Caveat: I dislike Rockstar so much I couldn't even finish it. Therefore I must 1) forfeit much of a right to talk about it beyond these paragraphs and 2) acknowledge that some of my problems with it might have been resolved if I had kept watching. But "keep watching" was not a bargain I was willing to strike with a film with two idiotic protagonists, one of them horrendously acted*, that seems to assure young men that if they pester/stalk a woman long enough she will eventually hear his case case and very quickly find him so charming that she unveils her secret "bad girl" self to him and takes him to a porno, and that suggests that the only way to create art is by experiencing pain, an idea I find highly suspect despite the long fondness of cinema for showing us asshole artists. I don't even remember what was happening when I finally crossed the Jordan, so to speak, to the release of the off button. I know there had been talk of Jordan's presence being medically beneficial to Heer, because at that point I had a memory of people referring to this as the magical healing cock movie.
A moment on "stalking=love": while I watched this film, some people on my twitter timeline had an interesting discussion of whether or not Janardan was stalking Heer or whether his lack of menace slotted his behavior under "unwanted persistence." I come down on the side of "no means no; even if your intent is not malicious, the woman has told you no and you need to respect that." Janardan's continued disregard for Heer's initial feelings about him establish him as a foolish and solipsistic character, which I suppose suits the notion of Great Artist, especially of the black-leather bad-boy variety, but it makes me dislike him and dislike the film for eventually rewarding it with romance, sex, and, in a less direct but still relevant way, the pain required to make him into a famous artist. (To me, Jordan's initial round of suffering seems to be caused by the horrible treatment by his family, which only indirectly results from his choices about Heer, but still, it's hard to imagine him acting in the ways they found so objectionable if he hadn't run off to Kashmir.)
The film does at least look really good, with distinct atmospheres of the three major locations (Delhi, Kashmir, Prague) yet tied together by all the shots of small and/or winding lanes and streets, maybe suggesting a life of constraint and constriction for Heer and of chaos for Jordan? As ever, Ranbir Kapoor impresses me, as does the supporting cast. And what a treat to see Shammi! The music is infinitely more soulful and substantial than anything in Rock On (which I also should have abandoned)—yes, they're different kinds of rock stars, but for all the face-pulling and temperaments in Rock On, Rockstar's music has tons more content, musically and lyrically. But the story is just so relentlessly stupid—as in, the people in it seem to have put very little thought into what they say and do—puzzling, and at moments ethically off-putting that I had to stop.
I know nobody had much good to say about this, but it just looks so interesting, and the soundtrack is at times so charmingly different, that I couldn't resist finding out if the film was the same. Nautanki Saala does indeed feel very different than most Bollywood comedies, partly because even though it is contextualized in attempted suicide and the world of theater (with the subtitles saying "drama queen" repeatedly) and involves lots of silly shenanigans, it is also somehow much more low key (not a slide whistle to be heard, thank Helen). I don't know enough about French cinema to say it feels French (whether or not such a vibe would come automatically from its source material)—though some of the music has that feel, no?—and given that Rohan Sippy so enjoyably evoked the Argentinian Nine Queens in Bluffmaster, a foreign feel would have just been an attraction to me. The film's hero (an assured Ayushmann Khurrana) isn't very heroic, so much so that he chooses to play Ravana in his professional life and, if you think about it, becomes a worse person throughout the course of the film than he was at its beginning, with an ending that has a very un-filmi piece at its heart. Its sexual ethics are modern and laissez-faire, with cheating, kissing**, very short skirts, and a couple living together without being married all functioning as mere plot points rather than moral commentary.
The most significant problem I can nail with certainty is the underwritten female characters, one of whom is particularly important to the plot and the principal emotional arc of the film but is just too faint of a presence for her centrality to make sense. Debut actor Pooja Salva is probably not the best possible person to portray her, either; I think she aims for a sort of a wide-eyed Marilyn Monroe-y comic lightness but she comes off as a dandelion puff just about to float out of the movie. Gaelyn Mendonca as the hero's live-in girlfriend is okay, but her role seems to be missing something too. Her arc should matter a lot more than it does, as though the film neither downplays it enough to be merely a comic aside or collateral damage to the changing hero nor gives it enough heft to provide the emotion that its actual unfolding suggests it should have. I also wonder if Evelyn Sharma (infinitely less annoying here than as Lara in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewaani)'s role may have gotten mangled, because it seems that certain developments are hinted at for her but never actually materialize. Basically, the women are around too much to have as little actual presence as they do.
I don't hate it, but Nautanki Saala is more different than it is special, despite its charms. The ethical decline of the hero doesn't help, and I think too much energy is put on depicting that when something more compelling could have been written for the suicidal man (amusingly grumpy and dim Kunaal Roy Kapur) whom he befriends and tries to help. The glimpses of that character that we are given in the last third or so of the film are more satisfying and interesting to me than anything the hero chooses to do. Maybe because of its...not geographical groundlessness, exactly, but the sense that it could be set many places and has little other than surface features that feel specifically Indian (or Bollywood-y), there is a dreaminess to it, or maybe even a fable-like quality. It never feels fully real (which is not the same thing as realistic), a sense that is encouraged every time the characters are shown at work in the Ramayana with an audience watching and responding to them. It's detached. And for some of the comedy, that's a good thing, enabling a lightness that I find desperately needed in some of the things Bollywood tells me to laugh at. But when it comes to character development, pacing, and encouraging our investment as viewers, some more discipline would have made this a much more satisfying film.
* Surely there are literally at least a million young women in India who are as pretty as Nargis Fakhri and could have done the role better than she did. HOW DID SHE GET THIS PART?
** Did anyone else think this was a really good kiss (you can find it on youtube if you need to research)? Was I just so let down by the much ado about utterly nothing in Jab Tak Hai Jaan that I have set my bar too low?