By Nadira Khan
Shujaat Saudagar’s Rock On 2 is the continuation of his earlier musical journey, Rock On!! The film mostly deals with the past of the members of the rock band, as if the director wants to narrate what has happened in the intervening period between 2008 and 2016. Though the film is all about a musical journey, there is a new twist in this sequence. We find that Aditya Shroff has moved to a remote village in Meghalaya, where he is involved in social welfare activities.
The film starts with the reintroduction of the members of the local desi rock band, ‘Magik’, with the voiceover of KD, aka Killer Drummer, aka Kedar Zaveri (Purab Kohli). During these last five years (and not eight – from 2008 to 2016), all the members have moved on in their lives, although they have maintained close relationships. KD composes jingles for a living. Despite not being very satisfied with his profession, he is always buoyed, much like his earlier version in Rock On!! Joseph Mascarenhas, aka Joe (Arjun Rampal), is a judge of a reality show and owns a club. The most interesting development happens to be with Adi (Farhan Akhtar), who has relocated to Meghalaya and is running a school for local underprivileged children and a farmer’s cooperative. He is plagued by a sense of guilt over the suicide of a young singer, Rahul. ‘Magik’ introduces Uday (Shashank Arora), alongwith Jiah Sharma (Shraddha Kapoor) as the new members of the team. Prachi Desai as Sakshi Shroff and Shahana Goswami as Debbie Mascarenhas continue to play the wives of Adi and Joe respectively.
On the eve of Adi’s birthday, the entire team of ‘Magik’ comes for a surprise visit to Meghalaya. However, probably a sense of guilt and lack of ‘Magik’ in their lives create an atmosphere of despair, anger, frustration, and loss. Once a fire destroys Adi’s village, he comes back to Mumbai and to music. Adi, along with other members, starts the music band all over again. The rest of the film narrates the struggle and journey of the members of ‘Magik’ to run the band. ‘Magik’ performs their final concert in Adi’s former village in Meghalaya to raise funds for local people.
Director Shujaat Saudagar focuses on complex and pertinent issues such as the commodification of music in modern days, the struggle of an upcoming singer, complicated father-son relationship, the rejection of fusion music by purists, and the philanthropic acts of an urban upper-class. The most problematic aspect I find in this film is that Saudagar could not connect all these issues coherently. For example, in the reality show in which Joe is a judge, he gets an instruction from the back office to continue a conversation for a longer time with a particular participant on stage, as he is a source of comedy for the audience. The script is full of such instances and has little interest to go deeper into any of these issues.
The most abrupt and striking aspect of the film is the representation of Aditya as the sole savior of a deprived, underprivileged community in north-east India. Once he moves to Mumbai, he gets a call from a local villager, who tells him that the villagers can’t afford even a single meal a day. Aditya and Jiah drive a truck stacked with relief needs into the refugee camp in the village. (It’s not even clear if he was driving the truck all the way from Mumbai to Meghalaya!) They shake a few hands, rub a few cheeks, hug a few victims, and distribute few food packets to the victims. This is a desperate attempt to cash in on audience empathy. The scene also repeats the savior-syndrome of earlier films such as My Name is Khan and Swadesh. In My Name is Khan, Rizwan Khan (Shah Rukh Khan) rushes to hurricane-hit Wilhemina to help Mama Jenny and her son. In Swadesh, Mohan Bhargava (Shah Rukh Khan), an Indian scientist working in NASA, leaves his job and comes back to Charanpur, U.P. in India. He devotes his life for the development of the village. Shayam Benegal’s Manthan may be considered as one of the cult works in this genre. The film was based on the story of the pioneering milk cooperative movement of Verghese Kurien, who started a white revolution in India, enabling economic as well as social change in the villages. All the lead characters in these films come from upper class, urban background and want to mitigate the suffering of villagers about whose life they hardly know anything. Rock On 2 fails to indicate how Adi is exactly aiding the farmers.
The script does not have a strong connection with the issues it deals with but it tries to hold audience attention till the end by creating certain twists. For example, before her performance at a concert in the village, Jiah goes missing but finally everything falls in place; the local goons do not allow the audience to enter the village. All this adds more confusion to the film.
A scattered plot doesn’t help weak performances from the actors. The film solely focuses on Farhan Akhtar, who appears utterly confused and distracted without any reason: sometimes, he is dedicated to his adopted village; at other times, he is the devoted lead vocalist of ‘Magic’. The second lead Arjun Rampal falls short on charisma and fails to impress. Jiah is locked in a complex relationship with her father. Rest of the characters like Prachi Desai, Shahana Goswami and Kumud Mishra barely get any space to perform either music or emote.
Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy composes music for this film and Javed Akhtar writes the lyrics. Rock On 2 lacks the musical charm as well. There is not a single track which would stay with the audience once they leave theaters.
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Nadira Khan recently completed her doctorate in film and cultural studies at TISS, Mumbai. She is Films Editor at Cafe Dissensus. Twitter: @NadiraKhan11
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