What is a Rockstar? Who is a Rockstar?
Rock music defines a whole generation and stands for unconventional music, lyrics.. people who were truly outside of society as we know it, trying to challenge conventional wisdom and sticking it to the man.
People say you should be careful what you wish for, because wishes often come true.
I think, Imtiaz Ali’s Rockstar, is all about this statement. It’s about how a wannabe is transformed into a true rocktar through the power of love.
The movie starts with a live concert footage of one of the biggest musicians of the world, Jordan.He is a rockstar. He enters the stage with a scratched cheek from a fight he just ran out of. He doesn’t care about the traffic lights, or if someone recognizes him on the bus.. He doesn’t care about the security guards.. He doesn’t care about anything.. except perhaps the music. He’s ready to sing. He’s angry and ready to set fire to the world.
And just then, we see the beginning of Jordan, who was once Janardhan Jakhad or JJ, as his chaploos friends called him. A simple minded Jat boy studying in Hindu college. As the owner of the canteen he frequently visits, Khatana Bhai says, he’s a very halka person. He’s the type of guy who doesn’t think much about the big questions of life. He just lives. He just knows he loves music and he wants to be a rockstar any way he can. “To phir main kya karun… kya karun ki….”
“Jo Bhi Main Kehna Chahun, Barbaad Karein Alfaaz Mere.”
He might already be an artist, a poet, whose words are misunderstood, but he doesn’t really have to say much yet. He sings about how he wants to sing about other’s stories. He has had an average life of a middle class boy, like most of us. He’s a part of the social order, the social system. Like he says, kabhi kabhi crazy kaam kar leta hai, but that’s just momentary rebellion. He’s a part of the social structure he fails to grasp completely. No extraordinary experiences, no pain, no stories to tell. As Khatana Bhai says, he doesn’t have a broken heart.. so where will the music come from?
He takes these words very seriously and decides to have his heart broken. And that turns his whole life around.
He pursues Heer Kaul, the heart breaking machine of Delhi University, but can’t say anything beyond I love you to her. He is just desperate to have his heart broken.. when he doesn’t really even know what it means exactly.
Have you ever had a crush on a film star? or a famous musician? or the most pretty girl/most famous guy in class? Even if you met them, you wouldn’t be able to treat them as a normal person. Your mind would go blank and you’d stare with awe at how normal these people are in real lives.
The thing is that these people are so beyond our scope or understanding that we don’t even consider them normal people, which is why JJ is surprised when Heer shows the normal aspirations of a regular girl about to be married. But he still helps her be the Jangali Jawani for a few days before her Lady neat and clean days. She really is Miss Neat and Clean and in these scenes of Jangali Jawani “trip” is where Nargis really shines.
JJ and Heer start to fall in love and while JJ is too naive to understand this feeling or Heer is just so unattainable in her eyes that even when she asks him to hug her, he doesn’t think there is any way she could actually like him in that way. He sincerely believes that there could be no subtext to this hug, or maybe is just too ignorant. This surity is what actually made him chase her in the first place, because he was absolutely sure she would reject him.
Heer realizes it. She surely does as evident from the scene right before her wedding. And she tells him as boldly as she could, but he doesn’t understand or maybe he doesn’t believe that this could really be happening. And even if he does recognize the feeling at some level, he doesn’t deem himself worthy of this feeling.
“Ye theek hai, ya fir abhi bhaag chalein”
Rest assured, he does return with some things he needs to think about. A void is created in his life, in his heart, and the need to fill this void will form the rest of his journey. Music no longer holds that much importance as he tries to fill the void first by Video Games and then Spirituality.
He tries to be a part of the system again, follow his families wishes, because that’s what we all do, right? We are hammered with the idea right from childhood that if we confirm to the system, everything will be alright. His life will be alright again. He’ll be happy.
But, circumstances get the better of JJ. Getting kicked out his home can be called JJ’s worst and most formative experience. This is the point, when he faces the first true tragedy in his life, and it makes him grow as a person. He finds solace in a mosque and now stands face to face with those big questions of life, he’d never thought about. This is the time when he loses the “halka” tag, according to me, at least. He tries to fill that void with spirituality and the search for oneself. He strives for freedom, not just from the world, but also from himself, his own thoughts, his emptiness. And he finds his outlet in music. This is how he believes he can achieve self actualization. He just wants to sing and that’s it. That desire to be a star is not there anymore . atleast subconsciously. He’s just going with the flow.
