Cast: Alia Bhatt, Varun Dhawan, Aditya Roy Kapur, Madhuri Dixit
Directed by: Abhishek Varman
Duration: 2 hrs 47 mins
Rating: * 1 / 2
At the end of the three-hour-long ordeal called Kalank, Alia Bhatt’s character asks the audience, “Faisla aap ka hain, aap ne is kahani mein kya dekha, kalank ya mohabbat?” (What did you see in this story, stigma or love?).
Well, apart from opulent sets and fancy makeup, what we saw was boredom – a lot of it.
Directed by Abhishek Varman, Kalank is one of those films where more attention is paid to set design than to the story. This is like a Sanjay Bhansali 2.0 flick, except that it strives too hard to make a grand point about love and passion, but falls flat. By setting it during the Partition, the film also tries to make a point or two about stresses on the social fabric back then, but it’s a nonstarter on that count as well.
To start with, all the characters in this film carry a lot of baggage; more baggage than a Tiger Woods’ caddy. Set in the mid 1940s, in fictional Husnabad in Pakistan, the plot – I use the term loosely – has terminally ill Satya (Sonkashi Sinha) coaxing Roop (Alia Bhatt) to marry her husband Dev Chaudhary (Aditya Roy Kapur). He is a serious kind of a bloke, the owner and editor of a newspaper, but he has little or no say about his impending second marriage while his first wife is alive, but not exactly kicking.
Papa Chaudhary (Sanjay Dutt) is also a serious kind of a patriarch. This is also one of those rare films where there are no slow-motion shots of Sanjay Dutt. Thank heaven for very small mercies.
The Chaudharys are super-rich people with shiny furniture and shiny lives. In fact, their dining table is so big, they would need telecommunication devices to talk to each other. Even when there are just three people at the table, they sit at three corners forming a triangle, which is not very practical, and doesn’t make much sense, but, by God, the framing is awesome.
In fact, that applies to everything in the film.
Varun Dhawan plays Zafar, a blacksmith and playboy of sorts who lives in the red light area, a place that is naturally out of bounds for the Chaudhary family. Yet Roop insists on going there to learn singing from a Bahar Begum (Madhuri Dixit) a kothewali. Surely Madhuri would have had a sense of déjà vu looking at the lavish sets since they closely resemble the ones from Devdas. She also has to mouth some heavy duty dialogues like “Hamari kala itni haseen hain ki uski koi keemat nahi hain.”
Meanwhile, the marriage of Roop and her editor hubby is not consummated: she doesn’t even know what he looks like and realises who her husband actually is when she gets some bright ideas to run the newspaper. “Yeh Shaadi nahi Samjhauta hain,” she says while explaining her situation.
When Roop sees Zafar, the dishy blacksmith in action, her dormant hormones kick in; she temporarily turns into a journalist and decides to write an article on the people of the red light area. The young man meanwhile is a carefree guy who participates in bullfights and impresses the lady with his skills. A bull almost throws him off a cliff only for our hero to survive by the skin of his teeth. The CGI bull looks marginally more realistic than the emotions shown by characters in this movie.
Zafar also gets entangled with a bunch of fundamentalists, and the climax of the film takes place at a railway station with a platform so long that it takes forever for the train to leave; either that or it is a very very slow train. All this happens while our heroine is desperately hoping that her man will run and board the moving train.
There are several oddities in the film, the least of which is the otherwise dead serious editor singing and dancing during an item number. There is also a top angle shot of a Muslim mob on the rampage. And how do we know they are Muslims? Everyone is wearing a skull cap. Bollywood has its own infallible markers for characters and communities – a tilak for Hindu fundamentalists, skull caps for Muslims.
Even as a story set during the Partition, with all the dramatic potential of the moment, the screenplay falls flat. We have seen better tales before. This is more of an exercise in misplaced grandeur. The sets are the best that money can buy (the main one apparently cost `15 crores) and everything looks bright and burnished. They must have had at least a dozen polishers on the set because everything from the car to the furniture is gleaming. Even the terminally ill Sonakshi Sinha looks radiant.
There isn’t a lot to be said about the acting primarily because of the characterisation, or lack thereof. The actors try to salvage what they can within the framework of this cock and bull story.