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: ‘What’s Love Got to Do With It?’ (2023), starring Lily James, Shazad Latif, Shabama Azmi and Emma Thompson

June 7, 2023

by Carla Hay

Shazad Latif and Lily James in “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” (Photo by Robert Viglasky/StudioCanal SAS and Shout! Studios)

“What’s Love Got to Do With It?” (2023)

Directed by Shekhar Kapur

Some language in Urdu with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in London and briefly in Pakistan, the romantic comedy/drama film “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” features a white and Pakistani cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A white British documentary filmmaker, who is cynical about love and committed relationships, does a documentary about her close male Pakistani British friend having an arranged marriage, and she struggles with admitting that she might actually want him for herself. 

Culture Audience: “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” will appeal primarily to people who like capably acted romantic movies where friends could turn into lovers.

Pictured from left to right: Pazika Baig, Mim Shaikj, Iman Boujelouah, Shabana Azmi, Shazad Latif and Jeff Mirza in “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” (Photo by Robert Viglasky/ StudioCanal SAS and Shout! Studios)

“What’s Love Got to Do With It?” gets its title from the hypothetical question about what is really the key to a successful marriage. Are compatibility and respect more important than love, in order for a marital union to last? This romantic comedy/drama follows a very predictable formula, but the engaging lead performances by Lily James and Shazad Latif make the movie watchable. It’s a rare Western-studio film that explores the South Asian culture of arranged marriages.

Directed by Shekhar Kapur and written by Jemima Khan, “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” (which takes place in London and briefly in Pakistan) is a mixed bag of a film that has dialogue that is sometimes witty, sometimes cringeworthy. The movie’s perspective of contrasting cultures keeps everything from sinking into forgettable blandness. Within the first 15 minutes of the film, it’s all very easy to predict how it will end.

In the meantime, most of the characters have enough appeal to be interesting but not enough uniqueness to be outstanding. A movie about two longtime best friends who could end up being lovers usually makes these two would-be lovers have opposite personalities. That’s certainly the case with documentarian Zoe Stephenson (played by James) and her longtime best friend Kazim “Kaz” Khan (played by Latif), who is a medical doctor.

Zoe and Kaz have known each other ever since their childhoods, when Zoe’s family (who are native Brits) and Kaz’s family (who are mostly Pakistani immigrants) used to be neighbors. Kaz is 32, and Zoe is about the same age. Zoe is impulsive, sometimes tactless, and has a messy love life. Kaz likes to plan ahead, is very diplomatic, and usually has stable relationships with the women he dates.

Zoe’s parents got divorced when Zoe was a child because her father left the family to be with a younger woman. Zoe’s mother Cath Stevenson (played by Emma Thompson) is still bitter about it. And although Zoe doesn’t really like to admit it, Zoe has also been negatively affected by the divorce, because she doesn’t think having a loving and committed relationship is going to happen to her.

Zoe is very close to her sister Helena (played by Alice Orr-Ewing), who is not as cynical about love and commitment as Zoe is. Helena and her husband Harry (played by Peter Sandys-Clarke) have two children together: Lily (played by Grace Askew) and Maud (played by Lolly Askew), who are about 7 to 9 years old. Zoe sometimes babysits her nieces, whom she adores. The movie uses a narrative technique of Zoe telling fairytales to Maud and Lily. The fairytales are really based on what Zoe is currently going through in her love life.

Kaz has two happily married siblings. His brother Farooq Khan (played by Mim Shaikh) is in an arranged marriage to Yasmin Khan (played by Iman Boujelouah), who is also of Pakistani heritage. Kaz’s sister Jamila (played by Mariam Haque) is married to a white Brit named David (played by Michael Marcus) in a non-arranged marriage. The parents of Kaz are well-meaning but domineering Zahid Khan (played by Jeff Mirza) and Aisha Khan (played by Shabana Azmi), who are also in an arranged marriage. Zahid’s mother Nani Jan Khan (played by Pakiza Baig) lives with Zahid and Aisha.

The Khan family is very close to each other, for the most part. The biggest rift in the family is that Zahid and Aisha do not approve of Jamila being married to someone who isn’t Muslim. Zahid and Aisha are also upset because Jamila did not take their advice to have an arranged marriage. As a result, Jamila has become estranged from the rest of the family.

The beginning of “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” shows the Khan family at a traditional Pakistani wedding, with Zoe and Cath also in attendance. At the moment, Zoe is feeling lovelorn because she hasn’t had any luck finding true love. She tells Kaz that at this point in her life, she’d be happy to settle for someone she likes instead of a grand love affair: “Someone I could commit to watching a whole TV series would be nice.”

