sleepless eyes. Within the outstretched canvas of limitless hope there lies many a dead-end of bleak disillusionment.

llewyn1It is here that we meet our dour leading man, Llewyn Davis, without a home or a winter coat or any genuine prospects. He gets by with a little help from… one would say friends, but he doesn’t have any. The only one, his musical collaborator, Mike, has thrown himself (non-traditionally) off the George Washington Bridge. Llewyn might not have triggered the suicide, we never get details, but from what we see of his disposition — and his ability to turn everything to shit, “like King Midas’ idiot brother” — he isn’t likely to have helped matters much.

And so we smile drily as canny storytellers Joel and Ethan Coen give us a stumbling, unheroic protagonist and rigorously zoom in on every wart. Everything about Davis is almost cartoonishly miserable except when, eternally against the odds, he picks up his six-string and sings. The film and its viewers, the leading man and his listeners, are immediately changed by what is simple and sublime, graceful but grounded. For all his scratched and blemished life, Davis happens to be a flawless musician, a troubadour who deserves ears and cheers.

Yet, as we see at the beginning and the end of the film, as Llewyn Davis winds up a stunning set and a 20-year-old Robert Zimmerman sits down to begin his passage toward immortality, even this irascible, ever-dismissive protagonist feels his jaw drop and realise that — while standing so close to the real thing, on a night that could have changed everything — he is but a talented doodle in the margins, not fit even to be a footnote.

Instead, he gets socked in a back-alley.

Davis is played with remarkable ease by Oscar Isaac, an actor who marvellously blurs the line between performance and documentary-like realism. He’s tired and disgruntled and so jaded his stoniness seems obvious. He needs a night’s sleep, but — nomadically going from couch to couch in an era before websites and hipsters made it cool — that is easier said than found. A professor and his wife do indeed welcome him unconditionally and with open arms, but he snaps at them and loses their cat. (The cat, by the way, is called Ulysses, like the book based on The Odyssey, a book Joel and Ethan once turned into the magnificent O Brother, Where Art Thou? This new film, in case you’re wondering, has a soundtrack even richer than that great musical.)

The Coen landscape is characteristically populated by oddballs, and all of them in this one are tied to volume. Davis’s ineffective manager, Mel, lives in a dimly lit office, likes attending funerals and gets into loud exchanges with his ancient secretary. “You got Cincinatti?”, he yells. “You want it?”, she barks back. “Could I have it?”, “Should I bring it?” and so continues the hard-of-hearing tango. A young soldier denounces comfort and eats cereal loudly, and proves — despite his Llewyn-frustrating squarishness — to be a better-liked musician than our befuddled beardo. A big-time producer squelches as he walks into a music hall past upturned chairs.  A beat poet called Johnny 5 lies about his cigarettes and sits in near-defiant silence, while his companion, a jowly jazz musician named Roland Turner, is introduced to us by the sounds he makes when he wakes up with literal squeaks and gasps.

Turner, played by Coen favourite John Goodman, is an uproarious character, a cane-wielding weirdo who cuts off his own stories to start new ones, always obnoxious and quite regal in his pushiness. He’s worth a movie all his own, and — like the music — single-handedly makes Llewyn’s life (and ours) infinitely more interesting. But Davis doesn’t care, and in this destructive, all-encompassing derision lies the Coen’s masterstroke: his antipathy toward the world makes him loathsome but fascinating. Joel and Ethan and Llewyn never let up, and we watch and smirk and commiserate and feel the despondent stupor descend upon us, sliced occasionally by the music, shining in like sun streaming into a dank attic.

llewyn2Davis doesn’t even sing to reach his audience. To a Chicago music producer, he sings an English ballad, The Death Of Queen Jane, about one of King Henry VIIIs doomed wives. In a line hilariously echoed by the Merchant Marines when he goes to sign up, he’s rightly told he’s not current. It’s a catastrophically bad decision to pick a miserable lament while pitching to a man used to selling out venues, but on some level Davis believes — and this may well be all that Llewyn believes — in the purity of the song. And how it can transcend everything.

He isn’t wrong. When we sit alongside the producer, played by the wonderful F Murray Abraham, the song transports us to a different plane. As does this fantastic film. It might just be A Mighty Wind in extreme close-up, or the Coens filling in another blankly open-ended tale as brilliantly as only they can, but the thing to remember about Inside Llewyn Davis is that while it might not be new, it never gets old.

Rating:  Four and a half stars

~

First published Rediff, January 10, 2014

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A lyric for Lou Reed

(Because paragraphfuls of prose just didn’t feel right.)

 

 

He stumbled and he rumbled, 

                          he fumbled and he humbled 

and he did it all drunk as a monk. 

