Review: ‘Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani,’ starring Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt

August 2, 2023

by Carla Hay

Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt in “Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani” (Photo courtesy of Viacom18 Studios)

“Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani”

Directed by Karan Johar

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed cities in India, the romantic comedy/drama film “Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani” features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A wealthy heir and a TV news/talk show host, who have very different personalities from each other, begin dating each other and have ups and downs in their relationship, especially each one agrees to live with the other’s family for three months before getting married.

Culture Audience: “Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching romantic comedy/dramas that are sometimes over-the-top but have overall good stories with capable acting.

Aamir Bashir, Anjali Anand, Ranveer Singh and Kshitee Jog in “Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani” (Photo courtesy of Viacom18 Studios)

At first glance, “Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani” (which is Hindi for “the love story of Rocky and Rani”) seems like a formulaic Bollywood romantic comedy/drama, with elaborate musical numbers and the expected conflicts and reconciliations in a movie that goes on for more than 150 minutes. (The total running time of “Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani” is 168 minutes.) “Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani” has elements of a stereotypical romantic comedy/drama, but there’s also some clever satire, as well as plenty of interesting commentary about society’s gender role restrictions. The movie’s production design and cinematography are visual treats.

Directed by Karan Johar, “Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani” takes place in unnamed cities in India and is an “opposites attract” love story. Ishita Moitra, Shashank Khaitan and Sumit Roy co-wrote the “Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani” screenplay. It’s not the best romantic movie you could see in a year, but “Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani” has enough appealing qualities to be entertaining for people who want to see a love story on a grand scale. It’s a very glamorous-looking movie with a lot of down-to-earth issues that are often difficult for people to discuss.

In “Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani,” Rocky Randhawa (played by Ranveer Singh) is a wealthy heir to a successful confection company called Dhanlakshmi Sweets. He is from a Punjabi family whom he describes in the beginning of the movie as “Crazy Rich Indians.” Rocky, who is in his 30s, isn’t what anyone would call an “intellectual.” He also doesn’t do much with his life. He’s not considered smart enough to run the family business.

Rocky lives in a household with three generations of people. His family is very conservative and believes in traditional Indian ways, such as they expect Rocky to have an arranged marriage, not a marriage where he chooses his own spouse out of love. Rocky’s snobby grandmother Dhanalakshmi Randhawa (played by Jaya Bachchan) founded the business that made the family’s fortune. She takes pride in the fact that the recipe for the company’s most popular sweet is a well-kept secret.

Dhanalakshmi is married to Kanwal Lund (played by Dharmendra), who uses a wheelchair and has a brain injury, which are the results of an accident where he fell down some stairs. Kanwal has lost a lot of his memory and motor skills because of his brain injury. It’s later revealed that Dhanalakshmi and Kanwal’s marriage has been loveless for quite some time, even before his accident, but they’ve stayed together out of tradition.

Rocky’s parents have very different personalities and a fairly unhappy marriage. Rocky’s father, who is the son of Kanwal and Dhanalakshmi, is Tijori Randhawa (played by Aamir Bashir), a domineering and stern businessman who is currently the leader of Dhanlakshmi Sweets. Tijori’s wife is the passive and timid Punam Randhawa (played by Kshitee Jog), who has had a long-suppressed desire to become a singer.

Rocky has a younger sister in her 20s named Gayatri “Golu” Randhawa (played by Anjali Anand), an insecure bachelorette who has a talent for being a financial manager, but Tijori discourages Golu and Punam from having careers. Tijori believes that a woman’s only roles in life should be as a wife and a mother. Punam and Golu are plus-sized women, so Tijori sometimes insults his wife and daughter about their weight and body sizes.

Meanwhile, independent-minded career woman Rani Chatterjee (played by Alia Bhatt) has a completely different family from Rocky’s family. Rani grew up in a liberal and progessive Bengali family, and her parents are happily married. Rani, who is an only child and in her late 20s, is a famous TV news/talk show host. She’s very intelligent, opinionated, and assertive. When she interviews people, Rani is a fearless truth seeker who has a low tolerance for dishonesty.

An early scene in the movie shows Rani in a combative interview with a sexist politician named Minister Alok Pradhan (played by Akashdeep Sabir), who is very dismissive of a high-profile rape case that has recently been in the news. He has a victim-blaming attitude toward the female victim. Rani berates him about his misogyny during this live TV interview.

