In the dog-eats-dog world of marketing and sales, Harpreet Singh Bedi (Ranbir Kapoor) is an oddity - an honest man. Director Shimit Amin and Jaideep Sahni, who also collaborated on Chak De! India for Yash Raj Productions, have found inspiration in everyday life in this modest film which contrasts hierarchical, competitive business arrangements with the more transparent and ethical practices of a true partnership. The themes of Rocket Singh may well resonate with Indian graduates who are trying to find their feet in a ruthless, self serving business world. Although well intentioned, it did not provide me with the entertainment quotient that I expect from a Bollywood film. Chances are that if you too are into fantasy, romance, music, dance and big emotions, you may find this film lacking. I watch Bollywood films to get away from the nasty reality of office politics, not to be immersed in it.
Like Chak De! India, Rocket Singh is about the underdog - the loser who challenges his lot. Harpreet just scrapes a pass to graduate from university and so feels privileged to score a sales job with a computer firm. He soon realizes that in business, corrupt practices are usual and honesty is not only unrewarded but also punished. Singh is alienated from co-workers and chastised by management for taking a moral stand. His small office cubicle is bombarded with paper planes thrown by fellow workers forced to work harder to cover his “act of conscience”. The symbol of the ‘paper plane’ or ‘rocket’ - initially highlighting his oppression also comes to symbolize his salvation as Singh decides to fight back with a business venture of his own - Chak De! Singh.
A point of interest is this film is the portrayal of the Sikh as hero - not as a curiosity or a character used to establish local color. Unfortunately the ‘feel good’ factor in a movie only seems to work if the audience empathizes with the plight of the main character. All I perceived in Rocket Singh was a young man’s unhappiness with regards to his work place - a common enough occurrence which is usually remedied by changing jobs. (Although granted, this may be a lot harder to do in India.) In Chak De! India, coach Kabir Khan was dishonored on a national platform in a career altering, shameful way. His hurt was palpable and his struggle to overcome adversity was clearly defined. There is no real sense of struggle in Rocket Singh - no tension to make success the sweeter. Harpreet’s vow to get even translates too conveniently into possibilities.
Jaideep Sahni’s previous screenplays seem to evolve in similar ways. Disenfranchised individuals bond and become a force to be reckoned with. Together Bunty and Babli defied the law. Dia and her theatre group (Aaja Nachle) defied business interests. Kabir Khan and the girl team (Chak De! India) defied society’s view of women in sport. These films are also characterized by an episodic, languid style which often makes use of multiple sub-stories related to supporting characters.
In Rocket Singh, information related to the members of Harpreet’s small company, was only sketched out. They were defined by their office behavior and a few quirks but nothing that had me rooting for them - hoping that they would give management the slap in the face it deserved.
Harpreet’s girlfriend played by newcomer Shazahn Padamsee was just a shadow and not in any way essential to the story. The other female character - Koena - the receptionist (Gauhar Khan) comes across as yet another lightweight Yash Raj nod to women’s rights. Koena has great business acumen but the Managing Director does not promote her to an administrative position, preferring a male to do the job. Some Yash Raj films such as Chak De! India and even Dil Bole Hadippa! (to a lesser extent) engage more authentically with women’s issues; others like Bachna Ae Haseeno and Rocket Singh succumb to placard waving without substance; the branding of new works with a kind of empty mission statement. The three supporting male characters and Singh’s co-conspirators are a little more interesting. They are Nitin - the sleazy but savvy assistant manager, Mr. Mishra - the down-trodden tea-man and Giri - a sex-obsessed fellow worker.
Although Ranbir Kapoor is being feted as the new contender for the Bollywood throne, I don’t believe we have yet seen a career defining performance from him. In this film he is again portraying the role of someone who is boyish and rather naïve - (Saawariya, Wake Up Sid, Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani). A configuration of fresh screenplays that connect with the social pulse, coupled with repeated stellar performances can earn an actor his place in a list of luminaries. However, Kapoor has not yet rocketed to that lofty abode.