Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani revolves around the titular couple as they fall in love while trying to reunite Kanwal (Rocky’s grandfather) and Jamini (Rani’s grandmother) after they went their separate ways because of their responsibilities towards their respective families. While Rocky wants to marry Rani immediately, Rani is skeptical about it because she thinks that they are fine as a couple as long as they treat it as a fling. If they try to take it further, their relationship won’t last because they and their families are on opposite ends of the cultural spectrum. So, Rocky accidentally comes up with the idea of living with each other’s families, thereby changing each other for the better. If it works, they’ll go for marriage. If it doesn’t, then they won’t. Simple enough? Not exactly, because it’s a Bollywood movie.
There are many conflicts in Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani. So, let’s take it slow and go one by one. The Randhawas feature Dhanalakshmi, Kanwal, Tijori, Poonam, and Gayatri. Dhanalakshmi had learned from her mother-in-law that patriarchy rules, and she has been peddling exactly that through her family. She hates Kanwal for not being macho enough and for loving poetry. When Kanwal lost his memory after taking a tumble down the stairs, she didn’t let Tijori around him for the same reason. So, Tijori grew up to be a toxic, overly masculine man who treats his wife, Poonam, very disrespectfully and parades his daughter, Gayatri, like a thing he wants to sell off in the name of marriage. Tijori hates Rocky as well because of his love for dance and pushes him to be a manly man so that he can take over Dhanalakshmi’s empire of sweets, which is something that Rocky doesn’t really want to do. Also, Kanwal keeps talking about Jamini, which brings in the Chatterjees. Jamini was married to an abusive man, and she had to run away with Chandon. Chandon married Anjali.
Despite being one of the most popular Kathak dancers in Kolkata, Chandon moved to Delhi for Anjali after she bagged the job of an English literature teacher at Delhi University. But he doesn’t hold any grudges about it, as he still teaches Kathak from home. Chandon and Anjali’s daughter, Rani, is a firebrand journalist who is constantly at odds with misogynistic men, as one should be. The Chatterjees don’t have any internal conflicts, but things get messy when the kids swap places. Since Rocky is a result of extreme patriarchal norms, he is too ignorant to understand what he’s doing. Rocky doesn’t understand physical boundaries. He appropriates Black culture. He doesn’t understand the importance of voting. He uses sexist abuses. He doesn’t know how to wash his clothes or cook anything. He is a little rough around the edges, and hence he has no idea about anything that’s synonymous with the word “refined.” Rani doesn’t agree with Dhanalakshmi and Tijori pushing patriarchal norms on Poonam and Gayatri. She respects the fact that Dhanalakshmi has made such a massive sweet-based empire, but as a human, she isn’t a nice person. When Rani finds out that Poonam can sing and Gayatri is actually good at mathematics, she pushes them to forge their own paths, even though it means going against Dhanalakshmi and Tijori’s ideals.
The most common step when it comes to resolving conflicts is communication, and in Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani, I think it starts with Rocky’s altercation with Anjali regarding brassieres. He learns that if he doesn’t have any shame when he lets someone else clean his underwear, which is usually done by the women in patriarchal households, then why is he icky about shopping for women’s underwear? When Rocky acts like he’s going to combust in the presence of bras, he learns an important lesson: don’t treat women like a foreign species and don’t react to everything that they do as something alien in nature. Rani puts the mirror in front of the Randhawas when they find themselves in a pit over an extremely sexist ad where the women are shown to be making the sweets and serving them to their male counterparts. She suggests flipping the roles so as to prove a point that it’s not necessary for women to cook and serve all the time, and that works wonders for the company.
At Vicky’s engagement ceremony, Dhanalakshmi tries to ridicule Chandon by making him dance Kathak in front of the hypermasculine audience. When Rocky realizes what has happened, he apologizes to Chandon, owns up to his ignorance, and joins Chandon’s Kathak classes. In doing so, the movie shows that masculinity shouldn’t be defined by expensive cars, clothes, and brawn. There’s a beautiful line to underscore this theme too, which goes something like, “Talent has no gender.” Talking about talent, when Rani uploads a video of Poonam singing, she gets selected for a contest. Poonam initially rejects the offer because she is afraid of how Tijori and Dhanalakshmi are going to react. But when she sees Gayatri standing up to the two of them by saying that she is going to work at Rani’s news channel as a finance expert instead of being degraded by her own family and others for her weight, Poonam decides to go for the contest. Rocky takes a stand by putting on a brilliant dance performance alongside Chandon and Rani. Tijori and Dhanalakshmi react in an adverse fashion. In an attempt to counter it, Rani becomes confrontational. When she physically moves Tijori’s hand, Rocky makes the important point that, after all this time, Rani didn’t think he is capable of handling Tijori. This causes their whole relationship to crumble because both of them think they are right.
Do Rocky and Rani Change The Status Quo?
In classic Karan Johar movie style, Kanwal bites the dust. Before dying, though, he tells Tijori to not let the family come apart at the seams because that’s what is happening. Rocky wants Tijori to let go of his toxic traits and respect his children and wife. But Tijori can’t do that because Dhanalakshmi won’t let him. After Kanwal’s death, Tijori realizes the amount of time he has wasted by being hateful, and the first thing that he does is ask for Poonam’s forgiveness. Poonam’s response is really important here because she says that Tijori can’t gain her forgiveness after all the years he has spent ridiculing and oppressing her. Tijori’s response is important, too, because he says that he wants to start the journey of earning Poonam’s forgiveness as soon as he realizes the extent of the damage he has caused. If you have watched Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Ghum, you know how easily Yash Raichand was forgiven for his discriminatory practices, and I guess Karan and the writers of the film are aware that that didn’t age really well. So, in Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani, they have the father figure starting his journey of self-reflection and self-correction, and they have Dhanalakshmi also starting a journey of introspection in probable isolation. This is a cautionary subplot for every oldie who is harassing the young ones in their family and trying to rule over them with fear. News flash: It’s not going to work if said young ones stop being afraid of you.
Now, as for Rocky and Rani, the whole family-swapping plan started with the question of what was Rocky going to do if he had to stay with Rani’s family? Those who aren’t Indian will probably be thinking, why does anyone have to stay with anybody’s family? Can’t they just live on their own? Well, the thing is that people like Rocky and Rani are way too attached to their respective families, and the filmmakers have to keep some of the traditional things intact in the narrative because they are afraid they’ll lose their core audience, which is conservative families. Hence, you see the characters subverting norms while still promoting the practice of sticking together as a unit. At one point, Rocky and Rani do wonder about a live-in relationship and then instantly discard the idea because of the aforementioned reasons.
Coming back to the point, i.e., Rocky and Rani’s post-marriage living status. So, usually, when a heterosexual couple gets married, the woman leaves her house and goes to live in the man’s house. The opposite is looked down upon because it’s unbecoming of a man to go live in a woman’s house. However, at the end of Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani, Tijori and Poonam arrive at the Chatterjee household with the request that Rocky is going to stay with the Chatterjees after marrying Rani. Yes, of course, Rani agrees to the proposal; she kisses Rocky, and the credits roll. But the fact that a Bollywood movie ends with the hero moving in with the heroine in the heroine’s parent’s house means that the status quo has been turned upside down. Demolishing it would’ve been better, but if you look around and see the kind of regression that’s going on, I think you’ll appreciate these baby steps towards going back to more progressive times. Yes, you read that right!