By Nihal Bambulkar Aug. 29, 2018
At 12, I was convinced that music was my calling and Rock On!! was the closest I could get to the ultimate rockstar experience. But today, as the film turns 10, I find nothing redeeming about the film, except its music.
In 2008, I got into a yelling match with my parents who had watched Abhishek Kapoor’s Rock On!! without me and were refusing to accompany me and watch it the second time around. I was 12 then. At the time, my only dream in life was to become the lead guitarist in a rock band. I’d been convinced that music was my calling since I’d learnt to rap “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” without panting for breath. And for my musically-inclined soul, Rock On!! was the closest I could get to the ultimate rockstar experience that was going to be my future. So I did what any self-respecting musician would do – sulk in front of my parents until they gave in.
The film that saw the acting and singing debut of Farhan Akhtar revolved around four friends who had achieved the impossible: Form a successful grunge rock band. Called “Magik”, it had Joe Mascarenhas (Arjun Rampal) on guitar, Aditya Shroff (Farhan Akhtar) on vocals, Kedar Zaveri aka Killer Drummer (Purab Kohli) on drums, and Rob Nancy (Luke Kenny) on keyboards. They were young, brash, laidback, and became popular doing what they loved. How could I not be in awe!? Their reel lives were like a dream come true for every youngster who aspired to make music with his friends.
When I watched Rock On!! for the first time, I was taken aback by how the film’s catchy soundtrack articulated the problems I faced, basically First World problems, now that I look back. If “Socha Hai” spoke about questioning everything around you, then “Sinbad the Sailor” egged us on to travel the world to find the meaning of life. And the film’s title track that was the voice of rebellion and ambition for an entire generation. No prizes for guessing that it became the anthem of my life.
You see, Rock On!!, was the aspirational adulthood I desperately craved — one which would be a long, beautiful, musical journey with stellar stage performances, headbanging, and guitar solos. And which wouldn’t be ruined by responsibilities or mundane office work. It’s precisely why I detested Magik’s heart-wrenching hiatus that resulted in my favourite band members turning into corporate stooges. My younger self was disinterested in wasting time contemplating about the complexities and conflicts of the real world. Instead, he simply wanted Magik to keep performing one rock song after the other while goofing around.
But it’s been 10 years since the glory days of Magik and a lot has happened in these years: Akhtar’s nasal-singing isn’t mistaken for pathbreaking music any longer, the film’s sequel had gloriously murdered the ingenuity of Rock On!!, and I’m not a wide-eyed 12-year-old anymore. Today, as I watch Rock On!! through the eyes of an adult, I’m almost disinterested in siting through its 145-minute-long runtime, let alone be passionate enough to fight with someone to catch a rerun.
Remember how the four performed “Saanson Ki Zaroorat Hai Jaise” at a Garba night for money?
I also can’t seem to find any redeeming thing about a film on an Indian rock band that is rife with old references and irrelevant jokes, except for its songs that haven’t left my iPod since 2008. When I watch it now, Rock On!! seems like an awful attempt by overgrown men desperately trying to hold onto their childhood dreams of being a rockstar with long hair, electric guitars, and youthful exuberance.
If “Socha Hai” spoke about questioning everything around you, then “Sinbad the Sailor” egged us on to travel the world to find the meaning of life. Image Credits: Excel Entertainment
If “Socha Hai” spoke about questioning everything around you, then “Sinbad the Sailor” egged us on to travel the world to find the meaning of life.
Image Credits: Excel Entertainment
When Rock On!! released, it stood out as Bollywood’s foray into a different genre of storytelling and filmmaking. Here was a film which I thought got the intricacies of musical instruments right, felt like a realistic portrayal of struggling musicians (Remember how the four performed “Saanson Ki Zaroorat Hai Jaise” at a Garba night for money?) and a sharp cry from the OTT cry fest that Hindi films usually are. But 10 years later, the film feels exactly like the Bollywood cliche it was supposedly rebelling against. It’s melodramatic, convenient (of course, the villain gives the protagonists a chance at redemption), and for most parts, feels unintentionally funny. It’s almost impossible to single out its charm from a sea of generic Bollywood offerings.
It’s now that I understand that Rock On!! was never supposed to be a snapshot of anyone’s future. As a 12-year-old, I may have watched the film dreaming of becoming a rockstar, but when I watch it now, I wonder how I fell for Farhan Akhtar’s singing. At this point, I’d do anything but Rock On!!