After the interview, Rani’s best friend/co-worker Somen Mitra (played by Namit Das) nervously scolds her about how she talked to this high-ranking politician: “You’ll get us taken off the air,” Somen frets. Rani doesn’t care, and she doesn’t doubt her abilities as a journalist. She wears her outspoken, truth-seeking style like a badge of honor.

Just like Rocky’s living situation, Rani also lives in a three-generation household. Her widowed grandmother Jamini Chatterjee (played by Shabana Azmi) is very opinionated and is a romantic at heart. Jamini’s son Chandon Chatterjee (played by Rota Roy Chowdhury), who is Rani’s laid-back father, is a professional Kathak dancer who teaches Kathak dance classes, mostly to children and women. Rani’s mother/Chandon’s wife Anjali Chatterjee (played by Churni Ganguly) is an English professor who is a stickler for people having the correct grammar and spelling.

Near the beginning of “Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani,” Randhawa family is attending a prestigious business ceremony where Tijori is getting an award. During this ceremony, Rocky’s grandfather Kanwal mistakes a female stranger named Mona Sen (played by Sheeba) for being a woman named Jamini. It’s an embarrassing incident because Kanwal approaches Mona by calling her Jamini and starts kissing her as if he’s her lover. Kanwal’s family offers a profuse apology to the surprised Mona, who accepts the apology when it’s explained that Kanwal has a brain injury.

However, Rocky is very curious to know who Jamini is and why his grandfather acted in this amorous way to someone whom Kanwal thought was Jamini. Rocky and his goofy best friend/trainer Vicky (played by Abhinav Sharma) do some research on the Internet. The only clues they have are Jamini’s name and Kanwal’s ramblings about Shimla Coffee House in the year 1978. Kanwal has also been repeating this sentence out loud: “When will the red color leave me?” Viewers will later find out what he means by that statement.

Rocky and Vicky find out through their Internet research tha Jamini is a retired woman who happens to be the grandmother of famous TV host Rani. Rocky and Vicky show up unannounced at the TV network where Rani works. Rocky and Vicky introduce themselves to her and tell them that they think Rocky’s grandfather Kanwal and Rani’s grandmother Jamini had some kind of connection from the past.

Rani is skeptical, but Rocky gives her his contact information, just in case. Rocky, who knows that Kanwal is ailing and unhappy, thinks it would be a good idea if Kanwal could see Jamini again to cheer Kanwa up. Rani doesn’t take this request seriously at all. She thinks that Rocky and Vicky are just two clownish fans who barged into her workplace because they wanted to meet her. When Rocky and Vicky leave, Rani starts laughing.

But later, when Vicky is having dinner with her family, she tells the story of what happened to her at work that day. As soon as she mentions the name Kanwal, Rani’s grandmother Jamini looks like she just saw a ghost. Privately, Jamini takes Rani aside and tells her a secret that Jamini has had for years: In 1978, Jamini and Kanwal had a brief but passionate love affair while they were married to other people.

Kanwal and Jamini decided to end their secret affair so as not to ruin their respective marriages. The former lovers have not seen or spoken to each other since then. Jamini says that Kanwal was the love of her life. Rani knows that Jamini has been sad and lonely lately, so she decides she’s going to help Rocky to arrange a reunion for Jamini and Kanwal.

Some viewers might have a problem with this part of the movie, because Kanwal (even though he’s in an unhappy marriage) is still married. Are these two grandkids trying to encourage infidelity? “Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani” makes it look like the intentions of Rocky and Rani are to give Kanwal (who is unlikely to be sexually active) one last chance at happiness. In the process of reuniting their grandparents Kanwal and Jamini (who are thrilled to see each other again), a romance develops between Rocky and Rani.

But as expected in a romantic drama, things don’t go smoothly for the main couple. Rocky and Roni have sizzling chemistry together, but the differences in their intelligence causes some conflicts. Rani is the type of person who is well-read and very knowledgeable about a wide variety of subjects. Rocky doesn’t like to read, he’s clueless about current events, and he wouldn’t be able to identify major historical figures if he tried.

There’s a comical scene in the movie where Rocky meets Rani’s parents at the Chatterjee home, and he mistakes a portrait painting of poet/artist Rabindranath Tagorean for being a grandfather of Rani’s family. Rocky often has poor grammar, which doesn’t impress Rani’s English professor mother at all. Rani’s parents are also concerned that even though Rocky is wealthy and doesn’t need to work, he doesn’t seem to be doing much with his life.

