This is a film on the dangers of alcohol addiction, subsequent loss of voice, and the end of a musical career. The lesson learnt is that no one should be drinking to wash away their sorrows, it makes the problem even worse. The warning signals are more along the lines of how booze can affect your personal confidence rather than how it can simply destroy your family or health. Alcoholic Anonymous and similar agencies that work on alcohol dependence issues should ideally co-opt this picture for their public service message. But they may not be quite satisfied with this effort.
The hero’s decline firstly isn’t easy to empathise with. He starts out in the film as being a self-loathing loser and continues to remain so. For someone who can’t live without a drop of alcohol, he appears rather fresh and well-kept, is almost always in his senses, and is hardly a terrible singer still. It’s equally difficult to appreciate his masochistic streak, besides maybe that he has lost ambition of all sorts. His work perhaps doesn’t excite him anymore. He wants to turn a young talented girl he’s met into a singing star instead. She cares for him dearly. He loves her just as much. They should be having children.
This film is supposedly a sequel of Mahesh Bhatt’s Aashiqui (1990), is based on Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s brilliant Abhimaan (1973), but is most clearly inspired by Imtiaz Ali’s equally worthy Rockstar (2011) – except the boy looks terminal ill (the affliction is mental in his case) and it’s the girl who’s willing to go to every length to be by his side.
Young Kunal Roy Kapur plays one RJ instead of JJ, somewhat modelled on Farhan Akhtar – maybe it’s the haircut and the stubble, I don’t know – but profusely restrained, easy on the eye, he certainly comes across as infinitely more sorted an actor than Aashiqui’s Rahul Roy. As does the gorgeous girl opposite him (Shraddha Kapoor: she is incidentally Shakti Kapoor’s daughter and a redemption for all his on-screen sins). Together the lead characters make the movie partially better than its material. This should be half the bottle won, but it doesn’t quite work that way.
The original Aashiqui belongs to a time in Indian films when sales of soundtracks alone could justify the making of movies. Cassette label T-Series and music directors Nadeem-Shravan used to be lords of the ring back in that decade when the nasal voice of Kumar Sanu followed you from one paan dukaan to the next corner-shop: “Saansonn ki zarooratta hai jaise…” Much about Bollywood may have changed since but the formula of the husky, melancholic male voice vocalising the tragedy of Indian romance, given that most of them remained unrealised, is unlikely to diminish in value ever. Four composers have worked on this film. There isn’t one song, barring the repetitive title track, that’s likely stick in your memory, which would be forgivable if the film wasn’t meant to be wholly a musical.
It is a film about the transient nature of fame. The ideal subject could have been the original Aashiqui’s lead actors Rahul Roy and Anu Aggrawal themselves. BBC did a lovely documentary on the “one-film wonder” Roy. I met Aggrawal a couple of years ago, her face destroyed by a motor accident, her thoughts still pinned to her glorious past, she almost made me cry. Few people are likely to understand this tragic phenomenon called fame more than those who work in Bollywood that cruelly measures success and worth of artistes almost every week.
The precious insight that this film offers on that front is a philosophical line from a person who plays the music producer, “Star woh hota hai jiski awaaz sunkar dil kahta hai seeti mar.” The film conveniently side-steps the fact that the only rockstar in Indian pop-culture is the film-star who lip-syncs songs on the screen. But you’ve begun to expect these omissions by now.
The heroine here, a playback artiste, manages to become a singing sensation in very little time. Fans request her for autographs. She doesn’t lose her mind to personal ambition, is quite centred still. The hero doesn’t want to get back to the groove. We know very little about how he went down this self-destructing route. Loneliness isn’t his concern anymore, anger management is. He keeps taunting himself, instead of concentrating on the work that gave him all the glory anyway. Why do I always feel that a lot of such characters should be seeing therapists rather than having films made on them? If this went on for any longer, I’d need to see a shrink too.