Quite early in Rock On 2, a young musician, Uday (Shashank Arora), compliments Jiah (Shraddha Kapoor), someone he’s recently met, on a tune she’s composed: “Aapne banaya hai? Umda gaana hai (Have you composed this? It’s quite good).” She nods and mutters, “Umda”. We know what Jiah’s trying to imply: That for a twenty-something like Uday, who lives in Mumbai, the word “umda” doesn’t quite fit, for that’s not how people of his age and class usually talk. It’s a sharp and fairly amusing observation, but it seems ludicrous in a film like Rock On 2, where characters – young, urban and affluent – themselves talk in chaste Hindi, sounding fake and insincere, drawing attention to dialogues, their tongues speaking a language their hearts can’t process.
This hasn’t happened for the first time in an Excel Entertainment film, the movie studio behind Rock On 2, and it certainly won’t be the last. In one scene in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, Hrithik Roshan’s character says “tankhwah” instead of “salary”, another character in Dil Dhadakne Do says “shaadi ka mandap” instead of “wedding”. Similarly, in Rock On 2, the characters often seem and sound inauthentic because of the way they talk. No one says “past” here, they say “ateet”; suicide is “atma-hatya”; relationships are “rishtey”; solution is “samadhan”. At one point, Purab Kohli’s character, KD (Killer Drummer), says this, “Hum aasman me udne waale panchi ki tarah hai (we’re like birds flying in a sky).” I mean, really? You can imagine an alternate world populated by these Excel Entertainment folks, where electricity is “vidyut”, car is “yaan” and gadgets are “yantra”.
It’s not that characters in a film, a world of fiction, cannot speak chaste Hindi (or are beholden to behave a certain way), but they need to at least sound true to themselves and the space they belong to. It’s quite obvious, from their social circle and standing, that these characters would speak Hindi with a dash of English or the other way around. And yet, in Rock On 2, which has dialogues by Akhtar (who, unsurprisingly, also wrote lines for Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara and Dil Dhadakne Do), you have actors who don’t talk like people but characters. And maybe it’s not surprising because a mainstream Bollywood production doesn’t portray a particular set of people and their ethos as much as it imagines and appropriates them. So, for instance, the Indian indie music scene in the film’s prequel, Rock On!!, was compromised and watered down in favour of straightforward melodrama. Which, at some level, was still acceptable because Rock On!!, for the most part, was intelligent, heartfelt and engaging.
Rock On 2, on the other hand, is a completely different story. For quite some time, though, despite the clunky dialogues, it does show some promise. Adi (a shorthand for Aditya, of course), played by Akhtar, has quit music and Bombay and moved to a village in Meghalaya. Trying to forget a tragic incident in his past (the death of an up-and-coming musician), for which he holds himself responsible, Adi is trying to heal himself through farming and teaching. His friends and ex-band members have also moved on. Joe Mascarenhas (Arjun Rampal), a judge on a reality TV show, manages an upscale club in Mumbai, while KD tries to sell his music to corporate drones. It’s a fairly enjoyable template for a drama: three friends, at three different junctures of life, ultimately brought together by their passion. But then this film, like many Bollywood dramas, confuses verbosity for profundity, for the most conspicuous part of Rock On 2’s first half is a near-constant voiceover (by Kohli’s character), telling us over and over again, what we can already see and making us listen what we don’t need to. In fact, the voiceover’s so persistent that it feels like a layer between the audiences and the film, nudging them to feel a certain way.
After a point, the film stops being engaging and starts becoming predictable. There’s nothing here that we haven’t seen before – a dominating father, fearful children, estranged friends – and instead of imbuing the characters with nuance, the film sketches them in broad strokes, reducing them to a type. Moreover, a scene in Rock On 2’s third act – Adi and Jiah trying to rescue the poor and ravaged Meghalayan villagers, by offering them food – looks so patronising and innately dishonest that it’s very difficult to warm up to this film. And the climax’s sanctimony – which, both literally and metaphorically, seems to be saying, “Music will save lives” – sounds hollow. Let alone music – this film’s purported raison d’être – saving lives, Rock On 2 can barely save itself.