Back in 2008, there was a rock band named Magik that found, lost and regained fame. This band was made up of U2-level eye candy and the talent for rendering distinctly Western sounding music in Hindi. The lead singer Aditya (Farhan Akhtar) didn’t sound right, but he looked perfect (one of the founding values of this band). The candiest of the candies, Aditya had a raspy voice in permanent need of a dose of Strepsils, but he compensated for his ordinary singing skills and limited range by summoning up just the right body language needed to the pass off as a rock star. Aditya sang about laundry bills and Sinbad the sailor and somehow, he made it seem acceptable and even charming.
Three of the four band members survived the experience (one died, in the movie), and have now reunited for another bash at glory in Rock On 2. The band members are older, wealthier and have even greater access to personal stylists than in the first film. Joe (Arjun Rampal) has tossed off his genteel poverty along with his waist-length tresses and looks every inch a prosperous club owner. KD (Purab Kohli) composes jingles and looks puzzled when the suits tell him not to use “electro-rock” for advertising campaigns.
Aditya has left behind his wife Sakshi (Prachi Desai) and son and has moved to one of the most gorgeous parts of Meghalaya, where he nobly runs a farmers’ cooperative and a school. Aditya feels tortured by the suicide of a young singer, who would keep badgering him to sample his music, but his tryst with nature and the grateful and adoring Meghalayans is interrupted by a series of events, all designed to end the North East shooting schedule and get the crew back to Mumbai.
It’s a matter of time before a parallel track involving Jiah (Shraddha Kapoor), an aspiring singer with an oppressive classical musician father (Kumud Mishra), and her musical partner Uday (Shashank Arora) crosses with Aditya’s. It is hinted that Aditya and Jiah have an instant connection that has nothing to do with music, and in a real movie about real rock musicians, she would have jumped into bed with Aditya despite the yawning age gap and his marital status, broken up, and written a few songs about it.
What about Uday? The character and his instrument represent the movie’s inclusivity towards all musical forms, but Uday is as soon forgotten as his sarod, which he eventually abandons for a guitar.
Ill-conceived and incompetently executed, Rock On 2 never manages to justify its existence. The sequel, directed by Shujaat Saudagar, makes the mistake of treating the first film as a cinematic masterpiece rather than a well-narrated and competently performed three-act story about loss and redemption. The pacing of Rock On 2 is off and the message about atonement and hope ponderous. The Meghalaya tourism department will be thrilled with the way the state has been showcased in the movie, but they might not like the suggestion that Aditya, and Aditya alone, is the hero they so badly need.
The characters have barely progressed since Rock On!!, and if anything, their bickering proves that they are frozen in the universe created by the first film. Aditya continues to be troubled by trifles; KD is still the enthusiastic peacemaker; Joe can’t seem to stop playing party-pooper.
The women who played their wives in the first film are barely present, since this movie is more concerned with the travails of Jiah, who is supposed to be a female version of Aditya. Like Akhtar, Kapoor sings her own songs in the movie, and although she is a marginally better singer, she still cannot command the screen or summon up a convincing performance. Her character comes off as petulant rather than angry, but she does fulfill one of Magik’s requirements: if you look good, you can pass yourself off as a rocker. Shankar-Ehsan Loy’s soundtrack is the best thing about the sequel, but Akhtar’s under-par vocals and Kapoor’s barely passable singing ensure that several lovely tunes are lost in the attempt to prove that actors can sing too.