By Merle Bertrand | October 18, 1999

On first glance, this should have been a fine film. Chronicling thirteen year old Rajesh Nadu’s turbulent and eventful first year at Rockford High School, a Catholic boy’s boarding school in India, writer/director Nagesh Kukunoor’s “Rockford” instead sputters along with as many scenes that don’t work as do. While the film does a good job showing Rajesh’s coming of age and dealing with such universal constants as school bullies, obnoxious, loutish coaches, and pedophiliac priests, it comes up short in exploring the culture clash Rajesh should experience between Indian society and the Western world. Other than a quick scene with several boys mocking a teacher who demands that the Indian youths speak only English, you get virtually no sense of the enduring mistrust and resentment between the former colony and its former colonizer. Beyond all that geopolitical over-intellectualizing, however, lies the cold, cruel fact that “Rockford” displays a subtle yet omnipresent amateurish feel throughout.
While Rohan Dey’s ebullient portrayal of the bright and popular, if initially athletically challenged Rajesh keeps “Rockford” entertaining, neither his performance nor the other fine performances around him are enough to save a script that’s virtually devoid of any intensity or major conflict. Further, as Kukunoor goes to great pains to quickly and almost effortlessly resolve what few conflicts he managed to sneak in, you wonder why he even bothered to put them there in the first place. The result is a surprisingly bland and emotionless coming of age story that could just as easily have taken place in Rockford, Illinois as in India.

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