 

He sailed and he failed, 

                         he smiled and he beguiled, 

but above all he worth-our-while’d.

 

O, how he made us genuflect

                        As he broke his guitar’s neck

And took over our cassette deck.

 

How helpless he made us feel

                       As our brains he did steal:

That genius, hid behind a yellow peel.

 

He assaulted us with a flower

                       And furry-legged fe-male power

And made us awestruck Spiders cower.

 

He did reflect and he did tease

                       Brought critics to their knees

(Though, sometimes, it was just a wheeze.)

 

There were whiskey songs and meth songs

                       Songs for rights; more songs for wrongs,

                      (A couple of songs for ding-dongs)

And even as he leaves us the jukebox… prolongs.

 

He taught and he fought

                      And was often overwrought,

But nothing could make him not

                      Stir the pot.

 

And when we hear it all

                     The glory and the downfall:

The messy guts spilled out in plain view

And the songs that spoke, to me and to you.

 

The words look cleverer in the light of sad today

The truth is clearer as we prepare goodbyes to say:

 

That Lou?

                     He flew.

 

 

~

First published Rediff, October 28, 2013

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Review: Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables

Once in a while there comes a movie that automatically deserves the tag of Epic. Tom Hooper’s monumental, grandstanding adaptation of Les Misérables does that and even more: it earns the second word of the phrase so popular by Twitter: it is definitively (and, in every sense, literally) what is called Epic Fail.

lesmiz2Look, I love musicals. Love ‘em to bits. I have an obvious (if shameful) bias toward clever lyric, and when it skilfully drives narrative and replaces dialogue, the result is joyful. Hollywood might not exactly be serving us opera, but the pizza-pie version it offers up has its own distinct pleasures — even the excessive cheese merely adds to it all.

There is much to commend about Tom Hooper’s effort: the actors strain their sinews and furrow brows furiously as they sing their own bits; the director keeps amplifying up the emotion as he zooms relentlessly into their faces; and there is an undeniable sincerity to the film, an earnest desire to powerfully adapt Victor Hugo’s weighty  novel.

And yet an ambitious film can also be a bad film, and this is more of the latter than the former. Or does that sound mild? It shouldn’t. This is a monstrosity of a film, a pompous and bloated farce that uneasily straddles the line between spoof and drama, serving only to make us aware of the gargantuan acting efforts. It is also sadistically long, a hundred and sixty minutes of mostly unbearable cinema.

One of the primary reasons is that they don’t stop singing. A screen musical (as opposed to one on stage, which casts genuinely incredible singers, not A-list actors who can also sing) can be crammed with songs, sure, but they must be matched with lyrical highs. Characters should sing to express the dramatic, the romantic or the humorous. Here, every line is sung, and thus the music never lets up. Characters doggedly wail and moan every bit of banality, and while it is an approach that may sound good on paper, it translates horridly on screen: when Russell Crowe looks at Hugh Jackman and sings his prisoner number, warbling “24601”, all seriousness invariably vanishes and he might as well be singing 867530 nie-e-ine.

The cast, as said, does a lot. Jackman, playing protagonist Jean Valjean, turns in a mammoth performance and sings with startling intensity: often, as he strains to hit a high note, it looks like his head may explode. He hits said note and we must duly applaud, though our care is for the actor and not the character. The words never stop sounding hokey — except when Anne Hathaway gets to them. Her Fantine is heartbreakingly good, and for short stretches, she lifts the film. Propelling her lips forward like a duck in a Disney cartoon, the actress makes her anguish credible. Plucked yet plucky, she’s the only one who really does.

lesmiz1Crowe, who is overwhelmingly sincere as Vajean-chasing policeman Javert, sings flatly and, it must be said, rather weakly. Even his finale, which is one of the highlights of the musical, emerges half-baked. Stuffy and unsure of himself, Crowe might as well be singing Leggy Blonde.

Visually, there are times when Hooper allows cinematographer Danny Cohen to show off the grandiose scale and the painstakingly recreated world of early-19th century France, but that’s only when he isn’t zooming right onto his actor’s faces. On a large screen, faces aren’t meant to be seen this big, and it feels rather like an assault. There are a couple of ingeniously shot sequences — the street of the prostitutes, and a moment when snow appears almost to be floating upward, like in a snowglobe — but mostly there’s just faces, contorted with their commitment to shriek adequately well.

As the dramatic stakes rise, there is enough meat in the plot for it to start to matter, for the film to feel like more than a farce. Revolution is in the air, and a little kid who looks like an infant Jon Bon Jovi sings rousingly of equality as the French flag emphatically gains importance. That, however, is Hugo’s glory and not Hooper’s. You can’t not care about the end of Les Misérables. You care despite the director’s single-minded hacky treatment of the source material.

