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Dharmendra, Shabana Azmi, and Jaya Bachchan add lustre to Karan Johar’s Rocky aur Rani Ki Prem Kahaani

Rocky aur Rani
Rocky (Ranveer Singh) and Rani (Alia Bhatt) play the title roles in Karan Johar's new film.

Three Bollywood legends have all returned to the big screen in Rocky aur Rani Ki Prem Kahaani. And the trio—former heartthrob Dharmendra, social-change activist Shabana Azmi, and politician Jaya Bachchan—add gravitas to what would otherwise be an implausible romantic comedy.

Directed by Karan Johar, the big-budget film opens with the glitz his fans have become accustomed to. The attention-seeking and flamboyant heir to an Indian mithai empire, Rocky (Ranveer Singh), dances Bollywood-style to the delight of a crowd full of admirers. His humourless Punjabi father, Tijori (Aamir Bashir), and controlling grandmother, Dhanalakshmi (Jaya Bachchan), suddenly appear on the scene. And they’re infuriated at the young man’s frivolous mindset.

The shallow and superficial Rocky later falls for his diametric opposite: a brainy Bengali TV host, Rani Chatterjee (Alia Bhatt). Their developing romance sets the stage for a titanic battle between their Punjabi and Bengali families.

In the meantime, there’s an emotionally rich secondary love story involving Rani’s grandmother, Jamini (Shabana Azmi), and Rocky’s poetry-loving grandfather, Kanwal (Dharmendra).

Nevertheless, stereotypes abound. Rani’s Bengali father, Chandon (Tota Roy Chowdhury), is a fanatic devotee of kathak dance; her mother, Anjali (Churni Ganguly), is an extraordinary vocabularian. For fun, their friends gather for group poetry sessions. In their home hangs a huge portrait of Nobel Prize winning Bengali writer Rabindranath Tagore.

Get it? Bengalis are bookish.

Rocky’s Punjabi father and grandmother, on the other hand, cherish making money while suppressing the dreams of women in the family. Rocky is a PUPY—a prosperous urban Punjabi youth. PUPYs are not overly uncommon but still, he’s presented in a stereotypical manner. His parents are eager to marry off his sister.

Even though both families are Hindu, their choice of deities is telling. The Bengali family feels a connection to Durga. She’s a Hindu goddess who unleashes her wrath to liberate oppressed people. The Punjabi family, on the other hand, worships Laxmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth.

Watch the trailer for Karan Johar’s new film.

Rocky aur Rani tests family bonds

Jamini warns her granddaughter Rani about how families are the back-seat drivers when it comes to marriage. So in advance of tying the knot, Rani comes up with the bright idea of her and Rocky living with the other family for three months.

“If we survive, our marriage will last for 50 years,” she says.

That’s when the film starts becoming very affecting, thanks in part to the older and highly talented supporting actors. Bhatt also vividly expresses different emotions on-screen as she champions women’s equality through her character.

Sadly, Singh has some ways to go before he can match the range of his co-stars. However, one could argue that he still manages to pull off the role of a passionate Punjabi Ken doll with aplomb.

Meanwhile, loud messaging about women’s rights and cancel culture are interspersed with some wacky dialogue, garish sets, and over-the-top costumes. If you can get through the early parts of this 168-minute marathon, it becomes highly entertaining.

Rocky aur Rani Ki Prem Kahaani also offers audiences serious takeaways about love, empathy, and forgiveness. Couldn’t we all benefit from some of that?

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Charlie Smith

Pancouver editor Charlie Smith has worked as a Vancouver journalist in print, radio, and television for more than three decades.

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We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.