Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahani marks KJo’s return to top form!

Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt in Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahani,Photo: Trailer Video Grab 

As per a reliable industry source who revealed this to me, Karan Johar had got a massive complex when told by colleagues that he had made “just another Hindi family drama” after his last whopper hit as a director, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham… (2001). That was the year when Lagaan, Dil Chahta Hai and Chandni Bar were mentioned as standout films that demonstrated, according to these ‘well-wishers’, as “evolving” Hindi cinema.

Ergo, Karan went ‘elitist’ with a vengeance, trying to balance his natural mainstream sensibilities with what he considered was ‘globally-appealing progressive Hindi cinema’. Here was the net result: Kal Ho Naa Ho (which he wrote but did not direct), a massive hit overseas but an average performer in India, especially outside Mumbai, Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, a blockbuster in most overseas terrain but a disaster locally, and My Name is Khan, a hit in foreign countries and a flop in home country.

Karan then pondered on where he was going wrong, and decided to make a full-on Hindi film with lots of music next, as he had promised to me when we met at an awards show! But the result was Student of the Year, which did tepid business all over, and had very disappointing music. He next made Ae Dil Hai Mushkil—again, this time, despite good music, he could not recover his investment, financially as well as in the hearts of the audience.

Meanwhile, his banner, Dharma Productions, had become a company that was investing in multiple films of all hues and shades. An honest look-back must have convinced Karan that his biggest hits here were 2 States, Badrinath Ki Dulhania and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani—all full-on musicals with complete entertainment and messages sent without in-your-face or over-the-top preaching. What’s more, during this time, he experienced (as distributor) the magic of S.S. Rajamouli’s grander-than-life bonanzas—the Bahubali franchise and RRR. And then his own production last year, Brahmastra, was the icing on the cake of success.

And so now, after a lot of thought and pains, and a young team of brilliant writers, a milestone entertainer is born: Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahani. As director, the film marks Karan Johar’s return to K3GKuch Kuch Hota Hai top form!

For the subject, Karan chooses a family drama again. Correction: this time, it is the drama of two families. The romance is once again seamlessly integrated into the story that speaks of relationships. But this time, again, the romance is double-barreled.

The plot takes off from the love story of a then-young Kanwal Lund (now Dharmendra) and Jamini Chatterjee (now Shabana Azmi). Fed up of their respective authoritarian spouses, the two happen to meet away from their Delhi homes at a literary gathering and realize that they have finally found true love. But as per their times (it was then 1978), they painfully decide to part ways after a great companionable week together, and go back to fulfilling their family responsibilities. Needless to say, they still pine for each other, though Jamini is now widowed, and neither have ever received true affection from their partners.

In the present day, Kanwal’s wife, Dhanlaxmi (Jaya Bachchan) and their son, Tijori (Aamir Bashir) are heading a phenomenally successful sweetmeat business named after her. Tijori has been programmed by his mother to be a hardcore chauvinist, who takes his wife (Kshitee Jog), who had ambitions to become a singer, and daughter Gayatri (Anjali Anand), who excels in stock trading on phone, for granted as submissive objects. He extends this dictatorial tendency towards his brash, bratty and ‘bindaas’ (carefree) son, Rocky (Ranveer Singh).

And now, Kanwal is an old man, bound to a wheelchair and suffering from dementia. At one point, Rocky comes to know that his grandfather yearns for someone called Jamini. Online, he traces a probable woman of that name, and contacts the lady’s granddaughter, Rani (Alia Bhatt), a very successful news anchor. They arrange a meeting between his grandfather and Rani’s grandmother, and, for a while, Kanwal also regains his ability to walk. Rocky and Rani arrange for the two to meet secretly, again and again, sharing their common love for poetry and old Hindi film songs.

