With a star-studded cast coupled with his typical flamboyant style, Karan Johar dons the hat of a director again after a seven-year hiatus with Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani. While exploring relationships in today’s diverse societies, the film takes a lighthearted and sometimes an astutely perceptive approach towards clashes of cultures even as it delves into the complexities of modern love. The glut of stereotypical tropes succeed by and large towards playing to the gallery but Johar’s constant need to keep voicing his opinion brings down the film’s entertainment factor a notch lower.
The film begins with a brief voice-over narration by Rocky Randhawa (Ranveer Singh), wherein he introduces us to his family and highlights how his grandmother, Dhanlakshmi (Jaya Bachchan), established her empire with Dhanalakshmi Sweets. Through the course of the film, Rocky discovers that his grandfather, Kanwal (Dharmendra), who is suffering from memory loss after an accident, once had an affair years ago with a woman named Jamini (Shabana Azmi). Intrigued, Rocky goes off on a search to find Jamini and meets Rani (Alia Bhatt), Jamini’s granddaughter. Kanwal and Jamani had a brief affair of a week in Shimla in 1978 but they decided to part ways since both of them were married. Now, Jamini is a widow and her resurfacing in Kanwal’s life fills him with renewed energy. Rocky and Rani arrange the duo’s clandestine meetings, unknown to Dhanlakshmi and her son Tijori (Aamir Bashir). In doing so, Rocky and Rani fall for one another. Following a break-up and a patch-up, Rocky broaches the subject of marriage. However, Rani is sceptical of the marriage working as she tells him that their families are poles apart, both culturally and socially. The two decide to swap houses for three months in order to win over one the other’s family members…
With a running time of almost three hours, the first half of Rocky Aur Rani… suffers as it stretches our limits of patience to show the romantic moments and conflicts between Rocky and Rani. Admittedly, the film picks up some momentum after the interval as fresh conflicts arise and raise the stakes for the characters. From then onwards, Johar’s seamlessly weaves together the contrasting dynamics of Rocky’s bond with Rani’s family and her interactions with the Randhawas. Though high on melodrama, this adds depth and complexity to the storyline and makes it evident that Johar understands the importance of striking a perfect balance between profoundly emotional moments and comic relief. In particular, the key emotional moments shared between Rocky and Rani’s father, Chandon (Tota Roy Choudhury), make a deep impact on the story. When the two dance to the song Dola Re Dola from Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas (2002), the actors’ impeccable chemistry make this scene a visual treat that encapsulates the spirit of celebration and inclusivity. The incorporation of iconic old melodies from the golden era of Bollywood not only enhances the romantic feel but also adds a wistful, nostalgic touch to Kanwal and Jamini’s love story. It beautifully captures the essence of yesteryear, transporting the audience to a time when music played a significant role in expressing human emotions on the silver screen. At the other end of the spectrum, the film shows how even individuals who consider themselves to be progressive have their own biases and prejudices. For instance, Rani’s professor mother, Anjali (Churni Ganguly), takes Rocky to a lingerie shop and as shatters his sexist attitude towards women. Yet, she belittles Rocky later by not letting him participate in a cultural gathering as she thinks he lacks culture and refinement.
Johar is more than fair to his female characters in the film. Rani is a fierce and outspoken journalist, with a modern professor mother and an open-minded grandmother, Jamini. Rocky’s mother (Kshitee Jog) and sister (Anjali Anand) break the shackles of patriarchy with an awakened spirit induced to them by Rani. Dhanalakshmi is a woman of steel and represents strong authority. These are not your typical screen women who are willing to sacrifice their dignity and happiness just to keep their partners happy. While the intention of the filmmaker to challenge societal norms and promote gender equality is commendable, the excessive emphasis on this message becomes much too repetitive and loses its intended impact. There are other bits too where the film falters. Though Rani is a journalist of merit, there are times she appears more like a fashion channel anchor. Her colleague at work, who likes her (Namit Das), is treated as little more than a caricature while Dhanalakshmi’s reaction to her husband’s affair with Jamini is unconvincing to say the least.
The performances help to elevate the film. If Ranveer Singh brings full swagger to Rocky, Alia Bhatt brings a calm and composed charm to Rani, who does not hesitate to give it back when provoked. Churni Ganguly and Tota Roy Choudhury as Rani’s parents, and Kshitee Jog and Anjali Anand as Rocky’s mother and sister respectively, convincingly portray their roles, leaving a lasting impression on the audience. Aamir Bashir shines in a role of a father caught between his duty to his dominating mother and his love for the other characters. However, the older generation doesn’t fare quite as well. Jaya Bachchan, while displaying powerful authority and discipline, suffers from the unidimensional treatment given to her character. And though Dharmendra and Shabana play their characters with aplomb, one wishes they had more depth in their characters.
Manush Nandan expertly blends his bright and vibrant color palette with the film’s emotions and storytelling. Nitin Baid’s editing is a tad choppy as the film’s rhythm and pace falters in the overlong first half of the film. The sound design, like most mainstream Hindi films, is dominated by the background score, while the songs composed by Pritam are adequate. Dhindhora Baje Re, a song that is played during Durga Puja, suffers from poor placement. The production design by Amrita Mahal and costumes by Eka Lakhani work hand-in-hand to bring the glittering and lavish milieu of the film alive.
Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani is not a perfect film. But it does show that Karan Johar has the ability to recycle and repurpose familiar stories with some fresh storytelling techniques. The film is undoubtedly a fun watch for fans of romantic comedies and those seeking to experience a few heartwarming moments. But it fails to offer much originality or surprises for those looking for something fresh.
Hindi, Comedy, Drama, Romance, Color