Stereotypical ‘Rocky and Rani’ teach us how to embrace differences

Rupanjana Dutta Tuesday 01st August 2023 14:37 EDT

Filmmaker Karan Johar’s family entertainer, Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani, has had an exceptional response in the UK and overseas markets in its debut weekend, collecting around $4 million despite Barbie and Oppenheimer dominating theatres. While competing with these Hollywood releases for screens, the film is still proving to be highly successful in cinemas around the world. The film has hugely popular and accomplished lead actors, Alia Bhatt and Ranveer Singh, alongside veteran artists, Dharmendra, Jaya Bachchan and Shabana Azmi, collaborating with filmmaking maestro, Karan Johar, in this family-friendly genre. 

The film revolves around the love story of Rocky and Rani, as the title suggests, between a stereotypical flamboyant Punjabi boy who meets an intellectual Bengali girl under unusual circumstances. And love conquers all. But if only life was that easy!

The plot of the film isn’t anything we haven't seen before, but it has a feel-good effect and some essence of truth in it. As a Bengali who has spent time in Delhi for a bit, can actually relate to the judgement for each other (among Punjabis and Bengalis), as shown in the film. 

Acting by Ranveer Singh, Shabana Azmi, Alia Bhatt, Churni Ganguly and Tota Roy Chowdhury are commendable. Though I found Alia’s Bengali accent off the mark, Shabana Azmi, once again proved that she’s the “Queen”- with her impeccable pronunciations, a quintessentially Bengali style, as popularly seen in Satyajit Ray’s protagonists in 1960s. 

Azmi could easily pass off as a modern-day Bengali ‘thakuma’ (grandmother) - eloquent, righteous, progressive yet romantic, with an eye for yesteryear’s beautiful music and poetries.  

While Jaya Bachchan is remarkable as the cold and regressive matriarch of the Randhawa family, her personality is an extension of Yash Raichand (Amitabh Bachchan) from Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham (K3G) with a mix of Narayan Shankar (also played by her husband Amitabh Bachchan) in Mohabbatein, making her unrelatable. Her real power acting can be seen, when she walks away from the burning ghat as Azmi enters - with the feeling of contempt palpable in her expression. 

The film, despite its flaws such as shallow romanticising of infidelity and several cultural stereotypes, is an absolute riot. Why? Because it is a lesson on how to embrace differences without complicating things unnecessarily. The film also effectively builds a larger-than-life image - very Sanjay Leela Bhansali kind, but then again, what is a film that cannot sell a dream without these ‘little’ extravaganzas? Ishita Moitra's screenplay and dialogues are funny and relevant too - especially the reference to Bengal CM Mamta Banerjee's famous words "khela hobe"! 

Ranveer Singh in his energetic comedy avatar has found a new fan in me, especially the ease with which he has portrayed the lively “Punjabi Munda” (boy), his exuberance for life and how quickly he transforms into an ideal Bengali 'jamai' (son-in-law/groom) to win over his bae’s family.

Tota Roy Chowdhury deserves a special mention for his bold performance on Madhuri and Aishwarya’s famous ‘Dola re’ (from Devdas), and Churni Ganguly for her effortless portrayal of a Tharoorian - simply at their best. 

Karan Johar has indeed evolved as a filmmaker. He has also broken boundaries by casting Bengali actors from Tollywood for Bengali roles in a Bollywood film, a true visionary for unifying India’s best talents under one fancy umbrella. 

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