Rock On – a city musician’s perspective

Rock On is quite unlike any other movie that the Bollywood factory has churned out. It is the first Hindi movie that deals with rock music as its central theme, and is refreshingly different from most of the standard fare that we, as cinema-goers, have been subjected to.

While the public in general seems to have been greatly appreciative of the movie, as box-office records would illustrate, I had mixed feelings about it once I walked out of the multiplex and walked back into reality, where rock bands were struggling to make it big, despite the odds being stacked heavily against them.

Rock On had many good things in its favour, while there were certain other aspects of the movie that, as a rock journalist as well as a musician, I found discrepancies with.

On the plus side…

Rock on Film

The film did not portray rock musicians as delinquent elements of society, but as normal, regular individuals with a passion for making music. It is a common misconception in our society to incorrectly associate most rock musicians with alcoholism, wanton promiscuity and drug abuse, and the movie has not portrayed the band members of ‘Magik’ in this light. This is a significant positive about the movie, considering how mainstream cinema can go a long way in forming or altering societal perceptions about certain issues.

Most rock musicians tend to write their own lyrics, compose their own music and spend hours together in painstaking practice to perform it live when given a chance. In this regard, Farhan Akhtar’s achievements in singing his own songs and playing the guitar to accompany them were highly praiseworthy.

On the other hand…

However, one could tell that the other three characters played respectively by Arjun Rampal, Luke Kenny and Purab Kohli couldn’t play their respective instruments and were merely pretending to do so, albeit somewhat convincingly, thanks to some expert choreography.

For ‘struggling’ musicians aspiring to make it big and land a contract with a major record label, the band certainly seemed to possess high-end instruments and sound equipment in abundant supply. The average aspiring guitarist can only dream of playing with Ibanez JE7MV Steve Vai Signature electric guitars, or Gibson Les Paul black beauty guitars, the likes of which the members of ‘Magik’ seemed to have easy access to.

In addition, most musicians don’t have a huge practice pad at their disposal, like the members of ‘Magik’ did. Most bands tend to practice in small rooms, ever-mindful of noise levels, with the omnipresent threat of complaining neighbours placing bands in precarious situations, not unlike that faced by a certain Damocles in the court of Dionysius.

The lyrics for most of the songs that were part of the movie aren’t the conventional kind that most rock bands would tend to come up with. Rock music is primarily characterised by aggression and rebellion, and it’s quite unlikely that any self-respecting rock band in the present day and age would want to come up with songs like ‘Sinbad the Sailor’ and raise questions that most third grade students would be asking their teacher (Socha Hai). However, the music more than made up for the lyrical inadequacies, with its infectious grooves and melodies.

In reality…

In our band, Arth (, I play the bass guitar. Even if you discount my affinity for said instrument, I feel that it is important for a rock band to have the bass guitar in order to sound complete. It was particularly strange that the band in the movie seemed to take bass for granted, despite there being significant bass lines for each song in the movie, with the issue about a missing bass player being brushed under the carpet hurriedly when someone mentions in passing that Rob, played by Luke Kenny, programmes the bass parts with his keyboard.

There have been very few bands in history that have done without a bass guitarist, The Doors being the most notable example. Nevertheless, it is a well-known fact that Ray Manzarek still had to play the bass parts with his left hand on the keyboard, and the band employed sessions’ bassists when they recorded songs in the studio.

Though Rock On was not in the same league in terms of authenticity as some of its other Hollywood musical counterparts such as Rock Star, starring Mark Wahlberg or the highly popular That Thing You Do, it has firmly established the fact that rock music no longer remains a niche genre, and with increasing popular acceptance, is here to stay for good.

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  1. Nice, from-the-heart piece! Been wanting to watch this movie. Will also look out for the music of ‘Arth.’

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