He doesn’t wanna confirm to the system, as evident from the whole “Sheher Mein” recording sequence. In the words of Shammi Kapoor,
“Yeh Bada Jaanwar Hai, Yeh Aapke Chote Pinjare Mein Nahi Samayega… Ye Apni Duniya Banayega…”
And he has grown apart from the system now. He doesn’t understand classical music and has no problem saying it. He genuinely thinks it’s all very funny, and he can’t help laughing at it all.
But, when an opportunity arises to go to Prague, he’s ready to sell his soul to the system, to see Heer again. He probably doesn’t know why the desire is so strong, he just knows he has to do this.
Meanwhile everything isn’t well with Heer either. She isn’t fine, she doesn’t know why, her doctors don’t know why, and she’s sorry that people are uncomfortable with it, cause that’s just how she is. This one line is a huge window into the kind of character Heer is and the decisions she takes.
This time, Jordan whisks Heer away and reminds her about the freedom she secretly craves. Freedom from society’s definition of right and wrong, freedom from society’s judgement.. freedom from the system.
Jordan doesn’t care about the divide between him and Heer now, he probably doesn’t even remember it. He just knows he wants to be with her, to hug her, kiss her, love her. His love for her has fully developed into a passion now. A reference to the magic touch is made here, and Jordan really starts to believe that Heer has the magic touch and maybe he possesses it for her too. He probably doesn’t realize the full extent of his feelings for Heer yet. But, he feels complete when he’s with her… at peace… happy.
It is interesting to note, how Heer was the one to initiate everything in Delhi and Kashmir, but now it’s Jordan. And the reason is that Delhi and Kashmir were her wild trip before she became what she was being prepared to be her whole life. A good wife to a wealthy modern person. But Jordan is now separated from the system as we know it, he only cares about his desires and his needs. He truly does what his heart desires and Heer comes along for the ride, because she also craves this.. him.. his magic touch.
But Heer realizes what this is. And she realizes that she has to return to her home, the social setting. That this can’t go on forever. It would never work between her and Jordan. It’s just a joyride.. too impractical. Because that’s what she believes. Because that’s what we’re taught to believe. So she fights with him on purpose, and I don’t think there has been a more honest fight on the Hindi Cinema screen, where characters truly say some things said unsaid or obvious in most other fights depicted onscreen. This is the first time his fame seems like an obstacle to him in the movie.
He says, end it on a good note if you have to. And he’s ready to go to any lengths to make happen what he wants. And so he breaks into her home. This action permanently places him on the opposite side of the system. Now he’s not just rejecting it, he’s struggling against it, rebelling, fighting against it.
He’s had his heart broken, but the transformation isn’t complete yet. He still knows somewhere in his heart that she’ll come to him, that she didn’t really wanna fight with him, that she’s trapped.. or maybe he just hopes.. but the hope prevails.. and that’s why he’s still looking for those birds.
This is what Sadda Haq is all about. His appeal to media, to police, to people, to the system, to just let him be, just let him do what he wants, just let him fill that void which is back.
And the system can think of nothing better to do than exploit him for it. The record company just wants to sell records. The media just wants to sensationalize. The fans just want a piece of him, without really realizing what he’s singing about. They just shout when he screams in agony. His words destroy what he wants to say. There is a brilliant scene where Jordan is explaining to Khatana Bhai that he can’t control what he does, and it’s cut with shots of mobile phone cameras shooting him, showing how meaningless these words actually are to his fans.
He can’t explain what is happening to him. He’s getting all he ever wanted but happiness eludes him. He becomes more and more reckless. He expresses his angst, his anger at the system, his need to feel complete through music, cause what else is there?
This search for peace leads him to singing “Dum Maaro Dum” among prostitutes, this search is what leads him to the gate of his house again and again and this search makes him reach out to his old college friends, who also want a bite of Jordan. He’s so disgusted that he actually walks out after just having photos clicked with them.
Meanwhile his contract with Platinum Records expires and he lets all his frustration out in one brilliant scene where he tears up the next contract they had prepared for him. He doesn’t care about this stuff anymore.
I think the first time he truly, consciously is sure that Heer is the reason behind his problem is when someone else degrades him for it.
