Rocket Singh’s filmy realism and its conflict of intentions left Fatema Kagalwala confused!

Posted: February 15, 2010 by moifightclub in cinema, film review, reviews, Thoughts, writing
Tags: , , ,

So, she sat down, pushed the rewind button, compared notes with other films and wrote this post for us. Fatema Kagalwala is the girl on the bike. Thats an easy way to spot her. Atleast we dont know any other girl in Mumbai who is happy to give us a bike ride anytime. In between ADing and writing, these days she is bit busy with pati and ghar-grasthi but like many of us her first love remains cinema. Read on. And like us, if you loved Rocket Singh, attack her!

”You know what I feel about these new-age ‘realist’ kinda movies, they put a complete honest effort into developing the whole film and when it comes to the climax its like they have lost all interest and want to just wrap it up hurriedly.”

These words were said to me by my husband introducing Rocket Singh, the salesman of the year, before I watched it. After I watched it, it made me think. Sadly because I tended to agree with them whole-heartedly about our so-called ‘new-age’, ‘multiplex’, ‘slice-of-life’, ‘realist’ cinema.

I finished watching the film with these words in mind. I did not agree with the analysis with respect to this film but still have chosen to open my piece with it as the problem with Rocket Singh, I believe, is not sincerity or honesty but simply a lack of balance.

Balance between dramatic reality and reality, entertainment and truth. In the cinema of some makers these dimensions are polarised. But when it comes to what I term as ‘filmy realism’ the tight-rope walk is do or die. Sadly, in these days it is becoming more die than do.  

At the end of Rocket Singh, I missed Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Basu Chatterjee and his likes with a pain. Generally, I crave that era wistfully but this time I missed it with a bit more vigour. Because, filmy realism began with them and ended with them. And try as we might we are unable to  recreate that world try as we might with whatever talent and money we can muster.  

Why do I compare both the world of Rocket Singh with that of Hrishida is not because of simple idealism or old-world values. I do so from the pov of story-telling, plain and simple.  

The drama of melodrama as a genre is easy to achieve insofar as one knows its boundaries and does not go the ham way or over-emphasize too much. There has been an established formula for melodrama for years which has successfully played out and will continue to do so. No blancing act required there except to keep in check over-emphasis.  

The drama of brutal, raw realism comes from itself. No holds barred, reality gets more real by this token. There is no limit to drama here as long as it is raw, brutal and stark. There are no balancing acts here that put demands on the maker vis-a-vis the value of his film, the choice only determining the nature. 

But filmy realism is a tricky thing. It is ambitious too. It straddles the world of reality and tempers it with a light-hearted note that might or might not be true/real, takes on the baggage of entertainment and even a note of drama to spice up the proceedings. All this within the construct of strict everyday reality yet keepng the fourth wall intact. Reality that is charming yet real yet engaging enough to keep you hooked yet unreal enough to keep you suspended in that ‘story-world’, yet layered enough for you to identify with every motivation, yet interesting enough to keep you rooted and at the end of it all real enough to be believable. Tall order, which Hrishikesh Mukherjee and his likes seemed to do effortlessly. And which our bluest-eyed boys fail at miserably time and again.  

Rocket Singh, according to me failed there. It did not have the correct balance of all ingredients. To spell it out, it relied too much on the truth of the character and sacrificed all the spice to it. The climax was beautiful in its honesty to the film, to reality, to the film’s reality and the world of its characters. But it left us cold. It left me cold and the person who I have quoted in the beginning. And millions of viewers who rejected it, which is painful.

Because it is not a bad film at all. In fact it is a good film. Far better than Chak De. Far braver too. But the idealism of the climax (and I don’t mean Rocket’s idealisim, I mean Jaideep’s idealism as a writer) not to compromise the truth of his character to drama and entertainment, not to pander to our baser and easily-fulfilled sides of our minds that would demand that. Brave decision. And in doing so he has made sure he has maintained the soul of the film. It is one film start to end and does not become something else altogether in the end just because a climax has to be certain way and story-writing conventions say so.

But, and now I will contradict myself. It is still not one film. Because it holds out two promises to us. One of idealism winning by its own gumption, the other of a nice light-hearted but deeper film, like Khosla ka Ghosla. It does not deliver on both accounts. 

