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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

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Maybe it was that Ranbir Kapoor’s god-awful stand-up routine that cut into IPL was the most I’ve seen of him on screen, and I was happy to confine my interaction with him to the press of a mute button; or maybe it was that people twitching their noses once too often gives me a subcutaneous itch. But the trailers and the cast made me swear off Rockstar. However, the one-sentence reviews I got were so mixed I simply had to see it.
Everyone had something to say about Rockstar – my intellectual friends hated it, the few non-snobs I know loved it, and the intelligent ones tried to see the positives. Some wept for lost loves, some for lost time, and most said it was an enhanced version of Mausam. Now, that made me envision a unicorn, or a flying camel to carry the two lovers into the sunset, Dhola-Maru style – who cares if it’s the wrong folktale? – but the only animal that came to my mind was Schrödinger’s cat.   
Whether one mooned over or mooned the rather more famous thought paradox if-a-tree-falls-in-a-forest-and-no-one-heard-it-fall-did-it-really-fall depends on how familiar one was with Schrödinger’s cat. As I found out, whether one retched after the interval or watched with growing fascination as the story unfolded also depends on one’s acquaintance with this unfortunate creature.
This is no simple metaphor; it’s the painstaking interpretation of a former student of physics and literature on a beautifully shot, satisfactorily scored love story whose enduring timelessness may have been her closest encounter with an application of the theory of relativity yet – well, at the very least, it was a lesson in enduring a story that has lost all track of time in its exploration of theme.
So, where were we, now? Yes, Schrödinger’s cat. Well, this is how it works. You see, sometime in 1935, physicist Erwin Schrödinger came up with a hypothetical experiment that had fellow scientists, including Einstein, in raptures – throw in a cat, along with a flask containing hydrocyanic acid, and a Geiger counter with a tiny bit of a radioactive substance, into a steel box, and devise a way to control the environment within so you can mess about with it to induce quantum decoherence (basically, leave both the system and its environment muddled). Then, you insure the system against the cat’s curiosity, and take a walk for an hour. In this time, an atom may or may not decay in the radioactive substance. If the Geiger counter detects radiation, it sets off a domino-effect, the end point of which is that the flask will be shattered, and the fumes of the acid will kill the cat. Complicated calculations that involve envisioning time as discrete packets will essentially mean that the cat is simultaneously dead and alive. But when we open the steel box, we find it is in one of these two states.
Those of us who are not particularly into cats in controlled environments know there are about three different kinds of love, right?
There’s the one where you split a bottle of wine, go watch a really boring movie based on an obscure book, and end up running home panting at the interval, only making a cursory stop at the pharmacy. That’s sort of like the hypothetical cat raised its tail to the hydrocyanic acid the hypoactive counter and Schrödinger, jumped out of its box and settled down to a saucer of milk.
Then, there’s the kind of unspoken, possibly unrequited, love that thrives on weeks, months, and years spent writhing in the throes of maniacal, perverse fantasies, love whose purity you would only dream of sullying by casting off your clothes. Now, that’s kind of like Schrödinger’s cat, waiting glumly as excited physicists come and go, with existential questions about its existential status.
And then, there’s the kind of love that we seek, of chance encounters, followed by planned ones, followed by tolerated ones – the kind we perhaps settle down when we find. Now, that gives rise to the unlikely tableau of Schrödinger and his wife sitting down to tea by the fireside, as the cat plays with a ball of wool, so let’s just forget about that.
The love in Rockstar is of the second kind, the realm of Vestal Virgins and Brahmacharis. But the paradox with that kind of love is that anyone with a regular libido attributes to heartache what is essentially horniness. The longing abates just a little with a voice on the phone, an implied smile in a text, a quickly checked slip of the gaze over coffee, because those bring you a little closer to gratification.
