In Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani, Karan Johar almost instantly (and expectedly) drowns us in his opulence. The song Heartthrob, which introduces us to Rocky (Ranveer Singh), basically shows us how much money Johar has spent on the costumes and the sets. It also tells us about the power - or friendship - the director has in the Hindi film industry, as he's able to pack in cameos from other actors just for a song and dance routine. As a matter of fact, one way to look at Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani is to consider it as a "hangout film." Johar and his friends get together and have a blast on the sets. They also record their activities to entertain the audience. However, what prevents the film from being merely an expensive vacation is the fact that Johar and his team have done some actual job here.
First, let's talk about the most obvious and commendable aspect. Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt give electrifying performances. While watching them on the screen, I felt as if even the dead cells in my body were getting rejuvenated. Their chemistry is off the charts, and together, these two great actors elevate every scene with their presence. Singh looks adorable as a hunky buffoon. His amusing accent, combined with broken English, generates boisterous, infectious energy. It's impossible to have a stern face when Singh smiles in the film. His well-defined jaws, long hair, and soft eyes are so enchanting that they make you forget about real-life difficulties. On top of that, Singh's muscular physique becomes a sight for sore eyes. You cannot blame Rani (Bhatt) for taking a peek. Speaking of Rani, Bhatt's beauty is spellbinding. Observe her during her introduction scene. When she raises her eyebrows while looking at the camera directly, your heart skips a beat. I almost forgot I was sitting in a movie theater. My sense of reality shattered, and I thought I was levitating. A movie like Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani needs strong actors to stand on its feet. Thankfully, all the cast members are brilliant.
In Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani, Rocky and Rani are the modern couples, while Kanwal Lund (Dharmendra) and Jamini Chatterjee (Shabana Azmi) belong to a different generation. The latter couple is responsible for the meeting of the former one. You see, Kanwal is Rocky's grandfather, and Jamini is Rani's grandmother. These two met each other for a few days many years ago, and that brief encounter planted the seeds of a potent love between them. In the current timeline, Kanwal suffers from memory loss, and in order to improve his condition, Rocky plans a reunion between Jamini and his grandfather. Johar, through these two different couples, draws parallels between old and new films. He implies that many modern Hindi romances have been influenced by those early Bollywood love stories. And Johar, who in all the interviews calls himself a fan of that bygone era, suggests that his early filmography was heavily influenced by old Hindi films. (In the movie, a character loves old songs because he has fond memories attached to them. You can say the same about Johar. Perhaps, he loves those early films because he has fond memories of them). What all the new movies do is they keep on updating the themes as per the current trends, but their template remains old-fashioned, which is what Johar does in Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani. He borrows from his own films but puts a new spin on his narrative.
What Johar does is that he apologizes for the problematic ideas present in his early films. Take fat shaming, for instance. In Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani, the families that come to see Rocky's sister, Gayatri (Anjali Anand), and criticize her for being chubby are viewed as dimwits. The movie also frees the female characters from traditional boundaries, as Rocky's mother (Kshitee Jog) and Gayatri are motivated to stand up for their rights. There's a laughable scene in which a sexist advertisement is tweaked to suit modern thinking. "Soch Nayi, Swaad Wahi" is the tagline that Rani spontaneously ends up suggesting. Of course, these words also remain true for this film. Johar not only upgrades his material but also constantly screams at us, "My name is Karan, and I am very progressive." He's not content with showing us his apology. He decides to underline it heavily. It's evident how Rani's intellectual Bengali family mocks Rocky and then speaks about stereotypes. Still, Johar decides to hit us with a big emotional speech (Rocky calls out this double standard at one point). That sexist advertisement also exists so that Johar can call those old movies out for their sexist perspectives - a point that's also made through Rani's remark when she first eats breakfast with Rocky's family.
Johar takes all the criticism and social media rants and applies them to this film. He's basically telling us what people have been telling him for quite some time. (He also corrects his story-related mistakes, which is very noticeable in the scene where a character admitted into the ICU doesn't offer wisdom to his family). Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani is designed to impress the woke voice. It's not surprising then that the movie is receiving so much admiration on social media because it validates the online noise (almost every tweet that has so far appeared on my timeline has called Johar - and this film - terrific). It tells them what they craved to hear for a long time. Johar always says how he likes to be in touch with the younger generation, and with this movie, he, in many ways, ends up pandering to them. He wants to be a good boy who wants to be embraced by the younger audience. With Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani, he might just as well get a cuddle from them.
Rani is a journalist who, in her introduction scene, verbally attacks a politician. In another scene, she asks Rocky who's the President of India and where West Bengal is located. Despite such moments, the movie exists inside a bubble. No external political forces leave an impact on the story. Rani's job is mere window dressing. At one point, she is sent to Kashmir on an assignment, though we see nothing about it. It's easy to say. "Relax, this is an entertaining film." Well, why not then dip your toes completely in superficial territories? What's the point of giving someone a crucial role like that of a journalist when you have to reduce them to a dispenser of progressive rant/speech? Both Rocky and Rani are seen in professional spaces, yet they look like characters found in dumb movies who somehow manage to live a luxurious life without doing any job or going to the office.
When someone from Rani's family goes on stage, and a song from Devdas is selected for his performance, a character says, "How typical." This is precisely what I murmured whenever Abhi Na Jao Chhod Kar was played in the film. Johar has a vast knowledge of old Bollywood, and still, he selects a song that, through overuse, has become so...typical. One expects better from Johar, especially since, in this very film, he uses Aaj Phir Jeene Ki Tamanna Hai with vigor. I also liked how old Hindi songs were updated using the voice of new singers, and this marvelously worked during the sequence that dealt with the (secret) union of old and new lovers. What's noteworthy about Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani is that the "villains" here are people who never received love. When Jamini meets Kanwal for the first time, Dhanalakshmi (Jaya Bachchan), Kanwal's wife, burns with jealousy because she never received even a fraction of the warmth that Jamini and Kanwal shower on one another so instantly and intensely. The scene is both sad and funny. Moments like these keep the engine of Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani running.
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