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Ranveer, Alia aur KJo ki messy kahani – Beyond Bollywood

The Karan Johar directorial condemns patriarchy/matriachary but it lacks a taut screenplay. Shabana Azmi impresses in her Bengali avtaar.

Rating: ⭐️? ( 1. 5 / 5)

By Mayur Lookhar

The term legacy studio isn’t holding true for some. The second generation inherited it from their [largely] revered fathers. Whilst its their ‘dharma’ to carry forward the family business, it’s not written in gold that the successors ought to have the same legacy. An individual has to leave his/her imprints.

Filmmaker Karan Johar’s early works, that commenced by assisting Aditya Chopra in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge [1995], were defined by standard storylines that targeted the traditional family mass audience. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai [1998], his first directorial, had a widower reuniting with his college bestie.

Though his next Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham… [2001] was an opulent family saga, it respectfully showed that it wasn’t a sin if you didn’t agree with the patriarch of the house. In 2004, Karan lost his father Yash Johar, an acclaimed film producer of his time. It’s always an insurmountable loss, but Johar now had the reigns of a marquee legacy studio.

Two years later, Dharma Productions stunned us with Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, a tale where producer Karan Johar first explored complex relationships, not afraid to test infidelity. Johar returned to direction with My Name is Khan [2010], an underdog, slice of life uncontroversial tale. The complex relationships saga though passed on to the extended family of his two protagonists in 2 States [2014].

Johar, the director toyed with the same idea in Ae Dil Hai Mushkil [2016]. Then there was the dysfunctional family in Kapoor & Sons [2016]. Dharma Productions’ most realistic tale of complex relationships came with Gehraiyaan [2022].

Phew, is this a Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani review? Or are we listing down Karan Johar’s filmography? The charge is fine but it would be inappropriate to comment on yet another complex relationship, dysfunctional family saga without mentioning how under Karan Johar, Dharma has braved to experiment with stories that were unthinkable in his father’s time.

It’s bizarre though why would Johar return to direction with another 2 States-like story.  This Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani also partly rekindles memories of Genelia D’Souza and Siddharth’s Telugu romantic, family drama Bommarillu [2006].

Forward to 2023, we have Rocky Randhawa [Ranveer Singh], heir apparent to his family’s multimillion sweet business.  The family specializes in serving Boondi ladoo. It’s seen the once humble halwais [confectioners] now run a blue-chip company. It’s largely run by the matriarch Dhanlakshmi [Jaya Bachchan] and her son Tijori [Aamir Bashir]. What does Rocky do then? Aish (enjoy).

The character is perhaps 30, but Ranveer [38] looks more like a younger brother to Bashir.  Rocky flaunts his gawdy clothes, scarlet Ferrari. He loves dancing but does so in secret as his grandmother and father don’t approve of it. Rocky is born with a silver spoon in his mouth, one filled with a boondi laddoo topped with edible silver leaf.  He, however, isn’t the typical arrogant Punjabi rich munda (boy) from Delhi. Rocky is poor in academics. He can’t speak English, but as they say in Delhi – bande main swag hai.

Rocky discovering a Rani [Alia Bhatt] is down to his grandfather’s condition. Years ago, the poet Kanwal Lund [Dharmendra] fell from the stairs and has since been confined to a wheelchair. The weakened memory has all the more added to his woes. The man though frequently has one name on his lips – Jamini.

The lady turns out to be Rani Chatterjee’s grandmother. Many winters ago, Jamini [Shabana Azmi] and Kanwal met at a Kavi Sammelan in Shimla. Though married, the duo forged a platonic relationship. A simple google search leads Rocky to Rani’s office in Delhi. The woman leads him to her grandmother, who acquiesces to Rocky’s request to meet Kanwal. All in the frail hope that it could bring some improvement in the old man’s health.

Naturally, this meet is despised by Dhanlakshmi.  She is confident though that after all these years, Kanwal wouldn’t even recognise Jamini. It’s a short meet as Jamini is about to leave but the wheelchair bound Kanwal gets up on his feet and croons Aaj Jaane Ki Zid Na Karo [classic ghazal by Pakistani great Farida Khanum]. To add to Dhanlakshmi’s misery, her husband even kisses Jamini. The former lovers meet secretly again, courtesy Rocky and Rani. Oh dear, is Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani going to be this quasi Kuch Kuch Hota Hai? Of course, there is one big difference – SRK’s Rahul was a widower, but here Kanwal is still married. All good things must end as Jamini heads back to her family, Kanwal is surprisingly back on the wheelchair.  It happens only in Bollywood.