Rocky’s father Tijori and Rocky’s grandmother Dhanalakshmi disapprove of Rani because she’s an outspoken feminist. They think she’s a terrible match for Rocky, who is still being pressured to have an arranged marriage. Rocky’s mother Punam and Rocky’s sister Golu approve of Rani but are too afraid to really admit it out loud to Tijori and Dhanalakshmi. Rani encourages Punam and Golu to have more self-confidence.

Rocky and Rani are very much in love. Rocky wants to marry Rani as soon as possible, but she doesn’t want that type of commitment. Rani also has concerns about the differences between their respective families. A long stretch of the movie is about Rani not even wanting to admit that her relationship with Rocky is more than a fling.

When Rocky keeps pushing the issue of marriage, Rani comes up with this idea: For three months, Rocky should live with her family, while she lives with Rocky’s family. Rani says that at the end of this three-month period, if they can tolerate each other’s families, then Rocky and Rani should get married. This is the part of the movie that has some predictability, but there are also a few surprises.

It’s easy to see that Rani’s feminism is hard to accept by certain members of Rocky’s family. Rani isn’t the only person in her family who expierences sexism. Her father Chandon is ridiculed by certain members of Rocky’s family because they think Chandon’s Kathak dance job is too “effeminate” for a man. Rani also inherited some of her intellectual elitism from her mother. Rani has some trouble getting past the fact that Rocky will never be knowledgeable about many things that Rani cares about.

Of course, there are breakups and makeups in “Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani.” The long-lost romance of Kanwal and Jamini serves as a reminder to Rocky and Rani about what can happen when the “love of your life” gets away. The music-video-styled song-and-dance numbers range from highly energetic for the fast and midtempo songs to competely mushy and soap opera-like for the ballads. However, after the movie is over, it’ll be hard to get the movie’s ballad theme song “Tum Kya Mile” (sung by Arijit Singh and Shreya Ghoshal) out of your head. “Tum Kya Mile” means “what did you get” in Hindi.

“Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani” also has the benefit of a talented cast giving mostly believable performances. Bhatt as Rani and Azmi as Jamini are the two standouts because they are compelling in the range of emotions that they express in this movie. Rani is someone who is very commitment-phobic and seems to want to run away from romantic love when it’s right in front of her. Jamini wants nothing more than to have romantic love and commitment in her life, but it’s elusive because her soul mate is married to someone else and has a faulty memory.

“Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani” doesn’t pretend to have all the answers about love. It’s debatable if Rocky and Rani ultimately would be a good match in a long-term marriage. But what will resonate with many viewers is the movie’s message of true love being a precious gift that should be cherished, and true love is about accepting loved ones for who they are. It’s a message wrapped up in a very familiar Bollywood movie package, but the story and performances have enough unique charm to make “Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani” a memorable viewing experience.

Viacom18 Studios released “Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on July 28, 2023.

Review: ‘Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva,’ starring Amitabh Bachchan, Ranbir Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Mouni Roy and Nagarjuna Akkineni

September 9, 2022

by Carla Hay

Ranbir Kapoor, Alia Bhatt and Amitabh Bachchan in “Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva” (Photo courtesy of Star India Pvt. Ltd./Walt Disney Pictures)

“Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva”

Directed by Ayan Mukerji

Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in India, the sci-fi/fantasy film in “Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva” features a predominantly Indian cast of characters (with some white people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A man finds out his connection to a secret society that channels mystical energy, as he is chased around by villains while he tries to prevent an apocalypse. 

Culture Audience: “Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva” will appeal primarily to fans of stars Amitabh Bachchan and Ranbir Kapoor and will appeal to anyone who doesn’t mind watching sci-fi/fantasy movies that treat audiences like idiots.

Ranbir Kapoor and Akkineni Nagarjuna in “Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva” (Photo courtesy of Star India Pvt. Ltd./Walt Disney Pictures)

The over-indulgent and moronic “Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva” is an example of what happens when people spend too much money to make a movie and not enough effort to craft a coherent story and offer good performances. This abomination is an absolute chore to watch and will test the patience of viewers who have better things to do with their time, such as stare at a wall. At least when you stare at a wall, you won’t be annoyed by a constant barrage of stupidity with tacky visual effects, soundtrack music that’s too loud, and acting and dialogue so bad, it will all make you question why so many people signed off on making this obvious train wreck.

Written and directed by Ayan Mukerji, “Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva” is the first part of his so-called “Astraverse trilogy.” It’s as pretentious as it sounds. Here’s how this murky concept is explained in the production notes for “Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva”:

“‘Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva’ begins with an image of sages in deep meditation in a mystical time in ancient India. The sages are gifted with the Light of the Universe—a Brahm-Shakti—a manifestation of the purest creative energy there is. From this Light, objects of power known as Astras are born.”

