Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani is a magnificent spectacle of opulence, colour and music topped with dollops of emotion and tears. A Silhouette review.
Lavish sprawling mansion, gorgeous palatial interiors, swanky SUVs, grand parties with fascinating dance floors, gigantic Durga Puja… Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani is a magnificent spectacle of opulence, colour and music topped with dollops of emotion and tears. And yes, garnished with liberal doses of humour too. And lest we forget to mention… it is all about family – the good ol’ Karan Johar recipe.
So what’s new? Ummm, now that’s a question. Well, in place of South India vs Punjab in Two States, we now have Bengal vs Punjab. We have the Punjabi gabru jawan “Rockky Randhawa” (Ranveer Singh), the scion of the multi-crore sweetmeat giant Dhanalakshmi Sweets, with all his swag, 6-pack physique, protein shakes, outlandish shades, daringly unbuttoned shirt, eye-popping dance costumes, tomato-red Ferrari, and luxurious SUV with a number plate that says DDC 1. His pidgin English and lack of knowledge about the location of West Bengal is his Achilles heel. Rest he is the archetypal cool dude with a heart of gold.
Rocky meets the bheeshon mishti Bengali belle Rani Chatterjee (Alia Bhatt), the fiery, irrepressible star anchor of ‘India Now’ who loves to grill netas with laser-sharp questions about women’s status in society. Rani is just as surprised as we are when she falls in love with Rocky who is everything her super-educated ex-s were not. Both are committed to their respective families and here in lies the paradox.
In Rocky’s matriarchal household, his grandmother Dhanalakshmi (Jaya Bachchan), calls the shots. She is grim, unsmiling and frowning, despotic in her decisions and rather insensitive to not allow her son, (named Tijori to invoke more wealth), to be close to his father. Her husband Kanwal (Dharmendra), who loved his Firaq and also his Jamini (Shabana Azmi), a fellow poetry enthusiast, is now strapped to a wheelchair and living in a world of his memories and music. The search for his illusive “Jamini” brings Rocky and Rani together.
Rocky fears his grandma just as the rest of his kin does, including his father (Aamir Bashir), perpetually petrified mother Poonam (Kshitee Jog) and overweight sister Gayatri “Golu” (Anjali Anand), who ends up with embarrassing malapropisms in her nervousness. The stereotyped Punjabi household, where women (except the matriarch) don’t have a voice, is back. They live in a palace that is the “first copy of the White House” from the outside. And it is supposed to be in the crowded West Delhi, the hub of mithaiwalas. Statutory warning: Don’t scratch your brains.
The Chatterjee household is the exact opposite of the Randhawa family. Here women are educated, liberal, bold and feminist. Jamini, who happens to be Rani’s grandmother is a dignified and affectionate poetry lover (nothing surprising, she is a Bengali, na?), who had once loved and lost her Kanwal.
Rani’s mother Anjali (Churni Ganguly) is a professor and thus must spout “Tharoor English”. Her father Chandan (Tota Roy Chowdhury) is a Kathak exponent (Bengalis love the arts, remember?). A colleague Somen (Namit Das) loves her and hovers around for a date but is unable to speak his heart, tch tch (he reminded me of the typical silent admirer of the heroine in our Hindi films of yesteryears).
The Randhawa women are always dressed in bright, colourful, silver or gold bordered salwar kameezs. The Chatterjee women flaunt their tangails, dhakais and chiffon saris. The costumes reflect the characters – that’s a Manish Malhotra speciality.
Alia Bhatt and Shabana Azmi’s heavily-accented Bengali sounds out of place to me as a Bengali. I am told by my Punjabi-speaking friends, Jaya Bachchan’s Punjabi is just as much. Well, if Jaya had been Rani’s grandmother, the Bengali at least could have been taken care of. But having said that, one must say, the two finest actresses of our times – Jaya and Shabana – do a great job with a role or look they’ve never done before. I only wish Karan Johar had allowed Jaya Bachchan to at least smile a bit.
So, coming back to the story, Rocky and Rani swap places for three months, with Rocky moving into the Chatterjee home and Rani stepping into the Randhawa household to try and see if their families can overcome the cultural differences and accept them willingly — “We may hold the steering wheel but our families are the backseat drivers”. This is where the narrative picks up. Done with the rom-com in the first half, the film now slips into social messaging.
Rani brings about a quiet revolution in the Randhawa family where women are subservient to the men and the matriarch. On the “other side”, Rocky tries to wade through a household where men are expected to make their own coffee and accept women’s empowerment.
The songs don’t strike a chord. ‘Dhindhora baje re’ during “Durga Puja” (where all you have is a huge Durga idol and no puja) is a take off from Dola re, preceded by a revisit of the Devdas song by Ranveer and Tota Roy Chowdhury – they both do an impressive job with the kathak dance. ‘Tum kya mile’ is an excuse to take you to beautiful locales in Kashmir – how much can you romance in saddi Delhi’s wedding sangeet ceremony or boutique akharas anyway. ‘What jhumka’ is hark back to the iconic ‘Jhumka gira re’, from Mera Saya – it uses the notes of the vintage melody in its interludes.
Don’t be surprised if you find echoes of Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Ghum in Jaya Bachchan’s “bas… keh diya” or in men crying as much as the women do. But then, who is looking for innovation here.
What saves the film is its sparkling humour and the electrifying energy of the duo – Ranveer and Alia. When they clash, sparks fly. When they romance, it is an endearingly brash Punjabi munda wooing the dimpled sari-clad Bengali. The dialogues by Ishita Moitra are a definite highlight – they make you laugh without being tickled.
The young romance blooms when Rocky and Rani help their respective grandparents meet surreptitiously. Kanwal meets his Jamini in the backdrop of the Qutub Minar and our golden oldies play in the background. The film scores a huge point here – wrapping in both the young and the old in its folds. Taking the ruse of Dharmendra and Shabana’s fascination for the songs of the golden era, Karan Johar peppers the film with snatches of the everlasting songs – from soulful romantic songs like ‘Chaudhvin ka chand ho ya aaftab ho’, ‘Abhi na jao chhodkar’, and ‘Aaj mausam bada beimaan hai bada’, to the peppy ‘Hawa ke saath saath’ and ‘Mast bahaaron ka main aashiq’, there are some ‘aha’ moments for those who love the golden melodies. Romance then (when it was about emotions, poetry and music) and romance now (when it is about “physical” and “flings” and acrobatic dances) are in sharp contrast here. It is only when the young ones realise their love is more than just a fling that the story takes on a new turn.
Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani is meant to be an entertainer and it hits the target spot on – dance hai, music hai, romance hai, rona-dhona bhi hai. The performances are as per the role commands – from the veterans to the young ones, they make you smile and laugh with them. Tota Roy Chowdhury as Rani’s father earns a special mention for traversing a gamut of emotions in his space – from being the Bengali babu to a passionate dancer to an abused son and an indulgent father. Churni Ganguly’s comic timing is impressive. Dharmendra is a shadow of his former self but nevertheless, a big draw. Shabana Azmi fits the role of the elegant poetry lover to a T. The face-off between Jaya Bachchan and Alia Bhatt that finishes with an emphatic “khela hobe” brings out the best in the two actors — a clash between the traditional and the progressive.
Worth a watch if you can leave your queries for logic behind and allow yourself a destress with a masala fix. Mazey lo!
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