And so we meet Janardhan Jakhar (Ranbir Kapoor), a wannabe musician with a Punju accent straight out of Russell Peters’ routine. After the canteen owner, Khatana Bhai (Kumud Mishra) – who later makes an inexplicable transition to recording label agent , around the time Janardhan rather more bafflingly metamorphoses into Jordan, rockstar – tells him to go looking for “dukh, dard, ansoo, taqleef”, Janardhan, who hasn’t ever been adopted, orphaned, molested, or bedridden, decides to propose to the college heartbreaker. We see Heer Kaul (Nargis Fakhri), as she does a dance largely inspired by the Cell Block Tango from Chicago. We later find out she wants to live the life of a teenage boy, complete with watching B-grade soft porn flicks, drinking desi daru, and harassing men as they urinate – wait, do teenage boys do that? – before she gets married and jets off to Prague in two months.
And that’s when Schrödinger’s cat first popped into my head, aided perhaps by a feline yowl Jordan emits every time he’s excited, and the name of a film that practically becomes meme in the movie – “Junglee Jawani”. The possibilities of this comradeship turning into love are dead and alive simultaneously. And with only the sealed compartments of their faces to contemplate, just about anything could be happening in there. Ranbir Kapoor spends most of the second half of the movie looking like he’s just woken up and is fumbling for his glasses. Nargis Fakhri works her mouth and nose so hard you expect a creepy-crawly to pop out of one of those orifices, like that scene from The Matrix; she finally abandons that for the kind of expression you may sport if you were to discover your water had broken in a bus stop you’ve just realised is defunct.
Somewhere in the beginning, we’re told that Jordan’s calling is to raise his middle finger to the audience as it swoons at a concert, a la ‘Jaime Morrison’. And once he finds love that has been elevated from the simplest equation to a conundrum, gets thrown out of home despite the pleas of a randy bhabi, and is discovered by shehnai maestro Ustad Jameel Khan (Shammi Kapoor) as he is living in the Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah, he becomes a YouTube sensation for singing qawwalis and bhajans.
Fame and a bizarre recording deal at Prague are only minutes away; however, the decline of the rockstar will drag on for the hour and a half the Titanic took to sink, and this gives him the space to impersonate Mick Jagger, Steven Tyler and Slash. It gives him opportunities to get beaten up by the Czech police, the Indian police, to get threatened by a bunch of abashed looking schoolgirls and a cuckolded husband – yes, we belatedly meet Heer’s rather dishy husband (Moufid Aziz), who’s so nice a chap he’s happy for his wife to meet a rockstar, as long as it’s helping her psychiatric and psychosomatic illnesses, and as long as he doesn’t break into their home to say goodbye. And it allows the producers to render the system even more unstable by bringing in people of various persuasions – a nosey journalist with ambiguous motives, a recording label bigwig with a chiropractor and a big wig, a mother who can’t make up her mind about the healthiness of her daughter’s relationship, a gothic sister who drags the hydrocyanic acid filled flask to the cat, and then blames the flask.
There are times when Rockstar shows signs of getting it right – it captures the bewilderment when one meets someone in a completely unexpected manner, that causes one to illogically spout out the most mundane things; it has the ability to laugh at itself; it uses innovative camera angles every now and again. But then, it counters all of that almost immediately, by resorting to maudlin, taking itself too seriously, and milking scenes for emotion from the most clichéd perspectives. The worst of these is the illustration of one of Rumi’s couplets, perhaps most poetically translated by Coleman Barks as:
Out beyond the ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing
There is a field. I’ll meet you there.

As the two lovers run about on an idyllic field, golden letters read:
Far away...
 beyond all concepts of wrong doing and right doing...
There is a field...
I’ll meet you there.

And then there are glaring gaps in logic - if Jordan was practically Heer's bridesmaid at her wedding, how is he meeting her husband and his family for the first time in Prague?

While the music is bolstered by some great guitar riffs, one of which starts out exactly like the one from November Rain and then jars when it stops plagiarising, there is a constant sense of its not being all there. On the subject, Schrödinger’s cat is still at play – when the psychosomatic illness morphs into cancer, the audience is left speculating that Heer may be dead and alive at the same time, with a spirit visiting Jordan even as she breathes away energetically in her hospital bed. The system isn’t helping – the doctor, instead of doing a conclusive blood test, turns to her mother to ask “Whoa, you don’t think your daughter’s been doing the nasty with this rockstar dude, eh?” to figure out whether she’s pregnant.

And when Rumi’s bunged into the final montage, you figure out why Schrödinger’s cat would have been a lot less fascinating if the box was made of glass and not steel.


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