I started watching Rocket Singh only because it was there on Netflix streaming. I like Ranbir Kapoor quite a bit and I had a few minutes to kill while I ate my lunch so I turned it on, expecting to get bored probably around the time my sandwich was finished. The reviews I had read back in December certainly hadn’t given me reason to get excited.
From Taran Adarsh:
On the whole, Rocket Singh - Salesman Of The Year is more of a documentary on the life of a salesman. Lack of music, romance and entertainment, coupled with zilch hype, will go against the film. A colossal disappointment!
And from NDTV:
But the trouble with Rocket Singh is that it never engages you fully. The first half is especially slow but even in the second, the film doesn't grab you by the gut.
There are long stretches in which the restrained story-telling becomes indulgent and topples over into sheer boredom. And there are several moments at which you wonder if this is more information about salesmen and their difficult lives than you ever needed.
But I gave it a shot anyways and while I did turn it off after I ate lunch – I came back to it. And watched it through to the end, totally hooked. Somehow, information maven that I am, I managed to forget that Rocket Singh was the product of the same men who put together Chak De India and it shows because like Chak De, Rocket Singh is also the story of a man shaping a ragtag group of misfits into a team.
Ranbir Kapoor is an actor whose performances continue to impress me. Through the tour-de-force of traditionally filmi Hero in Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani to the laidback and ‘natural’ cool of Wake Up Sid, Ranbir has shown range and in Rocket Singh he shows depth. Harpreet Singh Bedi is a regular guy, for the most part. He likes to goof off, party, and hang out with his friends. When the film begins, Harpreet has graduated from university and has decided that his calling in life is sales. He gets a job with a company that sells computers and swiftly finds that doing business in New India is filled with little moral compromises – bribes, deception, and even outright lies.
Harpreet has two options. He can either play by the rules of the business as they are, to accept that everyday compromise of the soul, or he can do things his own way. I’m sure it’s not spoiling anything to tell you that Rocket Singh is not about business as usual. Harpeet sees an opportunity and grabs it – roping in some of his fellow co-workers who also exist on the margins of the office to form a more fair and balanced company that is focused on the business of doing things rather than the business of earning money.
Now maybe it’s because I just watched the Vinod Khanna-starrer Inkaar (review to come during Khanna-o-rama) in which a pivotal moment turns on an shoe industrialist picking up the humble tools he once earned a living with and doing work but the underlying message of honest work struck me as something that is missing from a lot of contemporary Hindi AND Hollywood cinema. Of course, hard work has never been a big American theme – we prefer the song montage and/or lottery ticket style to sudden riches – but there was something so satisfyingly Bollywood about Harpreet Singh’s refusal to play by corrupt rules and for profit at that.
Despite the lack of songs and romance, there was something satisfyingly Bollywood about the whole film. The leisurely pace gave the narrative time to unfold naturally, filling in details about characters that added so much to the overall picture. For example, there is one moment early on when the boss of Harpreet’s company announces an afterwork celebration. The puffed up Sunil Puri (Manish Chaudhary) says that booze will be provided by the company but women won’t be, so staff will have to provide their own. And in that moment, the camera catches the one female sales representative exchange a look with the female receptionist Koena (Gauhar Khan). That one look says so much about the boys’ club atmosphere of the office and the way outsiders and minorities are alienated.
And while I may not have retained the fact that it was the Chak De team behind Rocket Singh back while watching but I did remember all the fuss about Ranbir’s sardar look. Most times these different ‘looks’ actors take for films are nothing more than publicity gimmicks – like Kareena Kapoor’s bikini avatar in Tashan or, for that matter, Amitabh Bachchan’s sardar look in Eklavya. And I'll be honest, I wasn’t expecting Harpreet’s identity as a sardar to play as big a role in the film as it did.
Like I said before, Harpreet Singh is given two choices – he can follow business as usual in the boys’ club or he can make his own rules, but because of who Harpreet Singh is, he really only has one choice – to follow his own moral compass. The fact that Harpreet Singh has not cut his hair and shaved his beard already signals that he is not a man to make moral compromises to fit in. “This is who I am,” his look says, “and I am not less than you because I show the world my faith.” His identity as a sardar draws jibes, insults, and condescending attitudes from the people around but it also ties him very closely and in a concrete way to his beloved grandfather (played by an adorable Prem Chopra) and the values of hard work and honesty that his grandfather gave to him.
("The name is Prem... Prem Chopra!")
I mentioned Koena earlier and she is another character who is defined by her looks. I’m not sure if the filmmakers had ever seen the 1980 American film 9 to 5, but Koena reminded me so much of Dolly Parton’s character in it. She is beautiful in a flashy sort of way but also has a sharp mind – of course it is only the first part anyone is interested in. Koena becomes one of Harpreet’s partners-in-crime and the line he says to convince her really stuck out to me. He says, “I’m the comedy sardar in this office and you’re the item girl.” How wonderful that two of the most maligned categories of characters in Bollywood are getting a star turn – and using their brains at that. I’ve never seen Gauhar in anything before but she did a very nice job here, using lots of subtle movements and expressions and not a single case of ‘dead eye syndrome’ that so many former models bring with them to the big screen.
The rest of the cast was also fantastic and like 99 a lot of work must have gone into finding all the interesting faces to fill out the scenes. Mukesh Bhatt (who was also in Waisa Bhi Hota Hai Part II, Naveen Kaushik, and D. Santosh, in particular, were very memorable.
Rocket Singh takes a lot of the same sentiments behind Chak De and sets them loose in something like The Office and the result is a leisurely character study paced like Ricky Gervais’s masterpiece but with some real old-fashioned Bollywood soul giving it a little more depth. While I understand completely why this wasn’t a hit film, I am willing to go on record saying that Rocket Singh is a good film and I eagerly await the next film from Shimit Amin and Jaideep Sahni.
(And as a side note, intentional or not, so many of the wonderful interiors in Rocket Singh reminded me of another classic office-based movie: Trishul.)
Note from Filmi Girl:
I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.
If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.
xoxo Filmi Girl