Meanwhile, the non-English-speaking, flamboyant and very Punjabi Rocky also falls for Rani, a highly-educated and cultured Bengali woman. But she is confused about whether their short relationship is merely a physical fling. The families are totally incompatible, as Rocky’s people are stuck-up and Rani’s parents, though cultured and progressive, do not feel that Rocky will work for long for their daughter. When Rani realizes that she in true love with Rocky, the two want to win over the partner’s clans by living with the other’s family for a few weeks. And then we get to watch the fun and fireworks between the families and their cultures.

Brilliantly written (Ishita Moitra, Shashank Khaitan and Sumit Roy) and even better directed, with the right mix of ingredients for NRIs as well as the national audience of all ages, Rocky Aur Rani…, like K3G again, explores family values. But it also looks at our complex about the English language, love between opposites, gender equality and body-shaming beautifully. Making an obvious case for true love being all-accepting, sans judgment and unconditional, It takes up Punjabi and Bengali cultures and examines their strong points as well as a few weak areas humorously as well as in a hard-hitting manner.

Finally, as with Karan’s last two films, the movie unabashedly showcases the unifying power of Hindi film music, especially songs that are two or more decades old and their powerful, heartfelt lyrics. In this department, this film scores way higher than his earlier efforts, and the superb use of classics like Ek pyar ka naghma hai (Shor), the originally Dharmendra-enacted Aaj mausam beimaan hai bada (Loafer), Dola re dola (Devdas), Aaj phir jeene ki tamanna hai (Guide) and Abhi na jao chhodkar (Hum Dono) stand out. Pritam’s original songs are generally good and, for these times, meaningfully written by Amitabh Bhattacharya. Pritam’s ‘background’ score, also incorporating elements of old hits again, is excellent.

The performances are amazing: Ranveer Singh is back in form with yet another grandly-written role that he performs to perfection. His eyes are amazingly expressive and so is his body language. He is an astounding dancer too (both in contemporary and traditional styles) and shares a chemistry with Alia Bhatt that can only be described as electrifying.

Alia herself is superb as the woman with a mind of her own. And yet she is confused and easily and emotionally vulnerable. Her outburst after the Navaratri celebrations when Tijori insults her family and her earlier confession about loving him to Rocky, as well as her solo sequences with Dharmendra, Jaya Bachchan and Shabana Azmi all reconfirm her unequaled status as the effortless topper among the actresses who started out in the last 15 years.

The three veterans are delightful, though Dharmendra is more than a shade underused. But he is especially excellent and his eyes eminently expressive, as expected, in the romantic sequences. Shabana Azmi is a delight as the Bengali love of Dharmendra’s life and a doting and yet concerned grandmother to Rani. Jaya Bachchan takes on the regressive and rigid Dhanlaxmi as a complete antithesis of her charming turn opposite Dharmendra in her debut film as Guddi. Aamir Bashir as Tijori, Anjali Anand as his daughter and Namit Das as Rani’s suitor Soumen are alright, but the brownie points go to Kshitee Jog as his wife Poonam, and Tota Roy Chowdhury and Churni Ganguly as Rani’s parents.

Grandeur, opulence and the resultant magnificence in cinematography (Manushnandan), production design (Amrita Mahal Nakai), choreography and song-taking are all a given for such bonanzas. A special pat is also deserved for editor Nitin Baid, though he could have made the 2.48 hour drama crisper in the second half by about 10 minutes.

But that’s alright. An extra piece of ice barely dilutes a fabulously-concocted cocktail. Welcome back to directorial excellence, Karan!

Rating: ****

Dharma Productions’ & Viacom Studios’ Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahani  Produced by:     : Hiroo Yash Johar, Karan Johar & Apoorva Mehta  Directed by: Karan Johar  Written by: Ishita Moitra, Shashank Khaitan and Sumit Roy  Music: Pritam  Starring: Dharmendra, Jaya Bachchan, Shabana Azmi, Ranveer Singh, Alia Bhatt, Aamir Bashir, Kshitee Jog, Anjali Anand, Churni Ganguly, Tota Roy Chowdhury, Abhinav Sharma, Namit Das & others







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