Let’s examine the first one – Rocket Singh, the character is one of pure idealism, one who is forced to be honest, almost as though he is congenitally diseased by it. This idealism is doubly fuelled by his confidence in himself, his abilities and then later in his values and  to an extent, revenge. These were the very attributes that made Rocket Singh a hero, a real hero, even though he espoused what would seem today unrealistic values. These very values stood by him to give him strength in all his endeavours and weaknesses. So what happened in the end? What happened in the end, the breaking down of the man, in front of circumstances yet not bending his values yet being destroyed himself by his choice is I think a brilliant characterisation. It’s far more layered and telling that any our cinema has seen in a long-time. But, the promise the writer makes to us right from the beginning is that this man’s values are his strength. And so we expect him to derive strength from those. But that does not happen. What happens is a Gandhian ending where suffering is epitomised and ‘satya’ compels the ‘enemy’ to bend. Very idealistic and touching. But we were not promised a Gandhi’s story and so we felt cheated.

We felt even more cheated because the impact of this Gandhian ending left us miserably shaken out of our light-hearted mode (no it did not do anything to our consciences or anything, nothing RDB type of shaking up) but a rude awakening or say let-down. Like as though DDLJ had ended like  a Tezaab!

Not to say that a writer cannot suit his endings to his ideology. That he cannot subtly make his character do what he wishes him to do if it is within the parameters. Of course he can. But then do not promise a character that is different from that. Or do not scultp the tone of a story such that the legitimate conclusion would not fit in with your aspirations. I think Oye Lucky Lucky Oye did that brilliantly in recent times. Trippy, the film made no misleading promises, just sit back and enjoy the ride, it said. It’s an episode. Rocket Singh promised not only a joy-ride with a meaningful end but also an entertaining 2 and a half hours full of real-world charm and old-world values. But with the tone of the ending changed the complete tone of the film. Something that it was not building upto all this while. That’s why it was not one film. That is why even though it may have been true to its character it still was not true to its film.

Agreed, the questions were serious and choices life-defining even. But throughout the film not only does the tone of the film but the central character also promises me that life will be defined in a breezy way. More or less. And then a Hrishikesh Mukherjee film becomes a Shyam Benegal film. (Don’t take it literally, I am talking about the cinema they represent.)

On a more massy level, I would attribute the lack of drama in the climax to its failure. Maybe there are more such reasons with what was wrong with it. And if there wasn’t much, then lots is wrong with the audience that rejected it so brutally. 

– FK

PS – And to read more of her filmy thoughts, you can visit

  1. Manu Warrier says:

    I am writing a plot with a co-writer for my indie project, as we are constantly battling out scenes on the script, we often question our choices, the character choices, story choices and eventually we boil down to what we beleive in and what is more convincing to us at that point as a writer/director . The core remains if the director and writer are convinced of the choices and they don’t intend to take audience in the trip you want particularly, that is where conflict arises. we are all different individuals. So me and writer often remind ourselves of a quote after convincing ourselves about the decisions we have taken “the problem with fiction and reality is that fiction has to make sense” . Maybe that’s one approach to thinking of why Rocket failed for you, since you are not Rocket, they have gone through Rocket’s journey as some part of their collective experiences that came into the plot.

  2. great but but but..i tell you in a very short way..
    this rocketsingh got no need to compare with Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Basu Chatterjee….
    you know its the people like you, me and many who actually wants to watch a cinema the way above filmmakers made….these movies are not even the genuine attempt…i like ishqiya…again ending sucks ..same with amir but these atleast r brilliant efforts….tnx

  3. mogambo says:

    First…. I would like to know the answer to this question – Did you love MNIK or did you hate it?

    I will post my counterarguments/thoughts regarding your post only after that question is answered.

  4. Fatema says:

    Deepak, there is a need for comparison as Jaideep’s cinema aspires to be so. One can clearly see so.

    Mogambo – Wow! 🙂 Haven’t watched it yet, will soon and post my thoughts too.

    And, despite the evident dissatisfaction I liked Rocket Singh.

  5. Fatema says:

    Manu – I’m sorry I missed your post earlier. But that’s exactly not my problem. Rocket Singh’s character is perfectly consistent and the fiction makes as much sense to me as reality would. My problem is the promises made and the unfulfillment of them.

  6. Manu Warrier says:

    Fatema – Life is full of promises and many of them are unfulfilled, films can reflect life. Ask a Indie film maker searching for funds, or a couple who is expecting a baby suddenly has a miscarriage, unfulfilled promises again. Films don’t need to follow rules. Things come back to you in unexpected ways. example, I met many directors in the film industry who promised me work, nothing happened for the first three years, now I am getting calls from the same directors who are willing to work with me.
    if a movie was made on this premise,Just because my character reflects some promise you unknowingly read, does not mean my character needs to resort to kidnapping a director/ hold him at a gun point or smartly beat a director to his game. I choose to continue meeting more directors for work. Eventually all the bits and pieces add to the ending in the most unexpected way. Guess life has been fair with you so far?
    As far as the promises made, you probably read his character the wrong way and looked for promises, when there were none promised, just observe him as a character and his life, Each person has a unique take on life, guess it plainly did not appeal to your sensibility, if you broke a promise, should I expect a Gandhian value out of you or should it shake me/awaken me? I could move on in life without bothering about the fact that you broke the promise? After the company is sold by rocket, he moves on to take a job in a department store, not worrying about his earlier company, then something unexpected happens, his boss returns his company back to him, conceding defeat.

