Abhishek Kapoor's Rock On!! is that rare modern band film dedicated to the emotional depth of character without the melodrama. This may turn off the new breed of music aficionados who can't stand Rock music Hindi-fied, but for those of us that remember the good old-fashioned band film as it used to exist in Bollywood, this one treats the characters as the important ingredient, and is an accessible, fun film.
Atmosphere is king here, and Abhishek Kapoor's debut is powerful in itself because it creates and sustains the atmosphere so thoroughly. Maintaining tone, creating the environment, keeping character beats, bringing out the attention to detail, this is all that a director does to keep a genre film like this on its feet. And even then a dude needs to know where to put a camera. Kapoor has these skills and more, and despite the routine plot of the film, that gives you encouragement.
Kapoor in writing and creating the film, draws less on the actual rock band scene in India than he does on his memories. Immediately this becomes a movie where what we remember of music and friends is key. Chances are most people have experimented with the idea of being in a band in college or high school. And using your own fond memories as a glossy window, the film's naÃ¯ve take on music does not seem half bad, because its take on relationships is spot on.
When we get pushed in to the flashback of four friends and band mates, Aditya Shroff (Farhan Akhtar), Joe Mascarenhas (Arjun Rampal), KD (Purab Kohli), and Rob Nancy (Luke Kenny) of Magik, they have just won a talent competition. As we flit between that and the present, where Aditya is a banker, Rob plays music sessions for Anu Malik, KD manages his father's business, and Joe still clutches on to his guitar and memories, the film takes a two-pronged approach to its narrative.
The first tries to cover what went wrong between the friends, while the other explores the present and how they right the wrong now. The different baggage they all carry, and more importantly, the relationships that now define these four friends (Prachi Desai as Aditya's pragmatic and well-meaning wife, and Shahana Goswami as Joe's crackerjack hubby) color the narrative, and genuinely drive it home.
The plot in itself is very fat-free, and has nothing to offer the actors. Kapoor manages to infuse some raw energy into his film with this even-handed approach in creating the correct tone and sustaining it. The atmosphere the film creates is brilliant, and never was the smoky dingy garage any more real. The music and especially the song-writing are a tad plebeian, but Kapoor uses them very wisely, and it helps that they are still better than average Bollywood film songs.
Supporting the excellent mood that the director creates is the note-perfect ensemble cast. Perhaps underlining the film's raw feel, the actors restrain themselves and deliver solid dependable performances. What drives the film forward, though, is the kinetic, reflective performance by the ladies. Desai and Goswami are those rare actresses that seem like they belong, no matter what the part.
This doesn't mean the boys aren't up to it, though. Farhan Akhtar surprisingly has some acting chops that he delivers, and while Rampal is still wooden, the sullen solemn Joe is right up his stoic alley. Purab's antic-filled acting job is fun, but rote. Luke Kenny is the biggest surprise, with an actual performance and a real sense of character.
Despite the great ensemble, this is entirely Kapoor's film. He makes a few mistakes with the pacing and writing but more than makes up with the structure and mood. This may not be the triumph of music that it purports to be, but it definitely is a very understated romance - that of the band mates to the band. It is with this understanding of the relationship that Kapoor creates a modern parable of what it means to love your lofty ideals, and what it means to realize them in a form you don't rightly understand.