It’s an incredibly tall order, making a musical from something as tragic. Ironically, one of the few times this film achieves buoyancy is when two castmembers from just such a project — Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen — finesse their parts as they sing George Costanza’s favourite Les Miz song, Master Of The House. They’ve done it before, you see. With the masterful Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street. But Hooper ain’t Tim Burton.

Off with his head, I say.

Rating: 1.5 stars

~

First published Rediff, January 18, 2013

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“Cue COOL music.”

Merely reading a Tarantino script beats watching most movies.

 

In the Quentin Tarantino universe, everything is connected. I brought in Tuesday by rereading the final draft of the screenplay of his upcoming Django Unchained, only to realise that March 27 happens to be the director’s birthday. That manner of happenstance is just a taste of the sort of pop cultural synchronicity the director, now 49, thrives on, lining up his self-referential ducks all in a row to shoot them down all at once in a glorious meta-textual blitz of bullets and homages, in a style so unique that even a cinematic cliché like the Mexican Standoff – where everyone points a gun at everyone else – is turned on its head and made more Quentinian than Mexican. (And yes, Mr Pink runs away with the money.)

Reading a Tarantino script is a thrilling act, one that nearly always exceeds expectations. He might only be supposed to blow the bloody doors off, but then Tarantino — blessed, dyslexic, grammatically-challenged Tarantino — never quite made his peace with ‘supposed.’ Which is why well before his film starts shooting, he leaks the full script online, typos and all. As if to challenge us to eat it up, chew down every single spoiler, literally spell out exactly what to expect…  And then he lights the words on fire and watches our all-knowing heads spin.

The reading comes doused in the basest of temptation. You know reading the screenplay will let you in on every secret, and take away the element of surprise. Wouldn’t you rather just wait and be wowed on screen? You know you shouldn’t read it, right? Sure. I used to think that before I read Inglourious Basterds, and gasped at the audacity of that first scene, that mammoth twenty-three page opening conversation scene that had me breathless just reading it aloud and watching it unfold in my head. When I finally saw the scene several months later, it was like watching a spectacular novel adapted perfectly onto screen. The gasps were all in place, every single one of them. And they remain thus every time I watch the film.

It helps that Tarantino is an electrifying writer, one whose narrative is made of both pulpy shock and highly effective storytelling. The dialogue is, of course, inimitably crackerjack, and the style so vividly visual you can’t help but picture it. It’s all immensely evocative, and while I’d like to believe years of awestruck gazing at Tarantino’s oeuvre would let us in on it, would let us picture the scene just as he’s going to show it to us, it really doesn’t. He’s still going to punch your senses right in the gut, knocking you out either with visuals or pace or improvisation or, often, with a staggeringly visceral choice of music.

And maybe he just picks his songs at the end, filling in those aural blanks when everything else is in place, or maybe there are some cards even he likes to play close to his chest, but the script doesn’t give these away. All the script says is “Cue COOL music,” and lets the reading brain explode with possibility, just as it does when the camera moves away from the ear-slicing and lets us fill in our own horror.

I urge those of you with an interest in cinema, in screenwriting and in Tarantino to read the Django Unchained script, available easily enough online with some smart Googling, for this Southern – a black cowboy film set in the South, which means its not a Western – may well be his most brutal and most important film. Or just a helluva hoot that earns Leonardo DiCaprio another Oscar nomination.

Either way, Mister Tarantino, thank you – for the words that come before the images do. And here’s wishing you a Happy Birthday.

(Cue COOL music.)

~

First published Mumbai Mirror, March 28, 2012

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Review: A Rockstar worth rooting for

When The Doors had their first ever professional photographs taken, to go with their incendiary 1967 debut, frontman James Douglas Morrison consciously chose to leave the smiling out of it. The others occasionally smirked affably enough but Morrison, yearning to showcase his searing intensity as a poet (“a word man, better than a bird man”) stared solemnly into the lens, and thus at all us onlookers, his piercing gaze shoving us toward attention.

Janardan Jakhar, a Delhi collegian enshrining Jim on his wall, stares back at the posters, his reverence surpassed by bewilderment. How to get it, he wonders, when told he doesn’t have what it takes to rock. He works at it, occasionally misguidedly, finds his own trajectory, and in his quest to emulate Morrison, becomes a massively loved, hysteria-inducing performer who never smiles.

For the cameras, that is. Jim’s best photographs are ones shot later, where the mask is off and the grin is wide, loving, Cheshire. The juvenile brooding of apparent depth is replaced by candour, by a real person sometimes having a good time. The finest thing about Imtiaz Ali’s Rockstar is that it gives us both, the misguided scowling and the cheeky boyish smiles, and strikes a balance solid enough to make us believe in his flawed but phenomenal protagonist.

