Rock On 2
Directed by: Sujaat Saudagar
Starring: Farhan Akhtar, Arjun Rampal, Shraddha Kapoor, Purab Kohli
Two and a half stars
Farhan Akhtar and his crew of motley musicians are back for a sequel to the 2008 hit Rock On – and what an enormous let down it is.
Akhtar reprises his role as Adi, the angst-ridden lead singer of (pseudo) rock band Magik (what five-year-old thought up the name?).
As usual, Adi’s troubles overshadow those of his fellow musicians. Picking up five years after the original movie left off, Rock On 2 finds him living in Meghalaya, a beautiful north-eastern Indian state that rarely features in the country’s tourism promotions, although this might change now that the film has put it on the map.
Adi is in self-imposed exile. When not having guilt-ridden nightmares about an aspiring musician who committed suicide after Magik neglected to listen to his demo tape, Adi cruises the countryside, works in a farmers’ cooperative and helps to bring education to poor villages.
In Mumbai, his wife and young son pine for him, but he is too busy trying to escape the ghosts of his past to worry about them.
Adi’s former bandmates – the brooding Joe (eternal hunk Arjun Rampal) and annoyingly chirpy KD (Purab Kohli) – have their own problems. The former is disillusioned by the reality-TV show on which he is a judge, while the latter has sold his creative soul to create jingles for advertisements.
Then there is the sorrowful Jiah, played by Shraddha Kapoor in a performance reminiscent of her weepy role in Aashiqui 2. She is a singer who, like her dead brother before her, lives in the shadow of her domineering father, a stick-in-the-mud musician who gives the term patriarchy new meaning.
But does anybody care about any of them? No – because the spotlight is trained so steadfastly on Adi that everyone else fades into the shadows. This is a pity, because Adi is the most selfish character we have seen in recent Hindi cinema.
He behaves like an egotistical chump, for example, when a young musician desperately seeks encouragement. He turns his back on the Meghalayan village that was his home after a wildfire razes it to the ground. And he has the gall to be hurt when his exasperated wife pushes for a separation.
And so the film plods on, in the futile hope that the audience will root for Adi and his quest for redemption. Along the way, the members of Magik squabble like a bunch of primary-school pupils, while finding time to headline a fund-raising concert.
This brings us to the music. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy manage to save the day with rousing anthems such as Jaago (Rise), but fall short of recapturing the magic of their Rock On soundtrack.
More disappointingly, the distinctive music of Meghalaya hardly features in any of the songs, although Jiah is frequently shown to record folk singers during her travels through the state.
Another wasted opportunity is the failure to highlight the reputation of the state capital, Shillong, as the rock hub of India. Only one local band, Summersalt, make an appearance, for an explosive rendering of the song Hoi Kiw (Hurrah), alongside Bollywood grande dame Usha Uthup.
Rock On 2 could have been so much more, but winds up as a dim echo of the original film. Watch it for the sweeping panoramas of Meghalaya, and the music – but not much else.