They reunited old lovers, but in the process, Rocky and Rani also have their fling. Rani, though, soon realises that she has strong feelings for the outspoken Punjabi. She, however, is unconvinced that their respective families will ever accept them. So, the duo decide swap homes for a brief period. If they can gel with the opposite family, then this love story is set for a wedlock. What are the odds of a cliched Punjabi impressing classy Bengalis? Similarly, what chances does Rani have to win over Rocky’s dysfunctional family?

It was meant to be their love story, but Rocky and Rani each unearth some stories in the opposite household. The Punjabi blabbermouth encounters Anjali Chatterjee [Rani’s mom] a female version of Shashi Tharoor. Rani’s father Chandon [Tota Roy Choudhary] is a Kathak dancer. For Rocky, this is more about learning, accepting different culture.

On the other side, Rani is privy to a closed environment in the Punjabi household, which is largely down to years of patriarchy/matriarchy.

Rocky and Rani have their conflicts, but it’s the stories of the family members that underline the message(s) that director Karan Johar wants to highlight.

We’re no one to stir up any moral debate, but the traditional audiences are unlikely to be amused by the chaos here.  Rocky Aur Rani.. has some fine messages but what is lacking is a taut screenplay. With a tricky, layered plot at his disposal, Johar and his writers pinned their hopes on nostalgia. The background music is tinged with classic, retro numbers. Phew, nostalgia is fine but after a while, you wonder is this a movie or some antakshari?

Ranveer Singh has endured a tough period.  The poor chivalry, pretentious nature, six-pack abs, Rani rightly describes Rocky as some Bollywood item boy. Singh has been off colour for a while.  Barring the odd convincing emotional display, this is another frustrating effort by Singh. He’s likable in his Kathak act but hey Ranveer haven’t you had your fair share of feminism? 

Alia Bhatt’s Rani Chatterjee is intriguing. Here’s a lady who is a successful professional. She believes in equality, freedom of expression, and standing up for women’s rights. During an interview, she blasts a local politician for having a sexist attitude. Rani instantly strikes you as a strong, new age independent woman. How can such a lady be amused by Rocky’s poor chivalry?  Far too often have we seen characters with strong ideals, feminism, but their sensuality, unabashed intimacy compels people to label them as woke. Look, it’s wrong to judge one, especially a lady but such characterization often seems staged. Rani is open to a fling, but she too has her boundary. Alia doesn’t let the average, messy screenplay hinder her spirit as she delivers a strong performance.

The Bengalis are the best judge of Shabana Azmi’s tone. The veteran is near flawless in her act. Despite the tense situations, Azmi upholds the dignity of her character. She is the lone character that isn’t pretentious.  Therein lies the worry for the rest of the cast. None are bad artistes. They simply become slaves to their pretentious characters.

Over the years, Jaya Bachchan has acquired the image of a grumpy old woman. She doesn’t shy from venting her frustration, largely against the media. So, it’s natural for her to play this conservative, hot-headed matriarch.  Many years ago, poor Jaya experienced a similar Silsila [1981]. Sshh! No personal gossip. Mrs. Bachchan carries the long face well, but the character is unlikely to gain any empathy.

The veteran Dharmendra does well in his cameo role, nicely exhibiting the physical and mental stress to his character.  For over two hours, the film speaks about breaking free from regressive mindsets, expressing oneself and advocating the ‘everything is fair in love’ theory. Kanwal’s actions underline that spirit, yet the parting words of the poet is, “Whatever happens, a family mustn’t break”.  Well, but the earlier actions of the leading characters severely threaten the family unity.

At 168 minutes, the average screenplay, feeble direction makes it an exhaustive experience. What’s fairly consistent is the qualitative production design. The Randhawa Paradise is equated with The White House. The exterior is bland, but Amrita Bahal creates a visual splendor both in the Randhawa paradise, as well as the comparatively humble Chatterjee home. The Durga pandal and the decorations around it is spectacular.  For all its ensemble cast, big banner, it’s the production design that saves you from dozing off.

Their stories have lost their appeal, but Dharma Productions usually produce good playback music. Sadly, save for a Sony Nigam track at the end, the others simply don’t grip your imagination.

In this tough phase, Bollywood is often urged to revisit its roots. Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani! The title lulls you into believing that it is perhaps old school romantic, family drama, but the lame screenplay, uninspiring direction make it a forgettable kahani.

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