Variety

You rock, Ranbir

Shashi Baliga | Updated on December 31, 2011

Rock on: Ranbir Kapoor

Rockstar disappoints, but Ranbir Kapoor has come of age in the film.

Some three years ago I set up an interview with Ranbir Kapoor to talk to him about his overnight stardom and how he was handling it. It was early days for this Kapoor scion and his report card was mixed. Saawariya had been interminably talked about, then released and bombed, while Bachna Ae Haseeno had hit the screens with much less publicity but far greater success.

But producers and directors were swarming around him, convinced he was the Next Big Thing. He was dating one of India's most beautiful women, Deepika Padukone. He had thousands of breathless fans and was being chased by various arms of the media (including the newspaper I was working for at the time). He was living the dream, he was riding high, it was all any young man in his position could have asked for. And it was enough to turn anyone's head, to make any man — young, old or anywhere in-between — believe he was the Current Big Thing.

When I walked into Krishna Raj, the palatial home where he lived with his parents, Rishi and Neetu Kapoor, I expected to meet a star kid-turned-sensation who would be polite but revel in his newfound stardom.

To my amazement, Ranbir refused to even acknowledge that he was a star. “We use the word too loosely,” he argued. “I can call myself a star only when I have a couple of bonafide hits under my belt. Just to be ‘appreciated' in a couple of movies does not make me a star. I am, at best, a potential star.”

I looked at him carefully and with not a little cynicism; fake humility can be even more annoying than bragging. But I couldn't detect a false note. Ranbir spoke rapidly but in measured tones that implied he was just stating what he saw as a fact. Either he was a very good actor or he honestly meant what he said. Either way, this young actor was intriguing. Especially since he declared later on, again in a matter-of-fact tone, that he intended to become the best actor ever in the history of Hindi cinema.

Nobody doubted then that he showed immense promise. The question was: would he fulfil it? As he went on to films like Wake Up Sid, Rocket Singh, Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani and Raajneeti, each showing a clear growth graph, the operative word in that question became when, not if.

I believe that moment has come with Rockstar. It is not a great movie or even a very good one, but Ranbir Kapoor has, I think, come of age with his performance in it. Not only because it is a many-layered role but because the character of Jordan is one that could so easily have gone wrong in the hands of a lesser actor, could have descended into stereotype and caricature.

Ranbir not only hits the right notes in his performance, but brings to it a passion and energy that explodes on screen. He has obviously had to work on this one, especially since this character, unlike the many lover-boys he has played, is far removed from his own life and sensibilities. While there was much talk about his learning to play the guitar, I heard him say in a television interview that he considered that the “superficial” part of his preparation. Getting into the character's mind, he said, was the tough one, the real challenge.

His work has paid off. He is far and away the best part of the movie, which is rather bizarre in that it is entertainingly non-traditional in its first half, but does a complete switch in the second, to fall back on a string of hoary Bollywood clichés. The same old dying heroine; the predictable hospital scenes (mercifully, the doctors don't declare, “ Usko blood cancer ho gaya”); the easy way out of a love triangle of sorts.

Surely not what we might have expected from director Imtiaz Ali. His Jab We Met might have set off an annoying trend of Hinglish titles but ran through the industry and theatres like a strong summer breeze. Love Aaj Kal was not, perhaps, as memorable but came up with many a surprise. And all his movies, including the first half of Rockstar, have a clever, visual sense of humour that sets his work apart. Much of the problem with Rockstar's second half is that he seems to lose that humour in it.

As for the lead actress, debutante Nargis Fakhri, let's just say she's been given far too many lines for someone so awkward with her Hindi dialogue.

Still, the under-25s (not unexpectedly) have taken to the film in a big way and expectations are that Rockstar will end up, as industry jargon puts it, “positive”. Which means it will make decent money but not turn out to be a blockbuster.

In spite of my problems with the movie, I have to admit that this is a pity, especially when you consider atrocities such as Ready raking in the stuff in record-breaking figures.

Oh well, that's Bollywood for you. But so long as Imtiaz Ali gets to make more movies and Ranbir continues to make the right choices, we should not complain too much.

> shashibaliga@gmail.com

Published on November 17, 2011

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