Jaya, Shabana the Winners in this Commercial Experiment
Rocky aur Rani ki Prem Kahani
Cast: Ranveer Singh, Alia Bhat, Dharmendra, Jaya Bachchan, Shabana Azmi
Direction: Karan Johar
Within the commercial space, experimentation is studiously eschewed. It is, therefore, redeeming and refreshing to see Karan Johar experiment with the images of veteran actresses Jaya Bachchan and Shabana Azmi. Another road rarely tread is of romantic expectation of the middle-aged. This too finds expression here.
However, given Karan Johar’s committed viewership, he is willing to strike but unwilling to hurt. Therefore, while the film recognises the romantic space of the sexagenarian, he doesn’t push the envelope like with ‘Lipstick Under the Burkha.’ This two-tier love story, shadowed by Bollywood tumult, spans two generations — the romance of the 70s and half a century later.
This is Karan Johar cinema: Money is exchanged to a certain zone of expectations of huge sets, family drama, syrupy emotions, romance, and the usual ‘gana bajana.’ This time around, you also have some retro music with Jaidev’s ‘Abhi Na Jao Chodkar’ (‘Hum Dono’).
It’s a clash between the affluent Panjabi Randhawa pariwar and classy literate Chatterjee. It is obvious that the twain cannot meet. The Randhawa pariwar, cut to the present, is epitomised by the loved over-the-top typical Rocky (Ranveer Singh) known for his Govinda-inspired dressing, coordinated by the likes of Mithun and Jitendra. This time around, Rocky is loud, even by Ranveer standards.
As the heir apparent to Mamma’s boy Tijori (Aamir Bashir) and Mamma Punam (Kshitee Jog), Ricky has also to tune his interest to matriarch Dhanalakshmi (Jaya Bachchan), his paternal grandma who is the one who could well have had “broken glass pieces and barbed wire” for breakfast.
Another inmate of the Randhawa Palace is Ricky’s sister Gayathri (Anjali Anand) who is the weighty problem. The family is torn between weight and sound, not to mention feudal verticals, gender insensitivity and the like. Grandma Dhanalakshmi also uses her iron fist to keep in control her paralytic husband Randhava (Dharmendra), who, technically and theoretically, heads the family. He carries a huge baggage of marriage without love with Dhanalakshmi and romance without marriage in the misty past with Jamini Chatterjee (Shabana).
Moved to the little Calcutta in Delhi where Chatterjees reside, an intellectual talk show anchor ‘Rani’ (Alia Bhatt) lives with Kathak-dancing ‘Papa’ (Tota Roy Chowdry) and Shashi Tharoor-inspired mom, Churni Ganguly, who suffers the vice of verbal diarrhoea. Heading this family is Rani’s grandma Jamini.
The Randhawa-Jamini aborted love story offers an opportunity for the Ricky-Rani romance. Somewhere in the 70s, amid black and white photography, the love story between Randhawa and Jamini is aborted. However, Jamini strongly believes, a la Jennifer Dubedat (George Bernard Shaw’s ’The Doctor’s Dilemma’), that a week well spent in romance is worth the barter to marriage in distress.
Fast-forward to the present, where Rocky is in love with Rani and Rani is willing to date, but not ready for a commitment. Given their contrasting lifestyles, she pleads for reason. Finally, the two decide on an experiment where Rani goes to the aristocratic and autocratic household to stay as a house guest and Rocky goes over to the literary home of the Chatterjees. The teething problems of rejection are aplenty.
Perhaps Karan is trying, within his limits, to preach for a more inclusive society without labels and profiling. However, good intent is lost in layers of platitudes and high doses of preaching. The young couple tries every obvious trick in the trade and are opposed by stereotypical responses. The final clash is too dramatic and illogical, but then logic has not been part of the narrative in most places.
If only Karan Johar had kept things simple (but then that would not be Karan Johar). The idea of adults being given their legitimate space to romance and seen from the eyes of the contemporary players would have made a fine script. This is marred by the kind of juicy syrup that Karan Johar effortlessly manufactures in the name of mainstream cinema. Another huge drawback is its length. A couple of minutes short of three hours is justified only in the case of a masterpiece. This sure does not even pretend to be one. A long film reflects an ambiguous director and a weak editor, not to mention a tired audience. Given that the audience has been starved of a big film of this kind, the initial footfalls could well encourage the crew and cast.
Coming to the cast, I wonder how the choice stopped at Dharmendra. One would have well expected Amitabh to be the natural choice but perhaps Karan Johar did not want to narrate a tale of adultery to Jaya again. The interesting part, definitely, is the cast. While Dharam is passable, it is amazing that Karan Johar gives image-defying roles to Shabana and Jaya. Kudos to the twosome for coming out winners. Not that it was ever in doubt.
It is noteworthy that Jaya Bachchan plays a negative character for the first time in her career and does it with such ease. As the loud Punjabi scheming ‘Ma’, incharge of the feudal household, an errant husband and an irresponsible grandson, she brings the right grace and negative quotient to the character that is central to the narrative. Shabana, as the hesitant lover, who is not the usual defender of rights but is willing to keep her dignity without having to exchange it with stated acceptance, reflects how well she can interpret any role.
While the rest of the supporting cast is stereotypical, mention must be made of Ranveer, who is now very predictable as the guy oozing with energy and a proportionately riotous wardrobe that is screaming crudity. In contrast is Alia Bhatt, cementing steadily her place as an actress of substance within the habitat of commercial cinema. Her Manish Malhotra chiffons match the Bengal cotton and silks that Shabana wears. The Alia-Jaya clash has the right voltage of drama two actors carry it off. The Jaya Bachchan statement, “Kehdiya na, bas kehdiya” (A full circle from ‘Kabhi Khushi Khabie Gham’) marks it.
With Jaya and Shabana in the cast, you expect a ’Silsila’ clash, there isn’t any. However, the moment when the Jaya-Shabana battles show the victor and the vanquished quickly changing places, you realise that it is subtle and Karan Johar may well have missed a trick or two. Or he was missing a script writer like Javed Akhtar.
'RRKPK' is about love, but unfortunately, it is about imperfections as one in the film would say: ‘Pyar kahan perfect hota hai?’ Why should Karan Johar be perfect?