Rich families, over-the-top settings, family values, emotions, love, heartbreak topped with flashy costumes and beautifully choreographed dance numbers… Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani (RARKPK) is your typical, if not ideal, masala film. Marking Karan Johar’s return to direction after seven years since Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, the excitement and expectations are palpable in the air. But, it all comes crashing down when the film takes too long to take you in, and eventually turns out to be a never-ending saga of romance and preachy lessons. Yes, it does bring back the grandeur of Karan Johar cinema that we missed for long, but not without its fair share of flaws. Amid several other things, what bothered me the most while watching RARKPK is the stereotypical portrayal of Punjabis as loud and uncivil people and Bengalis are overly educated and supremely intellectual lot. Come on, it’s such a killjoy to see Bollywood being stuck in these cliches. No women in Punjabi households cover their heads with dupattas. And what’s with the unapologetic objectification of the film’s hero when for the longest time the audience have called out Bollywood films for sexualizing its female characters? Also read: Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani box office prediction: Alia Bhatt-Ranveer Singh could open to ₹8-10 cr haul
The film begins with a smashing entry for Rocky Randhawa (Ranveer Singh) in his low neckline printed shirt and oily chest, with a over-the-top song set against the backdrop of Punjabi of the Year contest. Rani Chatterjee (Alia Bhatt), on the other hand, gets a much better written introduction scene where she is schooling a politician on rising rape cases. From the very beginning, we are told about the contrasting families that Randhawas and Chatterjees are. The story, pretty much given in the trailer, revolves around Rocky and Rani, whose love story begins when they are trying to reunite their respective grandparents Kanwal (Dharmendra) and Jamini (Shabana Azmi), who had an affair in 1978 that ended owing to their marital status. While the old-world romance is reviving, Rocky and Rani don’t have it easy coming from different backgrounds. To convince their families, they decide to switch households for three months and live with each other’s families only to realise things aren’t as easy as they may seem. What follows next is a series of ups and down, hardships, insults, fights, self-realisations and regrets.
At 168 minutes, the film is unnecessarily stretched and it took me almost an hour to find my grip. The first half, especially, is such a drag that I literally struggled to sit through it while watching the initial few sequences. God knows what was happening there on screen. How did Rocky and Rani fall in love? I still don’t know. It was so rushed that I almost went on a rewind mode to think if I missed anything. Alas! it actually is very abrupt. How come Rocky’s grandmother, Dhanlakmi Randhawa (Jaya Bachchan) was okay with her husband meeting his ex-lover? We never get to know that either.
Predictably, the story picks pace in the second half and there are enough emotionally-charged scenes that are noteworthy and keep you hooked. The scenes where Rocky is bonding with Rani’s family are moving and carry wit and humour, while Rani’s portions with Randhawas are most intense and not too pleasant. I liked that balance that KJo tried to show while switching between the two households. With his on-point and near-perfect direction, KJo yet again proves that he knows the strength of his actors and how to make the most of it through the characters they portray. The way he blends emotions and humour is what remains the backbone of the film.
Written by Ishita Moitra, Shashank Khaitan and Sumit Roy, RARKPK has some dialogues that are extremely lame and double meaning words and one-liners that seem forced. Guess we’ve had enough of Bollywood writers trying to make people laugh with wrongly pronounced words — inter-caste as intercourse and organise as orgasm –we need something cleverer than this please!
Another thing that looks unsettling for most part of the film is the endless preaching sessions. From slamming patriarchy, calling out misogyny to rubbing feminism in our faces, there’s no dearth of messaging. There’s a whole sequence that stresses on ‘talent transcends the boundaries of gender’ ideology and I liked that inclusion at first. But, it gets problematic when it’s stretched beyond a point and when it’s conveyed in a poor taste by ridiculing a classic dance form like Kathak. I doubt many would laud the scene when Rocky tells Rani’s father, ‘Inko Madhuri chadh gayi hai’. There’s another portion where Rani’s mother takes Rocky ‘bra-shopping’ and then lectures him on respecting women but first being comfortable to touch the bra. It comes and goes without any context. Next in the line was a debate on racism where a Rocky has been told all his life by his grandmother to avoid drinking tea as it darkens the complexion, whereas the Bengali household call it extremely racist. This is followed by a mention of #BlackLivesMatter, Beyonce, Rihanna, Kanye West and the Punjabi song Kaala Shah Kaala in the same breath. Oh, there’s more. Alia is like a textbook on feminist dialogues, and while I’m all for gender equality and women’s rights, I don’t understand why in a so-called family entertainer, you would insert so many social messages and take away its essence? RARKPK should have stuck to being a love story and family drama rather than enter these territories and try to send out so many messages.
Saving the day are some decent and convincing performances with very little to complain there. Ranveer as the flamboyant and boisterous Punjabi ‘Karol Bagh ka launda’ delivers an effortless act, more so because he is playing himself. Not that I’m complaining, but I didn’t see much of acting or prep there. Watching him do all those funny antics, it didn’t feel any different from the times we’ve seen him walk the red carpet at events or going overboard during his film promotions. And why isn’t he educated despite his family having all the money? Not that there’s anything to not knowing English, but there was no reason for KJo to show him as a school or college dropout. In contrast, Alia, as the educated and ambitious TV journalist, looks gorgeous in every single frame and is a sight for sore eyes in those lovely Manish Malhotra chiffon sarees with backless blouses. She delivers equally brilliantly in the acting department. Though there are a couple of scenes where you sense the overacting, thankfully, they don’t bother much. In the emotionally charged scenes, both Ranveer and Alia put their A-game forward and convince you that such altercations still happen in the most educated families.
As the strict and orthodox matriarch of the family, Jaya Bachchan is the best of the lot. Even with her own share of eccentricities and strict demeanour, she manages to trigger some genuine laughs at places. She is quite unlike her characters in Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham or Kal Ho Na Ho, and KJo makes sure to give her enough scope to let people enjoy her on-screen. Dharmendra has a pleasant screen presence, but sadly, he barely has two dialogues in the film and one song that lights up the mood in the entire theatre. Shabana Azmi, with her finesse, adds the gravitas she’s known for and doesn’t disappoint. She has enough to showcase and charms with her scenes with Dharmendra. Churni Ganguly and Tota Roy Chowdhary as Rani’s parents are on-point with their performances. Aamir Bashir and Kshitee Jog as Rocky’s parents are convincing and bring the Punjabi flavour alive in their accent and gestures. Adding a breath of fresh air to all these stereotypical characters is Anjali Anand as Rocky’s sister. With enough scenes to showcase her acting prowess, she looks confident and has a great screen presence.
What stood out in RARKPK has to be its music. While Jhumka and Dhindhora Baje Re are full-on party tracks, Tum Kya Mile and Ve Kamleya are soultouching. The film also pays an homage to classics by Mohd Rafi, Kishore Kumar, Asha Bhonsle and Lata Mangeshkar and that ode to the old world charm of Bollywood music is what I truly enjoyed. Oh, and there’s also Baba Sehgal’s famous track, Aaja Meri Gaadi Mein Baith Jaa, played more than once. Watch the film to know why it is a crucial one in the story. And KJo has not forgotten his nepo starkids (hint: watch out for starry cameos).
Cast: Ranveer Singh, Alia Bhatt, Jaya Bachchan, Shabana Azmi, Dharmendra, Churni Ganguly, Tota Roy Chowdhary, Aamir Bashir, Kshitee Jog
Director: Karan Johar