The description continues: “There are Astras that command the energy of Fire, Wind, Water and Earth, as well as Astras with the essence of different animals and plants, all derived from the natural world. These include the Jalāstra, which commands the energy of water; the Pawanāstra, wind; the Agnyāstra, fire. The Vānarāstra gives the wielder the abilities of 1,000 monkeys, and the Nandi Astra gives users the strength of 1,000 bulls. (The Bull is the carrier of Lord Shiva in Hindu mythology.) The final Astra is the last to emerge from the Light, and it contains its collective essence, becoming the Lord of all the Others, the Brahmāstra.”

The description also says: “The sages take a solemn vow to protect these Astras, and as the guardians of the Brahmāstra, they name themselves the Brahmānsh, forming a secret society that will exist amongst other men and do good for the world with the power of the Astras. Time moves forward, and the Brahmānsh carries on as well, passing on the Astras generation to generation all the way into our world today, where the Brahmānsh still exist in secret.”

All this means is that viewers will see a bunch of people running around, spouting mystical nonsense, hunting for various religious artifacts, and using weather or laser beams to do battle in the expected “good versus evil” plot. And it will be dragged out into three movies that are as irritating and nonsensical and overly long as each other, under the guise of being “epic” filmmaking. The only thing “epic” about “Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva” is how it’s a epic failure at clever and original filmmaking.

Sometimes, a sci-fi/fantasy movie that knows it’s silly has fun with the absurdity and makes it entertaining for the audience. “Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva” is not that kind of movie. It looks like an unintentional parody of all the sloppy things that are in terrible sci-fi/fantasy films. But everything is taken so seriously in “Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva,” which throws in some very eye-catching but cliché musical numbers.

“Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva” is an overload of sci-fi/fantasy stereotypes: There’s the good-looking lead actor, who plays a “chosen one” hero, who usually grew up without his parents, for one reason or another. And he usually finds out family secrets that are tied to his destiny/legacy. In this case, the hero’s name is Shiva (played by Ranbir Kapoor), who’s apparently a rock-star-like party DJ in his spare time and can draw festival-sized crowds, because that’s how he’s first seen on film.

There’s the older man who acts as a mentor to the hero. That’s the lazily named Guru (played by Amitabh Bachchan), who is supposed to be a sage leader but comes across as wooden and stiff. There’s the “secret society” of warriors/fighters who are allies to the hero. In this movie, this secret society is called Brahmāstra, with Guru as their leader.

There’s the pretty love interest who somehow does fight scenes, chase scenes and other action scenes that would break bones in real life, but she gets maybe a bruise or two, and her hair and makeup stay intact. That’s Isha (played by Alia Bhatt), who is every worst stereotype of the female love interest who lacks substance. She has some of the worst lines in this already horrendous movie.

This is what Isha and Shiva say in their “meet cute” moment, which happens after they lock eyes in a corny slow-motion shot at one of Shiva’s DJ dance parties, where people are worshipping the Hindu goddess Durga: An awestruck Isha says to Shiva: “Who are you?” Shiva replies, “What are you?” Then he says, “I really like you.” And within hours of meeting Isha, Shiva is telling her that he loves her. Try not to retch.

There’s the sought-after mysterious person who might hold the crucial answers to the hero’s quest. That’s someone named Anish Shetty, also known as Artist (played by Nagarjuna Akkineni), who has an important artifact that Shiva needs. He gets caught up in some of the fight scenes. All of the movie’s action scenes are either very far-fetched or just plain formulaic.

There’s the chief villain, who has any number of cronies. In “Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva,” that chief villain is a sorceress anmed Junoon (played by Mouni Roy), whose idea of being scary is smirking, glaring, and ultimately being a very generic nemesis. Junoon’s thugs include hulking Raftaar (played by Saurav Gurjar) and manipulative Zor (played by Rouhallah Gazi), who do a lot of snarling, grunting and fighting.

If you’ve seen this type of sci-fi/fantasy movie many times, then you’ll find no real surprises in “Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva,” which is an excruciating 167 minutes long. “Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva” is just more of the same derivative sci-fi/fantasy, but worse than the usual formulaic junk. This horrible, bloated movie is an assault on people’s intelligence. If you can avoid it, do not subject yourself to this aggravation.

Walt Disney Pictures released “Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva” in U.S. cinemas on September 9, 2022.

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