Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani (2023) Movie Review: Bollywood has been at a strange crossroads recently. Clouded by the lack of visceral connection with the mass audience and a sense of threat from the ruling establishment, it seems to have been in a shared confusion over what demographic to fully cater to. The result of this has either been a string of unimaginative remakes that water down the context of their original stories or propaganda films that only seem to work when evoking hate. The smashing success of YRF’s “Pathaan” (which back in January had become the fastest Hindi film to hit Rs 100, 200, and 300 crores) seemed to provide a towering answer against those cases. But by and large, what the industry has really been missing is the sheer force of conviction in telling stories.

Karan Johar has been Bollywood’s certified showman for more than 25 years. An entire generation of Indians has grown up with the groundbreaking cultural influence that his first two features in “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai” and “Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna” had reigned. With “Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham,” Johar had primarily stripped Bollywood’s biggest heroes of their masculinity, portraying them as Westernized metrosexual males who went to parlors to get a manicure done.

Even his late ventures remain a testament to his being mindful of telling responsible stories that perched on the boundary of tradition and modernity. After all, he’s the man who basically started out in the industry as an assistant director on YRF’s hugely successful “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge,” which came out with the rise of economic liberalization in India.

Anyone who’s watched Johar in interviews would know that he’s as astute of a businessman as he is a filmmaker. While the 2001 hit K3G may have acted as an end to the pure and undiluted KJo formula, the success of Dharma Productions has been in its acknowledgment of keeping their stories updated with the social language of contemporary culture.

In that regard, Johar’s latest, “Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani,” sees the filmmaker almost turn self-reflexive to his earlier works just the way Aditya Chopra once did in the 2000s. But unlike the latter, the approach here isn’t laced with an eye for course correction as much as it is concerned with doubling down on everything that makes the formula so ineffable. The result is a resounding return to form for both the filmmaker and potentially for the industry.

Rani (Alia Bhatt) works as a hard-hitting TV journalist. Rocky works at a gym. His grandmother (Jaya Bachchan) plays the family matriarch and the eponym of the laddoo company, Dhanlakshmi Sweets, named after her. What connects the Punjabi lunk and the mishti Bengali girl is not love but a generational calling. Rocky’s grandfather Kanwal (an excellently cast Dharmendra) and Rani’s grandmother Jamini (Shabana Azmi) had spent a few days decades ago in Shimla, parting ways with just one half of a photo as a memory. Rocky and Rani, in their pursuit to bring them together, venture onto their own notions of what true love entails, but more importantly, of what it requires.

What follows in the first half of the film is a string of lovely old-school Bollywood references, all from “Yeh Shaam Mastani” to “Aaj Mausam Bada Beimaan Hai.” During a time when most filmmakers have been tapping into streams of nostalgia to evoke a response from their audience, KJo’s approach of juxtaposing the old and the new in the same frames speaks of his unapologetic commitment to the craft.

An extensive sequence plays out with both the couples cooing next to Delhi’s famous monuments, coupling together but still far off from their household spaces. The soundscape is littered strictly with remixes, and that’s what makes the scene that follows earnest. As Rocky takes Rani out on her birthday, he sets up a place in hues of neon and a vinyl record. It marks the only time where an original 60s song (which also had Dharmendra in the lead!) plays in the movie, and marks the first time where Rani sees past the semblance of what she had kept referring to as a fling while Rocky learns that not every desired thing comes across as conveniently in life.

It’s in the second half where the couple swap their lives by moving in with each other’s families. Rocky must now bring out the closet feminist inside of him while living with Rani’s family, one that consists of an English-spouting mom (Churni Ganguly), an unconventional father (Tota Roy Choudhury who gives a standout performance) trained in Kathak, and a ‘thakuma’ (Shabana Azmi) who once loved and lost. Meanwhile, Rani must inculcate her progressive notions without losing the trust of the ultra-stern matriarch of the Dhanlakshmi family, Rocky’s Daddyji (Aamir Bashir), mummyji (Kshitee Jog) and Choti Behen (Anjali Anand).

Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani (2023) Movie Review
Alia Bhatt & Ranveer Singh in Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani

The movie isn’t bound to change your preconceived notions regarding anything. Thus, your takeaway from KJo’s new film would strictly align with what you bring to the movie. In fact, there’s been strikingly similar recent films that hit the same narrative beats as Rocky aur Raani does, the most notable ones being “Tu Jhoothi Main Makkaar” and Dharma Productions’ own “Jugjugg Jeeyo.”

KJo’s charm behind the camera comes from the fact that he knows no one’s heart skips a beat by watching a studio logo or a soulless reference appear on the big screen. Instead, he shoots his films on extensive sets and locations while pondering home the emotions by the sheer technicality of how and when his actors say their monologues. The logic of switching to each location is no more different than the excuses action filmmakers allude to for showcasing their action set pieces.

You could practically swap the narrative beats of RARKPK and K3G and still land with the same film. It’s the same old romance between the rebellious young, burdened by a rising sense of responsibility from their families, eventually brought together by transformation scenes that define the melodrama of it all. But the screenplay for the film – written by Ishita Moitra, Shashank Khaitan, and Sumit Roy – flips the gender roles, albeit in the most Bollywoodized manner, but enough to make those transformation scenes feel even more rewarding.

“Zamaana alag hai” (the times are different), Rani says to Rocky’s family at one point while having an ideological disagreement. Yet somehow, with his modernist sensibilities intact, Johar inculcates the film with the message that having the past with all its blemishes becomes a way of coming to terms with the contemporary notions of culture. It’s only fitting for a film that uses its songs and music – the trademark feature of Bollywood – not just as motifs but as means of showing characters reconciling.

There are also scenes and music numbers that cheekily respond to Johar’s convictions of catering to Nepo kids, exchanges that give its star Alia Bhatt finally the pedestal to show off her GK (we’ve come a long way from that Koffee With Karan interview and the AIB video, haven’t we?), and the pitch-perfect casting of Jaya Bachchan playing up her public image that goes onto define how self-aware the film is even in its heightened reality.

Aiding that reality are the colors from Eka Lakhani and Manish Malhotra’s costume designs seep off the screen, with some extraordinary use of silhouettes. There’s also one of the most striking sequences in any Bollywood film lately, where Ranveer Singh and Tota Roy Choudhuri whirl about on ‘Dola Re’ at a Durga puja pandal. Somewhere even in a deeply predictable subgenre, Johar subverts expectations despite the film’s meta-ness.

“Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani” doubles down on everything that stands out about the KJo formula. The conviction Johar alludes to has given us a cinema that’s defined (and redefined) the careers of multiple actors. While the film may not be pushing any boundaries or have a lasting impact like his other films, it still carries the potential of achieving something far more pressing: getting the audiences excited about watching a lavish Bollywood spectacle from one of the directors who defined it. As Rani describes her love for Rocky as “real life meh background music bajne vala pyaar,” Johar has been proving to us why that kind of love remains unparalleled.

Read More: Top 10 Indian Movies of 2023 (So Far)

Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani (2023) Movie Links: IMDb, Wikipedia
Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani (2023) Movie Cast: Dharmendra, Jaya Bachchan, Shabana Azmi, Ranveer Singh, Alia Bhatt, Tota Roy Chowdhury, Saswata Chatterjee, Karmveer Choudhary, Arjun Bijlani, Shraddha Arya, Sriti Jha, Arjit Taneja, Churni GangulyRocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani (2023) Movie Genre: Romance, Runtime: 2h 48m
Where to watch Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani

Similar Posts