Played by Ranbir Kapoor, Jakhar starts out amusingly wrong. Told that great art is born out of pain, he chides his comfortable upbringing and berates himself for never having been in an accident or for having a set of legitimate, alive parents. He hits on a devastatingly pretty Kashmiri girl from Stephens in an attempt to get his heart shattered, but when shot down, his desolate act dissolves when distracted by a passing samosa in the college canteen. He succumbs to the savoury and looks sheepishly on as his talcumnecked mentor, played wonderfully by Kumud Mishra, tells him to go find real hurt.

He does so obediently enough, but JJ, a warmly irresistible hero who mistakes bugger for burger, also seeks out much heart. He befriends the striking Kashmiran — telling her how he slaps alcohol onto his face like cologne and pretends to act sloshed and then gulping submissively when she orders him to drink for real — completely besotted by the unlikely firebrand. Meanwhile, at home he stays away from the family business, and while that is reason enough to be ostracized in most Bollywood films, here the familial fuse erupts when Jakhar lashes out at an overtly affectionate young Bhabhi for being all touchy-feely.

There is much to admire as the film dispenses with linearity, starting with a concert in Rome and then flashing back and forth to fill in the backstory of Jordan — christened thus by his luscious ladylove. It is a simple, unspectacular tale, sometimes even predictable, but Ali masterfully weaves in details that draw us in while his leading man basks magnificently in the glow of a bespoke script.

Ranbir shines through the film, be it on stage tossing his tonsils into the microphone looking like a slightly oriental Frank Zappa in a Sgt Pepper’s jacket, discussing the terms of a kiss in a Czech field, or at a formal dinner dressed in upholstery. It is a performance that breathes life into the character, making us care about his JJ more than the story deserves. He wraps his mouth around Mohit Chauhan’s voice with desperate fervour, flinging out the words as if they were his own. And here again we see a love of nuance. His fingers close concentratedly into mudras as he sits in a recording booth trying to strike the right pitch, and while his guitarwork is unimpressive and often anachronistic to the music, his electric wriggling on stage makes up for it. Once, while in a meeting with a massaged music mogul, he breaks into a guffaw that, in itself, is worth the film.

It’s remarkable how much narrative detail Ali leaves to the asides, to margin notes not underscored and overwhelmed by AR Rahman’s grand, lovely soundtrack. That a character’s marriage is less than ideal is made clear through little revelations, that she has a therapist, and sleeps in a separate bedroom. Neither exposition is lingered on, and the impact is dramatic.

Equally dramatic are the visuals. Not just the gorgeousness of Prague or the motorbike jaunts through snow-capped hills, but the texture visible in the throwaways: Jordan playing guitar at a Mata-ki-chowki isn’t new; Shiv looming overhead looking like a giant blue Rakhee Gulzar, however, is. With this film Imtiaz often makes the ordinary interesting. It’s an assured film that believes in restraint. Drug use, for example, is apparent – Jordan offers his girl a hit of a joint in a longshot, and is clearly sky-high during an indulgent on-stage rant about uprooted birds – but not highlighted.

The rock could have used more attention, however. We don’t once get into what defines Jordan’s music, his creative genesis, his lyrical musing. The film chooses instead to focus on overflowing stadia and albums flying off shelves. For a film called Rockstar, the closest we get is a hero who occasionally slaps photographers. Then again, it is a film about wanting fame, about a easily misled wannabe who misattributes a middle-finger gesture to his idol, about needless defiance and the hollow but burning desire to drive fans crazy. The music is terrific but incidental, but for a kid who doesn’t finger a guitar fluently enough, this is a hero with pluck.

In Nargis Fakhri Imtiaz has an exotically ravishing heroine, one so pretty we forgive her occasionally stilted diction. She is a girl to stare at, and we, knowing her Heer merely as the object of Jordan’s love, gladly believe in his intoxication. The ensemble is fine, especially the actor playing Kapoor’s slap-happy elder brother, with minor niggles (Shernaz Patel laying it on regrettably thick) and a lovely cameo from a legend to make us all smile. We often refer to the late Shammi Kapoor as a rockstar, and his appearance here serves to remind us that the word isn’t about guitars as much as it is about grace.

This is the story of a boy goaded onto glory. He’s naïve, frequently clueless, and hardly ever has the answers. Bad boy image be damned, this is a man-child living in a bubble of denial, who gradually starts seeing his own life in extreme close-up and ultraslowmotion: in music-video images. For a dreamer, life outside the forcefield — even one created fleetingly by love and a bedsheet — can never be perfect.

Rating: Four Stars

~

First published on Rediff, November 11, 2011

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