Film: Kalank

Director: Abhishek Varman

Cast: Alia Bhatt, Madhuri Dixit, Sonakshi Sinha, Varun Dhawan, Aditya Roy Kapoor, Sanjay Dutt, Kunal Khemu

Rating: 2.5

Kalank is set in pre-partitioned India — 1946, Lahore. The audience is first introduced to Sonakshi Sinha, and even though she feels and exhumes Pakhi-like airs from, Vikramaditya Motwane’s Lootera, she plays her role with subtlety and grace.

We are then immediately introduced to Alia Bhatt’s character who also then leads the film. Bhatt gives away the façade in the very first moment. Her bronzed look close-ups, stunning as they are, brutally reveal how hard she is trying and that extra loud effort fell flat. At least in the first part of the film, Bhatt takes time to adjust not just to the circumstances of Roop’s life but also the texture and mood of the film. It would feel she wasn’t really absorbed in.

The angry young man trope returns once again with Varun Dhawan in Kalank — a bit modified to add a layer of sub-text, but otherwise just the same. Dhawan was perhaps the only one who could have belonged to that era in which the film was set.

Flashes of the entire movie in the opening credits gives an idea of the grandeur that succeeds, but also later reveals disjointed narrative and bad editing. Even the post-interval film begins with a flash-forward of what is going to happen and then it goes back to where it left off to close pre-interval. It made no sense.

Post jumping terraces,  Bhatt (who plays a Hindu girl, Roop) who is flying and stealing kites, an effort to make it look ethereal coupled with dramatic change of scenery revealed bad production design.

Disjointed as the narrative may have been, it is visually stunning. For one, Bhatt is etched beautifully on screen forever.

Within a few minutes into the film, the entire cast is revealed, each with a song-dance sequence. And all stars together make way for no supporting cast. They carry their stardom in the roles they play. They are all isolated in it, just like the characters in the film, trapped in their own struggles and circumstances.

There are many fourth wall break attempts, mostly given to Bhatt, which after a point of time feel over utilized and un-impactful. They just didn’t fit in the text.

Madhuri Dixit (who plays courtesan Bahaar Begum) is also introduced suddenly, not just to Dhawan’s dismay in the film, but also the audience. The motive was missing.

How the plot should unfold, could have been more worked upon.

The dialogue of the film in the effort to make it more period-like went overboard. Some of it is smooth poetry, though.

In the first half of the film, which should ideally have been a complete first part of the film and perhaps it should have ended there, there is just song after song, immense sets and character introductions. It would remind one of Sanjay Leela Bhansali.

Kalank tried to add layers and sub-text with Alia recollecting the entire story ten years later in Amritsar to a reporter, which didn’t work. What did work was its’ treatment of Lahore. The film used Lahore as an entity/ a character of its own, which was a commendable effort till it fell apart with Dhawan giving a history lesson on it.

The film moves back and forth between Heera Mandi or Shahi Mohalla, an infamous part of the city for its “tawaifs” and brothels to the suave, clean and pillared palace of Dev (Aditya Roy Kapoor) and Balraj Chaudhry (Sanjay Dutt).

In fact, the song Ghar More Pardesiya could have been an alternative title to Kalank. Roop is the pardesiya, but not in Heera Mandi; with her fire and anger more suitable there than in the genteel environment of Chaudhry’s house. Dixit accepts this later, when she first greets Alia.

There is a Ramayana sub-text also in the background. When Zafar first meets Alia, it is Dusshera in Heera Mandi (which they all call Lanka), and a Raavan effigy is burning in the background when the serene and stately Roop, after marriage, meets Zafar with the song Ramchandra ki jai playing in the background.

Even for a period drama of this scale, there were too many close-ups.

Brimming of romance to its realisation between Roop and Zafar, all goes with background music that felt very close and similar to the music between two leads in James Cameron’s film, Titanic.

The bull fight sequence with Varun Dhawan went overboard, again. In an effort to add everything to this period-drama, this was not required. A classic trope of how after seeing the angry young hero in action, the heroine falls for him was exploited and over-used.

