Sunday, April 18, 2010

Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year

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.

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

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.)


Amol said...

I'm glad you liked the movie too ! I don't get why this wasn't a bigger hit. It gave me the same feel as the Deepti Naval/Farouq Sheikh starrers back in the 80s. Simple stories, great characters.

K8yR said...

I watched Rocket Singh today also. It started slow and at first I thought I would give it up, but I continued to watch and before you knew it I was involved. I liked it. This is only the second movie I've seen with Ranbir Kapoor, the first Wake Up Sid. I think he has great potential. His performance had depth. The supporting cast was excellent. I look forward to watching more of his films. It was over before I realized there were no songs. I'm never to BWood so I didn't miss it at first!!

Anita said...

Funny, I just watched this last night! And I basically have the same thoughts as you except that I felt it had no comparison or commonalities with Chak De at all, which was great. Really shows that Shimit isn't a one-track horse. From Ab Tak Chappan to Chak De to Rocket Singh, he's REALLY shown his range. Now I'm excited to see what he'll do next. He's very consistent and authentic, which I like. :)

So glad I saw this AFTER Ajab Fail Ki Kahani, because now Ranbir is in my good books again. :P

maeve66 said...

I am glad you liked the film! I haven't seen it yet (though I am really glad it's on instant watch; now I know what I am doing Tuesday night this week) but I kept having this nagging sense that I would like it, despite the lack of songs.

Filmi Girl said...

@amol I think it wasn't a hit because it's a little unconventional but I don't understand is why more critics didn't like it - this is the kind of 'realistic' film they are always fawning over.

@K8yR Ha ha! I knew there were no songs but if I didn't I would definitely have been waiting for them - after you see enough Bollywood, you will start waiting for songs, too. ;D

@Anita Do we actually agree on something?! *dies* Hee hee! I definitely think there is a thematic link with Chak De, though.

@maeve66 Yes! You should watch it - I think you would like it. :D

Kaitlyn said...

I loved it and I guess I saw it last month, since it's not on my calendar (I write down every Indian film I see the day I see it - though I cheat. If I start it after midnight and it's now the 22nd, it still goes down as the 21st.) when it was not streaming.

Question about the streaming Bollywood movies - do you have a problem with the bottom of the subs getting cut off?

I notice the bottom is cut off in the screenshot with dialogue, though those letters don't have much to be cut off. But sometimes you can't make sense of a sentence because it looks like a period, but it's really a comma.

And then there's Wake Up Sid, which I saw streaming. "photography"? "ohotooraohv" It makes it a bit hard.

And I've got BAH streaming in the other tab and it's doing it again.

Christine Menefee said...

Yes! I had the same experience - watched it on Netflix (in two parts, consecutive days) not expecting much, but was very pleasantly surprised. I thought it was a real charmer and can't figure out why it didn't do better. But then that's true of a lot of the movies I like. Didn't realize it was made by the ChakDe people - that's an all-time favorite of mine - and appreciate the parallels you draw. This is one I'd even watch again.

dishoomdishoom said...

I think we talked about "Hinglish" movies can be good, without masala. Rocket Singh is a very good example of that kind of a movie, because the writer/director/producer had a very good idea what they are out to achieve. Its 3:39am so wouldn't write a lot, but Ranbir is earning so much street cred these days, for me :)

*pocket main rocket hay*

thaa said...

i liked a movie a lot...
also could you please tell me th english song played in the movie during 2nd party when HP meets sherena


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.

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