'Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani' movie review: Old-Bollywood fun with new-age sensibilities

In between the jokes, the dances and the drama, the Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt starrer questions patriarchy and gender norms.
A still from the film
A still from the film

Watching Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani is like experiencing a Ranveer Singh embrace. It makes its way towards you when you least expect it (Barbie and Oppenheimer are still playing in theatres). At times it feels unwarranted (Karan Johar making a family drama again? Why?). It might chase you if you try to escape it (We all have a friend who has pre-booked our tickets). You get into it with a bit of reservation, some hesitation. “It won’t last long,” you tell yourself. But then a warm, fuzzy feeling settles in, and before you know it, it has been over two hours.

Starring: Ranveer Singh, Alia Bhatt, Shabana Azmi, Jaya Bachchan, Dharmendra
Directed by: Karan Johar

Written by: Ishita Moitra, Shashank Khaitan and Sumit Roy

Karan Johar, after exploring love trios and quadruples (Kuch Kuch Hota HaiStudent of the Year and Ae Dil Hai Mushkil), returns to the director’s chair after seven years, this time, to tell a family-iar tale. If your imagination is wacky enough, Rocky Rani… is Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham… with Robbie (“Movie tonight?”) in the lead and Nandini Raichand (Jaya Bachchan) as the evil one. Bachchan plays Dhanalakshmi Randhawa, the matriarch of the Randhawa clan. She rules with an iron fist which might be shaping laddoos on the side (they have a sweets empire). Although the family has named their sprawling mansion “Randhawa Paradise”, it’s a suffocating hell for its members. By way of a monochrome flashback, we are told that Dhanalakshmi married Kanwal Lund (pronounced: loond), played by Dharmendra, hoping to inherit his family’s sweet business. Kanwal turns out to be a romantic who finds more solace in verse than in trade. A determined Dhanalakshmi takes over the business and the family, names her son Tijori (Aamir Bashir) in view of her bourgeoisie beliefs and keeps him away from the influence of his father. After an accident confines Kanwal to a wheelchair and gives him amnesia, Dhanalakshmi takes free reign. There is no space for emotions or artistry in the Randhawa household.

Rocky (Ranveer Singh), son of Tijori and Punam (Kshitee Jog), is the loud-mouthed, blingy, scion of the Randhawa family. After his “bade papa” Kanwal mutters the name ‘Jamini’, Rocky suspects an old fling. Jamini (played gracefully by Shabana Azmi) turns out to be Rani Chatterjee’s (Alia Bhatt) grandmother. Love sparks between the younglings as they sneak out the oldies for meetups. Rani realizes her love for Rocky is deeper than his low-cut shirts, but the bhadralok Chatterjees are in stark contrast to the rustic Randhawas. Based on a logic that doesn’t feel odd in Joharverse, they decide to live with each other’s families for three months to convince them of this union. A live-in with kin, if you may.

Karan returns to celluloid with glitter guns-blazing, chiffon sarees-swaying charm. Rocky Rani… offers an extravaganza of a bygone Bollywood, updated with modern sensibilities, with enough coherence to keep it afloat. In between the boisterous Punjabi humour and the larger-than-life canvasses, Karan manages to introspect. It’s almost as if the director is purging for his sins. A plump sibling doesn’t transform into a Greek god by the second half but decides to not marry and instead focus on her career. Rocky gets schooled by Rani’s mother Anjali (Churni Ganguly) on racism and the taboo surrounding women’s lingerie. Although Karan’s depiction of the Punjabi Randhawas and the Bengali Chatterjees is all forms of cliché (they have a Rabindranath Tagore painting in between bookshelves), there is something raw and novel this time in his portrayal of family ties. Most of Rocky Rani… feels like a questioning of patriarchy, of set gender norms, of joint families shackling desires and dreams. Writers Ishita Moitra, Shashank Khaitan and Sumit Roy pen a script that updates the Karan Johar palette of fam and glam and makes it more palatable for a modern audience.

The deftness of Rocky Rani…, however, lies in its casting. Ranveer Singh plays an over-the-top hunk who expresses with his blitzy clothes (In a scene his car’s green colour matches with his jacket). Alia’s Rani talks about feminism and liberating women (In a cheeky sequence, she even asks Rocky who is the President of India). Jaya Bachchan’s Dhanalakshmi is cold, stern and judgmental. Shabana Azmi’s Jamini falls in love with a shayar. Dharmendra plays a cute, old grandpa who is an innocent presence for the entirety of the film. On the other hand, Aamir Bashir, Tota Roy Choudhury, Churni Ganguly and Kshitee Jog fit well in the big Bollywood vehicle.

Although Rocky Rani… at times does dip itself too much in syrupy melodrama, it springs up whenever it gets dreary. With the film, Karan seems to own his aesthetics while questioning his long-standing ethics. In what is probably one of the most iconic scenes of the film, the macho Rocky swirls with aplomb along with Tota Roy on Devdas’s Dola Re Dola, a song originally shot with the feminine grace of Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Madhuri Dixit. It is almost cathartic, like an artist understanding and accepting himself.

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