The movie was eminently watchable. Ranbir Kapoor smouldered as the tormented rock icon searching for the love that could not be. Discovering that material success and a huge fan following did not necessarily mean that everything you desired was within your reach.
But what struck home was that this rockstar was not dressed in Western clothes. Rock-on, another attempt to chronicle the travails of an Indian rock group, released a couple of years ago. The lead characters were dressed in the uniform of rock – the rebellious tees and torn denim. They were simply aping the West, much like the tracks in the film.
There is no real Rock ‘n’ Roll culture in India. It’s a small set of dedicated groups that make the effort and then disband since it’s hard to get crowds, make money or sell records. There have been a few like Parikrama and Indian Ocean, but when they bring out the acid metal and the rolling drums, most people just cup their ears. One band that is trying a different route is Avial (in Malayalam, it means a dish prepared from a mish-mash of several vegetables in a coconut milk and yogurt base) – which goes for the rock genre with lyrics in chaste Malayalam. It is a fringe success, but going mainstream will always be a tough slog.
Rock is tolerated only when it happens far out of the city and for most young people rock concerts are more about ‘trips’ other than the music. True Indian classical music – Carnatic or Hindustani does not resonate with a majority of the young. So what we have is film music with so many regional and classical influences, it’s hard to pin down and confine to a particular genre.
Against this background, creating a distinctive look would have been a huge ask. AR Rahman’s music works wonders as he weaves in Indian influences into the rock ballads or the strident ‘Sada Haq’, which has been brilliantly picturised. It throbs with kinetic energy but having a guy play these tunes in western clothes would have been a letdown.
Aki Narula and Manish Malhotra – the dress designers of Rockstar combine Middle Eastern influences with the big brass buttons and lapels of the Indian wedding bandmasters. The harem pants, the embroidered coats and the long hair combine to give Janardhan aka Jordan a look that feels right. If you wanted to know what an Indian rockstar would look like, it fits the bill. The costume evolution of the character, from college wannabe to a troubled success traverses the route through the Kashmiri Kaftan and the intermediate jeans and embroidered coat to the finale where he just rips into the crowds and the music.
Nargis Fakri, the heroine has a similar evolution, but her performance never matches the manic intensity that Ranbir brings to his role – so she stays in the realm of the well-designed clothes horse – which is a pity, since the role had enough dramatic depth and if she had got it right, it would have been an amazing launch. But you have to give her marks for trying and failing. Anyway, companies are now rolling out the endorsement deals.