Unlike music in Hollywood or art films, mainstream Hindi film songs have never been about pure creation. Its function is not only to serve the narrative, but also to work in isolation of the film—and in turn generate revenue and buzz. In that sense, every Hindi film composer is allowed to play within a boundary, always under the pressure of music labels to make something that is also marketable. But what does one do when one is restricted even further? Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy (SEL) find themselves in a similar position in Rock On 2 where the soundtrack is meant to centre around the lead actor and actress, who are at best good bathroom singers.

Shraddha Kapoor joins Farhan Akhtar as the new female vocalist of Magik, the band in the sequel to Rock On!!. A film about rock musicians couldn’t ask for more. But the album suffers. For the most part, the composers are bogged down by the limitations of their singing abilities, unable to dream big.

One can see how the album loosens up in the songs that don’t feature Akhtar and Kapoor : Hoi Kiw/Chalo Chalo, for instance, that draws from the film’s milieu of the North East. After an overdose of the impossibly smoothened Kapoor, Usha Uthup sounds like a rock goddess. And the Shillong-band Summersalt that sings in Khasi are excellent. They add folk touches with the duitara and Ka bom and it makes the album come alive in a way we don’t feel in any other song. Even Ishq Mastana, a Sufi number that sounds like it belongs to another album, is more fun than some of the standard rock tunes. These two songs that come at the end of the album, demonstrate the direction SEL could go to with solid singers at their disposal.

It wouldn’t be fair to say that the ones sung by Akhtar and Kapoor are bad. The sparsely produced Manzar Naya that has lovely, warm strings belongs to the indie-spirited road-trip songs we associate with the composers. Akhtar’s imperfect texture gets breathing space here and it works just right. Besides this and a couple of good moments in Woh Jahaan, Akhtar’s singing doesn’t work in other tracks such as You Know What I Mean, that made me cringe every time the hookline appeared. It tries to emulate the casual everydayness of Pichhle Saat Dino Mein from Rock On!!. That song—and the album—was enjoyable because it was something new at that time. The fact that Akhtar, the man who made Dil Chahta Hai, could act and sing was a novelty. It’s been eight years and today, Akhtar’s stardom—and his faux-rockstar persona—weigh down the album more than it helps it. A song like Jaago, that talks about individual freedom, comes across as something Tata Tea could come up with for their next campaign.

Shraddha Kapoor joins Farhan Akhtar as the new female vocalist of Magik, the band in the sequel to ‘Rock On!!’
Shraddha Kapoor joins Farhan Akhtar as the new female vocalist of Magik, the band in the sequel to ‘Rock On!!’

Kapoor sounds pretty much like any other singer dependant on autotune. The good thing about the songs featuring her is that the composers manage to make her sound like herself. She gets some of the likable melodies, such as the techno-tinged Uddja Re and the upbeat, breezy Tere Mere. But neither have the impact of Phir Dekhiye and Yeh Tumhari Meri Baatein from Rock On!!, the only two female songs in that album. The lyrics by Javed Akhtar, whose collaborations with SEL in the past have yielded far more rewarding results, are disappointing. It doesn’t have the deceitfully simple lyric writing that we associate with him; I don’t think lines like “Chaand ki kashti mein humne kiya hai safar," speak to us anymore.

There are, of course, the little pleasures here and there. But that’s expected from the talented composers who have created a wild and organic sound in their other recent work Mirzya.

Rock On 2’s use of rock music is fairly cosmetic and afraid to do anything new—a little problematic for a film that has the devil’s horn instead of the ‘2’ in its title.

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