We present UBVRI broad-band, Hα narrow-band photometry of the star-forming complexes in the infrared bright galaxy NGC 1084. Results of medium-resolution spectroscopy of some of the brighter complexes are also discussed. Spectroscopic data are used to better estimate the internal reddening within the galaxy which is found to be highly variable and to calculate metallicity which is close to the solar value. A diagnostic diagram identifies the shocked regions within this galaxy. The narrow-band Hα flux and its equivalent width are used to determine the star formation rates of the complexes and the distribution of ages. Star formation rates for a few of the complexes are found to be as high as 0.5 M⊙ yr−1. The star-forming complexes lie in the age range 3 to 6.5 Myr. A U−B versus V−I colour–colour mixed population model created using the Starburst99 model colours is used to estimate the ages of the stellar populations present within these regions. Using this technique, it is found that the star formation in NGC 1084 has taken place in a series of short bursts over the last 40 Myr or so. It is proposed that the likely trigger for enhanced star formation is merger with a gas-rich dwarf galaxy.