You know what to expect in a Karan Johar film. It is all about the family. Never mind if the families are as stinking rich as the Ambanis and Adanis put together, and must follow the dictates of the heavily made-up matriarch Dhanlaxmi (Jaya Bachchan). ‘Rocky Aur Rani Kee Prem Kahani’ is about two families, the Randhawas and the Chatterjees, neatly placed in polarised positions on either side of the ‘cultural-linguistic’ fence. However, neither family has retinues visible across the lavish, almost vulgarly ostentatious spaces.

A Karan Johar film is about songs and dances, and lots of loud colours and crude behaviour on the Punjabi side that stands in great relief against the Bengali side where not much of Bengali culture is visible, including Rani’s mother’s impeccable English. There is the much-used and abused story of a girl and a boy falling in love while trying to bring their respective grandparents together (Dharmendra and Shabana Azmi) to relive their short-lived romance that happened in “1970 during a poetry conference”!

Please, give us a break Karan, how can one even begin to imagine the Punjabi scion of a multi-million laddu industry falling in love with a dusky Bengali beauty during a poetry conference? Both were married, and went back to their families, but they never forgot that week-long lovey-dovey exchanges over poetry. After all, it is all about “Loving Your Family,” where everything begins and everything ends. Or, does it?

But delightful absurdity, lack of logic of any kind and the lavish quality of sets, mounting, bizarre costumes and performances are regular features Karan Johar is famous for. He has established his own distinct brand of entertainment which, though he does not make films prolifically, has stood the test of time, space and language and established his brand identity. Though, this film comes seven years after he did his last one.

I belong to the old school of journalism of the 1970s. The idea of a young, unmatched pair trying to rekindle the week-long affair of their respective grandparents appealed to me. Because the common agenda of both Rocky and Rani was to cure the growing amnesia of Rocky’s grandfather (Dharmendra), who keeps repeating the name “Jamini” much to the anger and shock of his Hitler-like wife Dhanalaxmi.

Alia Bhatt’s Rani wears expensive chiffons with low-cut blouses to play a journalist, that would make my young peers in the profession go green with envy. Her father Chandan Chatterjee (Total RoyChoudhury) is a dance teacher and the mother (Churni Ganguly) is an English professor whose British English makes even her husband request her to speak in English! “The British have left India but they left this lady behind” quips Rani.

Karan Johar merrily uses this kahani as a solid platform to dot the scenario from time to time with feminist social agendas. These scream against the misogynistic behaviour of Rocky’s grandmother and father Tijori, including Rocky who says that no one “taught” him otherwise (really?) Do young men need to take courses on “women empowerment” from seductively attired beautiful journalists like Rani?

You will lose count of the agendas he has put in like spokes in an otherwise funny wheel with lectures on “why shouldn’t men be used in laddu advertisements?”, courtesy Rani, or, why should Golu be repeatedly subjected to body shaming for her obesity, courtesy Golu herself?

Or, why should Rani’s mother explain to Rocky why men ought not to get embarrassed by the word “bra”, and why should Rocky’s mother forget her budding career in singing having neatly replaced it with rolling hot ‘phulkas’ taken off the stove to serve the despicable husband?

Rocky adds his bit by adding the ‘cancel’ culture by all and sundry, for everything and everyone, by everyone. These have strong feminist agendas but they appear quite misplaced within this thoroughly mainstream entertainment.

In typically Karan Joharish manner, the film throws a London-educated Bengali girl fall head over heels for a Punjabi boy who speaks terrible English and has crude and loud manners. Though he is the sole heir to the laddoo industry, he admits that his father bought him a first class for his Std XII exams.

His dress sense defies every definition of ‘fashion’ but it makes Rani go into splits. With Ranbir Singh around, who needs a comedian to spout memorised dialogue? Rocky points out Tagore’s portrait in Rani’s home as Rani’s “Dadaji’s” and mistakes elections for Big Boss eliminations and is not a bit bothered when laughed at. He appears to enjoy it rather.

Brickbats aside, what I liked about the film is the brilliant acting by every actor including Dharmendra as Kanwal Lund who just has to sit quietly on his wheelchair with a confused expression, apart from repeating “Jamini” every now and then. His son Tijori Randhawa (Amir Basheer) hardly talks to him and is truly his mother’s baby.

Ranveer Singh as Rocky, sustaining his colourful, terribly costumed persona and crude taste runs away with the first prize specially with his spanky red car and his song “ajaa mere gaadi mein baith ja” to woo his intelligent girlfriend Rani. Alia is one of the most talented young brats enlarging her range from ‘Highway’ to ‘Raazi’ through ‘Gangubai Kathiawadi’ and ‘Udta Punjab’. But this film does not give her that much scope to explore her potential. A considerably overweight Shabana invests her character with the dignity she is famous for and offers solid compliments to her ‘son’ Tota and ‘daughter-in-law’ Churni.

Jaya Bachchan as Dhanalaxmi has put on as much make-up as she could not explore for her “young” films, and looks terrible but performs very well. I particularly enjoyed both the characterisation and performance of Tota Roychoudhury as the dance teacher father of Rani namely Chandan Chatterjee.

He is just too decent to stand up to Dhanalaxmi who tricks him to perform a dance number specifically to insult him in a public function. He reacts much later by performing a mujra number from Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas during a Durga Pooja not alone but along with his would-be son-in-law Rocky.

Two men performing a mujra is one of the most powerful and genuine feminist statements the film makes among many put-on ones. A man from a Bengali aristocratic family choosing classical Kathak as a profession is also a wonderful touch which Tota, the most outstanding fitness freak in Bangla cinema, demonstrates beautifully.

Churni Ganguly as the staccato-English speaker with a terrible haircut is convincing in her debut in Bollywood in a Karan Johar film. Ganguly is one of the most outstanding but underutilised actors in Bengali cinema. It is high time her potential was brought out in this film. Her scenes with Rocky are a real scream. Her character is very high-strung and snobbish, but basically, she is good.

The outstanding feature of the film is the use, presentation, positioning and choreography of the old Hindi song numbers. In fact, they have blended so beautifully with the ambience that the new songs composed by Pritam could have been kept out. It all begins with the number ‘abhi na jaao chhodkar, ke dil abhi bhara nahin’.

Then there is the mix of ‘jhumka gira re Bareli ke bazaar mein’. But the first number filled with young Bollywood stars shaking their vigorous and sexy legs with Ranveer gets lost in the credits and is too fast to sink in. Other songs are - ‘Yeh Shaam Mastani,’ ‘Do Dil Mil Rahe Hai,’ ‘Aap Jaisa Koi,’ among others.

The beauty of the film lies also when Rocky and Rani plan for the oldie lovers to meet in secret and they too, join in with a lot of kissing and hugging along the same old song. Rocky’s mother does a ‘kaanton se kheench ke ye aachal’ in the reality show and when her husband angrily switches the TV off, she continues to sing and dance in front of him, thanks to Rani, the modern, liberated woman. She aspires to change the severely patriarchal mindsets of the Randhawa family whose house is clearly modelled along the lines of the White House! Please give us a break Karan, our stomachs can digest only so much and no more.