What do you get when you mix modern sensibilities with old school journey of love and intensity? You get Karan Johar’s Kalank, a film that may be thrashed by many a reviewer but not something that you should dismiss easily.
Kalank doesn’t take time to tell you what it’s about. Conflicts are clear within the first 15 minutes. If you haven’t caught the drift in the trailers or the many grand songs, you’ll know that Bahaar Begum (Madhuri Dixit) is a courtesan in Husnabad and Roop (Alia Bhatt) is married under duress to Dev (Aditya Roy Kapoor). Sonakshi Sinha begins the film and convinces the audience, in a powerful performance, that this is a story worth investing in despite its implausibility. Aditya Roy Kapoor and Sonakshi Sinha make an impressive couple onscreen and share some genuine moments together.
Set in the pre-partition era when communal riots were at their peak, the film references to political rifts between Hindus and Muslims in the name of religion but doesn’t over-emphasize it in the first half which leads to a very small window to understand the conflicts in the second. There is far too much emphasis on the slomo movements of the magnificent sets and the gorgeous jewellery and the impossibly good looking actors. It does go overboard in its obsession with the pithy dialogues sometimes but what kills Kalank is what makes it stronger. Kalank is defined by its deep psychological layers and the torment of conflict when it comes to love and hate. However, it is 20 minutes too long, and could have been easily edited, especially the slow-mo close-ups.
There are also some overtly ridiculous and drawn out moments that should have been eliminated in the final cut of the film. Especially the scene where Varun fights the bull. How could a production house that is behind Baahubali 2 sign off on this? Atrocious to watch, that scene could have easily made you stop taking Kalank seriously as a feature film and laugh your head off. Then there is the ludicrous idea that you can travel from Lahore to Kalaam Valley on a whim. The reason: It’s unthinkable for women to travel alone to that area even today, let alone in the 1940s. Similarly, the landscape changes abruptly and improbably, the lush green lands of Lahore turn into the mountains of up North.
What is breath-taking about the film, however, is the immersive, cinematographic wonder that it is. From the long shots of Madhuri Dixit Nene spinning in her anarkali dress, from Varun Dhawan’s dance in First Class, to Alia Bhatt’s gazes outside the window, this is a film that merits a visit to the theatre for all its beauty if nothing else.
Kunal Khemmu also makes his presence felt in a dramatic role and Aditya Roy Kapoor’s delivery and controlled performance as a hurt son, grieving husband and pious journalist is definitely very, very impressive. Madhuri Dixit Nene lights up the screen every time she dances, or even raises her eyebrow. Scenes between her and the ever luminous Alia Bhatt are a delight. So are the scenes between her and Sanjay Dutt – it will make all of us who grew up in the 90s really go back to a simpler time.
In the current political climate, showing a Muslim mob alone torching houses in the era of partition is not the only statement that needed to be made if the filmmaker’s intent was to show the hate and bigotry of the time. Partition caused grief to both countries and followers of both religions. However Kalank cannot be termed as a hateful film. Zafar’s character and Varun Dhawan and Madhuri Dixit Nene’s heartfelt performance stop the film from being skewed. It is a film that impresses upon you, very powerfully in the climax, that hate just kills everything you love.
It is Varun and Alia’s pairing that anchors the main message of the film: in the time of hate, will you choose to love?