Not content with just producing and directing movies, the talented Farhan Akhtar returns to the big screen shortly in Abhishek Kapoor’s (debut) directorial Rock On. But in what capacity you may ask? Well several actually; co-producer, actor and would you believe….SINGER!? But why the need to multi-task? Well apparently Farhan has always held ambitions to star in a movie and singing has also been his dream. Rock on was thus a timely project that achieved both these. The film itself is a youth orientated story about four members of a rock band who reunite after going their separate ways, in particular how they try to recapture the hearts of their fans. Farhan plays the lead member but what’s more remarkable is the extent of training undertaken by these ‘band members’ to make the whole thing appear as realistic as possible. Says the director:
“To give the movie and its characters authenticity, the actors underwent personalised training for their portrayal of the band members”….
So Purab Kohli trained with Lindsay D’Mello on the drums, Arjun Rampal trained with Chandresh (from the band Dream out Loud), Luke Kenny worked with Loy Mendonsa and Farhan trained with Shankar Mahadevan for vocals and Ehsaan Noorani on how to strum a guitar….WOW that is dedication for you!
Training and acting aside, surely the single most important aspect of such a movie like Rock On is its music? But is there anyone with the expertise of creating distinct, contemporary rock sounds in India? Well listeners, with our favourite trio SEL at the helm, frankly anything is possible! Add to that their jodi with Javed Akhtar and you have the perfect platform. And to make things all the more interesting, Farhan is lead singer in FIVE tracks from the soundtrack, a huge gamble in anyone’s books but would this bold move pay off? Let’s 'Rock On' and find out….
Any initial doubts are compounded with the first track Socha Hai in which Farhan sounds pretty amateurish! In fact when you listen to it closely you get the impression that despite wholehearted efforts, his vocals are not suited to this genre at all, especially with his ‘mouse’ quiet singing. Put simply his voice does not emit the power or energy to be heard above the rock instruments on display. That said this is a peppy track so you can appreciate to some extent the challenge he faced as singer. No such criticism of the musicians however who do a good job to get the album off to a decent start. The light rock melody is pretty much text book in its execution. Furthermore SEL compensate for Farhan’s weakness by turning the volume down to allow his vocals to be heard. Lyrics by Javed Akhtar are equally strong. All in all a decent if unspectacular start.
But thankfully Shankar’s training pays some dividend as Farhan picks up confidence and performs much better in the next track Pichle Saat Dino Mein -one of the highlights of the entire album! There is a unique style present here that is only aided by the singer’s eccentric vocals. What helps him further is the slow pace created by SEL, in particular Ehsaan’s electric guitar play is addictive to say the least. The lyrics by Javed saab are crazy and hatke but the effect is spot on. The whole essence of a talented band is portrayed through this enlightening little number, let’s Rock On! Incidentally, the Live Version which comes later on in the soundtrack acts as a reprise but is extremely realistic in its execution particularly the start and ending which contains Farhan’s short interaction with the ‘crowd’…interesting listen for sure.
Ehsaan Noorani cranks up the rhythmic guitar in the mindless but bright and breezy title song Rock On and the effect is nothing short of splendid! Farhan is now gaining confidence but as a listener you are also getting used to his vocals so he is no longer as off putting. Furthermore, the vocals appear to be enhanced for added effect. Lyrics are just as zany with a “live your dream” attitude. Overall this is another must listen for all you young and hippy rockers!
Zehreelay on the other hand sits in the opposite ends of the spectrum and is a truly hardcore rock anthem whose unrelenting ferocity will have you reaching for your mute button in trepidation! Loud, obnoxious and completely in your face are just a few more words to describe the track. So to conclude that the singing emits more venom (pun intended) than the music is all credit to Suraj Jaggan (who made a telling debut for SEL in Johnny Gaddaar) who does a phenomenal job! Like it or loathe it you have to appreciate the manner of execution on display here.
Farhan Akhtar returns to provide THE performance of his career in the gorgeous little romantic essay Tum Ho Toh. Accepting that the slow pace of the music allows him to control his vocals better, Farhan has nevertheless outdone himself here and all credit to Shankar and the team for working on his vocals, practice makes perfect and how it shows! Otherwise the music takes a back seat and is completely lounge territory. Lyrics are touching without going over the top. Tum Ho Toh provides more variety to the OST which is improving all the time!
In the penultimate track, Sinbad the Sailor, Farhan is joined by Raman Mahadevan to give another ‘hatke’ twist to the soundtrack but the effect is ultimately disappointing because the music is heavily diluted by synth instruments, something largely avoided in the previous tracks. Having said that it’s one of the few breezy numbers so make the most of it and the switch toTum Ho Toh around the 4:36 mark is extremely welcome, ending the song on a high note! Any lyrics about ‘Sinbad the Sailor’ would appear to be odd but there is an underlying meaning to virtually everything that Javed Akhtar writes, just give it a chance to grow on you.
Without doubt SEL have put some genuine effort into this OST and Phir Dekhiye is a fine way to end it. Having noted that the rock instruments have been slowly winding down in the last few songs, here they are all but laid to rest. Instead we have a heavenly little track portraying the harmonious relationship between an acoustic guitar and piano…enacted by two friends and co-musicians; Ehsaan and Loy. The softly softly approach to singing by Caralesa Monteiro works wonders on your mind and warps you into a different world altogether…and well before you realise, the track has concluded…and with it Rock On OST….
After a disappointing venture with YRF (Thoda Pyar Thoda Magic) SEL would have been looking to bounce back in some style. With Rock On, not only do they deliver a soundtrack that befits the ideology of the movie, but one that is almost as unique as the trend setting Johnny Gaddaar from 2007. The only question is, was Farhan Akhtar the right choice as lead singer for the majority of the songs here? On first reaction, it’s very easy to be negative because clearly he is no KK or Shaan. However is it not the case that by selecting established singers the authenticity of the soundtrack would have been diluted? Just think, do amateur singers sound like professionals? Consequently, Rock On sounds very “real” because of its imperfections and never ever tries to be a classic.
However, SEL have been bold and daring in their execution. Again. Farhan has lived his dream. The only thing that remains is for listeners to open their ears to a unique genre especially if they have been drummed with too much regular stuff from Pritam / Anu Malik and dare I say it Vishal and Shekhar…try something different and give this one a go, if nothing else it will put most of what you have heard this year, into context.
All that remains to be said is….KUDOS SEL! Keep up the good work.