    “I think Oye Lucky Lucky Oye did that brilliantly in recent times. Trippy, the film made no misleading promises, just sit back and enjoy the ride, it said. It’s an episode.”

    Infact you call Oye Lucky Trippy, when i found it to be the most indulgent fare and I started yawning , you set up the film interesting, towards the end I felt the director was on his own trip, fuck the audience or anyone, I’m making this film for myself, indulgent film making, i was very dissapointed with the path he chose, so I guess in a way the same logic applies, Oye Lucky could have been something else, ends up being nothing to me, while the alternative film buffs love it, while audiences rejected it, all the purposeless layers that were used and lead to nothing in the end. What happened to the ride, it hit a speed breaker, later the engine lost steam and eventually it broke. The thief’s story could have been something else, because of his smartness that was established at the start. guess same case of promises made and leaving it unfulfilled? Going by your rule

  7. Kenny says:

    I don’t think audiences rejected the film, Fatema. For some reason – maybe incorrect positioning and promotion – not too many people came to watch it. Those that did, did like it, with few exceptions.
    As for the ending, that’s a question I struggle with too: should we go for a filmy climax or a ‘realistic’ climax? Rocket Singh took the latter option, and it felt true to me within the context of everything else that had happened. Maybe there could have been an alternative, more filmy ending, but there’s no end to ifs and buts…
    While watching Khosla Ka Ghosla, I found everything very grounded in the real world, and I hoped that the resolution would also be real. BUT unfortunately it turned out to be filmy, something that would be very very unlikely in real life. A con job. That was my main beef with the film. And now, this week in Tehelka, Dibakar also has said the same thing “The only thing patently false about Khosla is its climax ”
    If it were up to me, I guess I would have given Rocket Singh climax that would feel like a climax.

  8. mogambo says:

    Right… so will not type in anything…

    All i will say is Sahni’s script had extraordinary attention to detail…. even the model number of the graphics cards (HD4350) was accurately incorporated.

  9. Fatema says:

    Manu – You absolutely got the point. Although comparing a film’s promises to real life are somewhat a matter of debate and of some other time. I you found OLLO a waste and by the same token I have presented here then it is valid. I guess the difference just lies in the way we percieve what a film promises in its set-up.

    However, I would like to add that I think the climax of Rocket Singh is brave. Whether it works or not becomes a matter of individual opinion. Since, the film did not do too well, I am trying to figure out various reasons for it. The ones I have stated above seem the most viable to me.

    Kenny – (Thanks for the article!Nice read) I do not have an issue with something being ‘filmy’ or ‘realistic’. I just have a problem with inconsistency in delivering what has been suggested. According to me Khosla ka Ghosla would have worked (although it would not have been so well-loved) even if the duo had decided on the ‘realistic’ ending. In fact that was the ending I was expecting it to have, such was the nature of the film. In a way you could say KKG almost promised a ‘realistic’ end and did not deliver. But as we have read Jaideep himself says ‘that no one was going to come and watch a film ‘ which brings us back to the debate of filmy realism and the fine balance one needs to tred to make reality appealing and entertainment real.

  10. Fatema says:

    Mogambo – For sure, we shall talk once I’ve watched MNIK.

    Sahni’s scripts are always finely detailed and hence always a pleasure as it draws you into their world effortlessly.

  11. kartik krishnan says:

    saw the film last night. And kind of understand to some extent your problem with the film.
    However, the question is – what would you have done with end ? That is the question that needs to be addressed

  12. Fatema says:

    Oh Kartik, I will answer that. First let me get over the exhaustion of having watched MNIK. 4 stars for a 1 star movie???

  13. […] many of us, Fatema Kagalwala is also tripping on LSD these days. But the big fuck up is that the music is still not available at […]

  14. […] good friend Fatema Kagalwala came to our rescue. Yes, same Fatema, the girl on the bike (She doesn’t like the description but we feel it sounds cool like the […]

  15. […] good friend Fatema Kagalwala came to our rescue. Yes, same Fatema, the girl on the bike (She doesn’t like the description but we feel it sounds cool like the title […]

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