There was a time, not too long ago, that Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy were making such terrific music, you’d think they could churn out chartbusters with their eyes closed. Watching their music play out in Rock On 2, you have to wonder if in fact these songs were created while half asleep.
It’s such an underwhelming score, to be honest, that the only time you find yourself tapping your feet is when you hear snatches of the hit tracks from the earlier film. Which this sequel dips into quite frequently.
Nostalgia for 2008’s Rock On is something the makers of Rock On 2 lean on heavily. Bad idea. Because it only serves to draw attention to how much weaker the new film is in comparison. The easy, laidback vibe that powered the previous film makes way for a more labored tone and a plot that feels unmistakably contrived.
Picking up five years after they disbanded Magik, the new film, directed by Shujaat Saudagar, re-introduces us to the gang, who although still close, are doing their own thing. Joe (Arjun Rampal) has sold out for a cushy life, running a successful club and judging one of those mind-numbing reality shows. Adi (Farhan Akhtar), plagued by guilt over the suicide of a young singer he didn’t help, has retired to a village in Meghalaya where he helps run a local school and a farmers’ cooperative. Their respective wives (Shahana Goswami and Prachi Desai) are strictly fringe characters, and neither the men nor the plot has much use for them.
Meanwhile, KD (Purab Kohli) composes jingles for a living. It’s not quite the music career he’d dreamed of, but he remains cheery and upbeat presumably because he’s living off a fat inheritance. I don’t suppose it’s a spoiler to remind you that Luke Kenny’s character, Rob, who appears in a flashback song, has passed on since the previous film. But never once does anyone so much as mention him. Such friends!
By way of new additions, there’s Jiah (Shraddha Kapoor), a pretty young singer whose oppressive classical musician father (Kumud Mishra, one-note) has an allergy to modern music. Through a clunky plot twist that you can spot a mile away, Jiah’s track intertwines with our protagonists.
Arriving eight years ago, Rock On, written and directed by Abhishek Kapoor, was no classic band film. But it did give us endearing characters grappling with real conflicts. They were an amateur band that made up charming songs about things they knew – their dreams, laundry bills, and heck, even Sinbad the Sailor. Even if they didn’t exactly sound like rockstars, they had the attitude down pat. They exemplified the definition of ‘cool’.
The men we meet in Rock On 2 are older, more cynical, and dealing with existential issues. Perhaps that’s why in addition to the disappointing music, the other big problem with the film are its lyrics…most unremarkable, to put it politely. There’s none of the cheekiness, the mischief of that earlier work. Also, the novelty of listening to Farhan Akhtar’s raspy voice has worn off now, and although Shraddha Kapoor also croons on this album, there’s nothing here to write home about.
By the time the film inches towards a rousing climax in Shillong, it’s too little too late. There are occasional sparks of potential – like the celebrity-and-fan dynamic, and the rejection of fusion music by purists – but the script has little interest in digging deep. It has little interest in anything at all frankly, other than the character of Adi, who is at one point, portrayed as the sole messiah of a ravaged north-east community.
The performances are adequate at best, and the picture-postcard photography of Meghalaya is refreshing. But as you leave the cinema in the end, you can’t help missing the distinct sense of fun that the earlier film delivered…and yes, those infectious tunes.
I’m going with two out of five for Rock On 2. It’s an opportunity lost.