Starcast: Madhuri Dixit, Sonakshi Sinha, Alia Bhatt, Varun Dhawan, Aditya Roy Kapoor, Kunal Kemmu and Sanjay Dutt
Director: Abhishek Verman
When was the last time you saw a movie about an ‘illegitimate’ child growing up with pent-up anger against his father for dumping him? Well, Amitabh Bachchan’s Trishul (1978), and Laawaris (1981) happened nearly four decades ago. And what about the story of a tawaif (courtesan) living in a majestic kotha at a badnaam basti (red light district), years after she fell in love with a wealthy married patron and got in the family way? Don’t rack your brains! B. R. Chopra’s Rishi Kapoor-Rati Agnihotri starrer, Tawaif (1985), was probably the last decent movie about a courtesan. (Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s 2001 release Devdas was a remake) And a melodramatic, interfaith romance set against the backdrop of the turbulent Partition years? I don’t blame you if you are already yawning!
Kalank is a mishmash of all of this and more. It’s a potpourri of all the tropes, which had been done to death in Hindi cinema even before the firstborn of the millennial generation arrived. The latest from the K.Jo Factory is, therefore, a wrong movie at a wrong time, which might find it hard to connect with the young audiences whose verdict can make or mar any ambitious venture at the turnstiles these days. It’s a film totally out of sync with the changing times, thanks to its convoluted plot which is shorn of any novelty despite being repackaged in shiny cellophane. The millennials may be a genre-agnostic tribe but they are not generous enough to put up with any kitsch dug up from the moth-eaten archives of Bollywood.
The film begins with a contrived situation Satya (Sonakshi Sinha), suffering from a terminal illness, is on a desperate hunt for a suitable bride for her loving husband (Aditya Roy Kapoor), who could take care of him after her demise. The hunt begins and ends with Roop (Alia Bhatt), a feisty girl who accepts the proposal only because she has a poor family to support. Once trapped in a loveless marriage, she finds a getaway at Bahar Begum’s (Madhuri Dixit) bustling kotha to learn classical singing and dance from her. An encounter with Zafar -- the local Lothario who has no qualms in sleeping around with women either with their consent or in lieu of cash – happens soon thereafter, setting the stage for a forbidden romance which wreaks havoc all around.
This romance does not blossom in ordinary times. It unfolds amid mounting Hindu-Muslim tensions during the troubled years of 1944-46 at a fictional town of Husnabad near Lahore, where all protagonists live. Love stories in times of communal strife during Partition have enticed the filmmakers of successive generations but barring rare ones such as Deepa Mehta (Earth/1999), most have failed to pull off an engaging film.
Kalank’s director Abhishek Verman, who had shown immense promise with his launch vehicle, 2 States (2014), has also proved to be unequal to the task. The film has been mounted on a lavish scale, with a lot of attention paid to the set, and costume designs to recreate the pre-Partition Lahore. It is doubtless a visual delight on the big screen but that’s its only USP. Its trite storyline and shoddy screenplay are a big letdown and the fact that it’s stretched to 168 minutes in an era of two-hour-long flicks does not help it either.
The film meanders at a leisurely pace, especially before the interval, which makes you wonder if it has been edited properly at all. It could easily have been snipped by a rookie FTII graduate by 30 minutes. Even though we are all familiar with Karan Johar’s penchant for elaborate and colourful song-and-dance rituals aided and abetted by the likes of Manish Malhotra, deletion of at least two songs and a funny CGI-aided bullfight sequence would not have harmed its narrative.
Far from it, it might have salvaged it to a great extent. What thrill, after all, will a bullfight sequence give if the audience knows before the start of the film that the bull has been created through a computer-generated imagery? Thanks to the stringent rules on how to treat animals during shooting these days, actors are no longer allowed to wrestle with a real one, the way actors like Dharmendra did in their heyday but why take resort to the badly executed, fake ones?
Even though Kalank boasts of a formidable star cast, it fails to rise above its poor script. Alia Bhatt and Varun Bhatt, the lovable pair that gave us three hits in a row since their debut in Student of the Year (2012), try their best to extricate the film from the morass of mediocrity but, alas, their sparkling chemistry witnessed in their previous films is missing here. Similar is the case of Sanjay Dutt and Madhuri Dixit; the star pair of yesteryear barely have enough scenes together to set the screen on fire.
Aditya Roy Kapoor as a reticent newspaper editor, Sonakshi Sinha as his dying wife and Kunal Khemu as the leader of a communal party are good in parts but overall Kalank does not have much to write home about, unless you consider its grandiose production design to be a virtue in an era of content-rich movies.
The fate of some of the recent period dramas such Mohenjo Daro (2016) and Thugs of Hindostan (2018) has underlined the fact that the idea to sacrifice substance at the altar of style and gloss has never been a great idea. Even Sanjay Leela Bhansali, the reigning master of period dramas, knows it well....