And then, Kaz surprises Zoe with the news that he’s agreed to his parents’ wishes to get an arranged marriage to someone whom he hasn’t met yet. Kaz doesn’t like to call it an “arranged marriage.” He prefers to call it an “assisted marriage.” Zoe isn’t happy about this news because she thinks it’s a big mistake for Kaz to be in this type of marriage. She says out loud to him that she thought he had more independence to make his own decisions on whom to marry.

Shortly after getting this news, Zoe has a meeting with two movie producers named Olly (played by Alexander Own) and Sam (played by Ben Ashenden), two fast-talking filmmakers who have a “film bros” attitude tinged with sexism. Olly and Sam tell Zoe that they’re not moving forward with her pitch to do a documentary about honor killings. Sam and Olly think the subject matter is too depressing and not something that they think a woman filmmaker should do.

Zoe is desperate to get financing for her next project, so she impulsively tells Olly and Sam that her next documentary will be about arranged marriages, with her friend Kaz as the main subject. She also spontaneously thinks of the documentary’s title: “Love Contractually,” in a cheeky nod to the title of the 2003 romantic dramedy “Love Actually.” Olly and Sam like this idea and give the go-ahead to Zoe to do the movie.

Zoe lies and says that Kaz and his family have agreed to be in the documentary. Luckily for her, she quickly persuades Kaz and his family to do the documentary by promising them that she will be respectful of their Pakistani and Muslim customs. Kaz is reluctant at first, but he changes his mind when Zoe convinces him that she will make everyone look good. And as soon as she makes this promise, you just know that something will go very wrong.

“What’s Love Got to Do With It?” then goes back and forth between showing Zoe working on the documentary and trying unsuccessfully to find her next boyfriend. Cath, who has a dog named Barney, asks Zoe to take Barney to a veterinarian named James (played by Oliver Chris), a nice guy who just happens to be an eligible bachelor. It’s all a matchmaking setup from Cath. Zoe resists it at first, but she eventually agrees to date James out of sheer loneliness and desperation.

Meanwhile, Zoe gets more irritable as Kaz’s wedding date gets closer. Kaz’s bride-to-be is a 22-year-old aspiring human rights attorney named Maymouna (played by Sajal Ali), who is seemingly quiet and reserved. Kaz and Maymouna like each other, even though their conversations are awkward, as they get to know each other better. Kaz doesn’t quite understand why Zoe isn’t very happy that he’s getting married. You know where this is all going, of course.

To the movie’s credit, “What’s Love Got to Do With It” doesn’t portray the principal characters as ideal human beings. Zoe is not a perfectly likeable heroine. She’s got some big flaws, including having horrible judgment when it comes to dating, as well as a tendency to let her pride get in the way of being honest about her feelings.

Zoe’s mother Cath can be very prickly and difficult. Cath also has a racist side, such as in a scene where Cath privately tells Zoe that Cath is amazed that Kaz’s Pakistani family is sophisticated because the family is Pakistani. As for Kaz, his main personality flaws are his stubbornness and his reluctance to admit to his mistakes. Kaz’s tendency to be a people pleaser sometimes leads him to be deceptive in ways that can hurt people, including himself.

“What’s Love Got to Do With It?” doesn’t clutter up the movie with too many characters, but parts of the film lack focus, such as when it goes off on a tangent by showing some of the things going on in the marriage of Helena and Harry. Asim Chaudhry has a brief but hilarious supporting role as Mohammad “Mo” Bagri, a London-based matchmaker whose specialty is matchmaking for people of South Asian heritage. He has a company called Mohammad Bagri’s Matrimonial Bureau that is featured in Zoe’s documentary, because the Khan family is a client.

Although some of the characters occasionally come close to being caricatures, the principal characters (the Kaz’s family and Zoe’s family) all retain realistic qualities. “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” benefits from having a talented cast that can portray these characters with a certain level of believability. James and Latif have good-enough chemistry, but it’s not great. Thompson, as Zoe’s mother Cath, is always a delight to watch, even when she’s portraying a character who says and does off-putting things.

What isn’t as believable is some of the inevitable, contrived mush that gets crammed into the latter part of the movie, in order to deliver the resolutions that most audiences expect for this type of romantic film. “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” shows flashes of clever satire, such as in how Olly and Sam represent the smarmy side of the film industry. But in the end, “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” succumbs to conventionality. Considering the subject matter, it’s not a surprise, but it’s handled capably enough for it to deliver some genuinely funny scenes amid the romantic fluff.

Shout! Studios released “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” in select U.S. cinemas on May 5, 2023. The movie was released on digital and VOD on May 26, 2023.

Copyright 2017-2024 Culture Mix