In a bid to replay a romance story from the past, Abhishek Varman uses classical tropes which can be justified but just don’t fit well to the times and audience it addresses. Especially, when every extra scene becomes an extra second on movie-time. (Kalank film duration: 2 h 48 min)

There is a lot of use of use of metaphors, clichés and tropes to make the film interesting. One that was particularly interesting, was the window metaphor — very prominent. Every time Roop opens her room’s window to let fresh breeze from Heera Mandi come in, we know she is happy and doing something revolutionary. And, when she closes it we know the two worlds, the home and the world cannot mix.

The film has too many climax points, first before it closes for interval and then post-interval, one couldn’t keep track of them.

Another cliché – that was the long and short of the film – was the bad boy who is always good at heart, needs a redeemer figure which most usually happens to be a woman, to whom the bad boy inadvertently falls in love with. Here, that is the story between Alia and Dhawan.

There is so much going on in the film — father-sons rivalry, angst and pressure on figures marginalized by society, unhappy marriages, illegitimate sons, validation, repressive society and love triangles — that even with all of it, topped with dance numbers and song sequences and beautiful sets, the film lacked heart.

This need to explain and tell more than to show plagues the film. Post-interval film was all about history lessons and explanations of characters motives, thereby deluding them of whatever bit of complexity that had managed to strive for in the pre-interval film.

Post interval, the meeting between Dhawan and Aditya Roy Kapoor (who plays Roop’s newspaper editor husband) was something new, and yet, not so innovative. That kind of classical meeting between two figures, who love the same girl, did not play out as expected. In fact, the bonding between the two was expected when their another link was revealed.

For every lovers’ meeting, there is a lot of detailing done in the background and framing of shot. Too much effort went into the details, and the larger picture was literally ignored. For instance, when Madhuri Dixit and Sanjay Dutt, meet there is a mashaal burning in the background. There was hope to see some complexity in roles assigned to Dixit and Dhawan (mother-son) who are marginalised by society. The film could have gone there, it tried to take up class and social mobility but did not.

There are many sequences that remind the audience of an era of Bollywood gone by. Madhuri Dixit’s Tabbah Ho Gaye performance came close to Devdas’ Chandramukhi coming to life again. There is a Romeo-Juliet balcony sequence a bit altered, that plays out between Roop and Zafar.

Aditya Roy Kapoor was sober for most part of the film, a change from his spirited acting career. He shines in some parts before breaking (under the influence of alcohol) to dance with Dhawan in Aire-Gaira with Kriti Sanon.

Kalank made some interesting use of colour. From monochrome sets of the Chowdhary palace, setups between Bhatt and Kapoor, Dutt and Sinha to the vibrant and colourful Heera Mandi. The lovers meetings between Roop and Zafar there are also colourful and so is the entire set-up.

Even Dixit, for living in that locality is blended in shades of orange, burgundy, pink, peach, mauve etc. The one person that didn’t fit literally was Kunal Khemu, who by all means wanted social mobility. He was dressed in monochromes – an ill fit in the loud and vibrant Mandi.

Khemu also shines in the film, in varying parts.

All characters in the film had allegorical names. Roop (Alia Bhatt) is a beautiful woman stuck in an unhappy marriage, Satya (Sonakshi Sinha) plays the saint-like figure of a woman, who knows the truth, accepts it and does best to move forward. Dev (Aditya Roy Kapoor), a doting husband, a plain and good character. Zafar (Varun Dhawan) who wants inteqam (reminds one of Haidar) and wants to win from his father. Bahaar (Madhuri Dixit), not just a bahaar of emotions, dialogues and poetry but also music and dance.

In fact, apart from the Ramayan sub-text, there is also Tagore’s Gare Bhaire in play. Set in pre-partitioned India, just like the parent text, Kalank explored relations between a woman — Bimala (Roop), her intellectual, genteel and good husband Nikhilesh (Dev), and the boisterous full of life, Sandip (Zafar). Kalank was more close to Tagore’s work in that regard.

The most redundant part of the film, however, was its end. The voiceover asking the audience what they saw in the film, was the real deal breaker.