After a 7-year hiatus, Karan Johar takes the front seat as a feature film director since Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. 25-years into his career, he revisits the romance genre that is completely familiar to him. But of course, with a splash of bright colours and splendour, Johar in a way, seems to be paying homage to visionaries like Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Even through the fluorescent sarees, one is reminded of the yesteryear styles of Satyajit Ray and Yash Chopra heroines. It promises to re-ignite the quintessential family entertainment style in Hindi cinema.
So here’s the plot. Rocky Randhawa (Ranveer Singh), is a well-built, good-looking, rich, Punjabi, Delhi boy who has an affinity for all things opulent. Rocky lives in a traditional nuclear family run by his stern grandmother Dhanlaxmi (Jaya Bachchan), who operates as the domineering matriarch of the Randhawa household. Her husband Kanwal Lund (Dharmendra), is mostly wheelchair bound with memories slowly fading away, except for one name, Jamini (Shabana Azmi).
When Rocky is introduced to Rani Chatterjee (Alia Bhatt) – an educated, strong-willed and cultured Bengali journalist, they instantly hit it off. While their personalities are poles apart, their chemistry is palpable. Over time their love grows and so do the cultural differences between their families. Rocky and Rani both deal with the struggles of adjusting to their environment and find it difficult to be accepted. They are constantly put through tests however despite their small victories, their never-ending differences determine whether or not their relationship will survive.
Like every Karan Johar film, this too has palatial sets, vibrant colour schemes and cheeky entendres. Given that we have been watching many serious and gritty movies, this brings back the essence of glamour which was heavily missed in Indian films. I mean, only he can place a mansion in Karol Bagh, Delhi! In fact, scenes like the ‘ladoos’ to dialogues such as “Keh Diya, Bas Keh Diya”, also revisit his previous blockbusters. The entire experience, pop culture and classic Bollywood references are a nostalgic trip.
He pays homage to classic Hindi cinema with references to vintage songs and movies. Johar’s admiration of Kabhi Kabhie-type cross-generational stories is palpable here as we see a battle of ideologies between the youth and the elder generation. Despite the larger-than-life backdrops, he attempts to present a story of today that is relevant to today’s generation.
Like how Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai address important topics like class disparity, homophobia, cultural stereotypes, and gender double standards. This too touches on some very important topics, which are handled sensitively. Johar and writers Shashank Khaitan, Ishita Moitra and Sumit Roy do not sacrifice the seriousness of such topics at the expense of humour. The picture beautifully highlights how cancel culture can be detrimental to our society. Usually, KJo’s films are quite appealing to the NRI eye. But the contrasting combination of him and the writers make it more palatable to the common person in India.
What I really like about the social commentary is that the movie is balanced with visual aesthetics. Mis-en-scene and pathetic fallacy play important roles here. Especially during the confrontation scenes. Characters are all positioned together amidst a major backdrop. This creates a sense of dysfunctional turmoil among the characters. Also, the popular thunder and rain are added to enhance the dramatic impact.
It is interesting how the colour blue in the Randhawa household is used to depict disconnect and coldness. Appreciation goes to Manush Nandan’s stunning cinematography. He captures the drama and visuals beautifully, enlivening the moment. While the background music is engrossing, Pritam’s soundtrack is decent, but not outstanding. Of course, tracks like ‘What Jhumka?’ and ‘Dhindora Baje Re’ are catchy, but the rest of the songs may take time in growing on us. But given that Johar has delivered some iconic albums, this does not rank too highly. It is fascinating to hear jazzed up and re-created samples of classic songs like ‘Mast Baharon Ka Main Aashiq’ and ‘Chahe Koi Mujhe Junglee Kahe’.
The first half was pretty much matched with Ranveer’s real-life high energy. It continuously tickles the audience’s stomachs but does go a bit overboard with the humorous scenes. As the tone is overtly garish, the subtlety of a nuanced romance and steadily developing romance takes a back seat. This deters the engagement and relatable factor. But thankfully, the second half picks up and how! In fact, despite the longevity, an engrossing
When it comes to the performances, the major attraction for me is seeing Dharmendra, Jaya Bachchan and Shabana Azmi together after several years on celluloid. It is such a rare opportunity to witness the living legends unite and their screen presence is solid. Especially the chemistry between Dharamji and Shabanaji. Jaya ji stirs an array of emotions too as a headstrong matriarch. Though her expressions could’ve been less animated and loud. However, seeing them together performing vintage Hindi songs and lip-syncing is so soothing to the soul. It is a real treat and that alone is worth one’s time and money to see this.
Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt both deliver well on their respective parts. Singh’s comedic timing, as we already know, is brilliant. Even though he (and even Bhatt, to an extent) play loud characters, there is a subtlety to their performances. Singh, particularly is a show-stealer. Sure, they act well like a love-smitten couple. They even display strong emotional depths as actors. Though, their chemistry lacks the oomph as a ‘Karan Johar’ pairing usually has. Nonetheless, their screen presence and individual performances are strong enough to maintain your attention.
A particular thing I like about Singh’s character is his transition from being a machismo one to understanding and embracing vulnerability. The way his journey of understanding that emotions exceed gender politics is very heartening to watch. His character is written beautifully. Given that the men in Johar’s movies have always been divisive when it comes to masculinity, it is refreshing to see a male role that is sensitive in essence.
Another major plus point here is the outstanding supporting cast. Every actor performs their role with such precision and strength. Special mentions go to Kshitee Jog, Anjali Anand, Namit Das, Aamir Bashir, Tota Roy Chowdhury and Churni Ganguly for such brilliant performances. Some of them have been icons on television, in Bengali cinema and on the theatre front and it is so satisfying to see them get effective parts in a commercial film of this calibre.
Imagine all our childhood memories of Hindi cinema exploding in a kaleidoscopic way on the big screen. Well, Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani really is that film. A pleasant surprise that takes the viewer on a dewy-eyed trip to the evergreen Bollywood era. With some relevant societal subjects brought up, Karan Johar recreates the wholesome Indian cinema experience we all were yearning for since the pandemic.
.5 (3.5/5 stars)