One day, he finds out that Heer has actually been very sick for the last two years and is on the verge of dying. Heer doesn’t actually resist her need for Jordan now, because she has been liberated, she’s also free of confirming to this world now. And Jordan believes that Heer suffered from the same problem he did and now that they’re together again, everything will be alright.
“Main Tere Saath Set Hoon Yaar… Itni Si Baat Hai”
He believes in the magic touch.
But don’t be fooled. This isn’t one of those bollywood movies where she’ll be miraculously cured. The doctor advises her mother to be logical, that even though she might look better on the outside, her condition is bad on the inside, and getting worse.
Jordan and Heer are finally together now. In their own world. Without the rights and wrongs of the world. Without his stardom, media.. without her hospitals, illness, marriage. They’re truly happy.
But Jordan’s magic touch actually seems to be the folly of Heer. As her condition seems to worsen, she tries to absorb all of Jordan inside her that she can. And while she is undergoing transfusion, the police come to arrest Jordan, and he finally realizes.. he finally admits,
“Mujhe Ye Sab Kuch Nahi Chahiye.. Mujhe Nahi Banna Bada… Mera Dil Nahi Tootna Chahiye Khatana Bhai… Mera Dil Nahi Tootna Chahiye.. Please Kuch Karo.. Mere Paas Aur Kuch Nahi Hai”
But, his magic touch fails him. And he crashes.
His heart is broken. There’s no hope this time. He’s forever destined to burn in this fire of emptiness inside him. He’s angry. At himself. At the media. At the people. At the world.
And he just looses it. He finally goes all out against the system which destroyed him and hits back.. attacks.. and lets go.. He shows them the middle finger.. Fuck you all! I don’t need you!
He spirals out of control. Drugs, alcohol, vomit. Music seems like an enemy now. It’s what lead to all this. And he watches as his guitar burns, just like him.
Acceptance comes to Jordan as he sings Naadaan Parindey. I truly wonder if he even likes singing by this point of time. He attains acceptance that he can’t have Heer now.
He has to live with this void now. All he’s left with are her memories and the moments they shared, as we witness in the end.
And he stands, with tokens of his journey on his strap, an empty shell, among a crowd of millions, forever longing for that world he and Heer created and shared. He has to live there alone now.
“Yahan se bohot door, sahi aur galat ke paar.. ek maidaan hai.. main wahan milunga tujhe.”
You might say that some characters weren’t explored much or were too one dimensional.
There was Khatan Bhai, a friend trying to protect his friend from the repercussions of rebelling against the world. The record producer, the music maestro, in the form of late Mr. Shammi Kapoor, Heer’s and JJ’s families.
But, I want to say, this is not their story. This is not about JJ’s parents or how his childhood was. This is not a biopic of a rockstar. It’s about Jordan and Heer and how Jordan becomes a rockstar. It’s like JJ said to Heer, “Mujhe to sirf tu dikh rahi hai”. They are the only focus of the story. Nothing and no one else matters.
And Nargis and Ranbir have truly done a great job. Especially Ranbir, who got so involved in the character that he suffered from depression after he completed the movie, because he felt he had given so much to the movie that he felt a void after it ended. And Nargis’ acting is not bad at all. She does shine in a few particular moments and is average in others, but the charm and energy she brings to the scenes is truly irreplaceable.
The second point I want to mention is the music. Indian movies have been using songs as a part of the narrative since the very beginning. Some film makers, like Anurag Kashyap have used music in a very innovative manner, making it a seamless part of the movie.
But, I don’t think there has ever been a movie where the music is the most important part of the narrative, where music tells us more about the state of mind of the characters and their motivations, than their words or actions. A big salute to Mr. Irshad Kamil and Mr. A.R. Rahman for making the music of this film as it has been made.
In the end, I just want to leave you with this song, which I believe is true of many and most artists
P.S. This is my personal journey with the movie, my personal interpretation.. If yours is different, I welcome you to share it.
Edit: I read someone else’s view about the end recently, and it made more sense to me than my own interpretation. They said that the end is actually how Jordan is only able to feel a sense of fulfillment of that void, of completion, of being with Heer, through singing. That’s why he sings that he hopes to meet his lover in Naadan Parindey, and he experiences that moment of completeness for a fleeting minute.. before he loses it again. That is why he keeps on writing and keeps on singing.