Movie Review: 'Kalank’
Opened: 17 April 2019
Cast: Madhuri Dixit, Varun Dhawan, Alia Bhatt, Aditya Roy Kapur, Sonakshi Sinha, Sanjay Dutt, Kunal Khemu, Hiten Tejwani, Kiara Advani, Kriti Sanon
Director: Abhishek Varman
Producers: Karan Johar, Sajid Nadiadwala, Hiroo Yash Johar, Apoorva Mehta
Imitation is the best form of flattery. Apparently. For all intents and purposes then, Sanjay Leela Bhansali should be mighty flattered because by and large, Kalank is a literal nod to his style of film-making – visually sumptuous, ostentatious and operatic.
And while director Abhishek Varman (2 States) nails the visuals and aesthetics, where he doesn’t quite get into Bhansali’s league is grasping the film’s narrative – it’s apparent that he ultimately gets overwhelmed by the sheer responsibility stacked on his shoulders and makes a hodge-podge of it all by attempting to tick all the relevant boxes in a checklist, without really giving the film his own identity. Jack-of-all, master-of-none, if you must.
The result then is an overlong, often cumbersome slog that occasionally fires up because of its glorious leads, but eventually peters out because writer Shibani Bathija, can’t quite decide where she wants to take this film; is it a sermon on the Partition, a painfully convoluted love triangle, an ode to 80s and 90s kitsch (not a bad thing mind), or just a drawn out exercise in over-indulgence? We’re never quite sure, and going by the never-ending monologue that Alia Bhatt’s Roop delivers in its climax neither are the film’s makers, it seems.
Set in Lahore in the mid-1940’s Kalank unfolds when an ailing wife’s last wish (Sonakshi Sinha, eminently graceful and fragile in equal measures, but essentially reduced to a glorified cameo) sets into motion a chain reaction and complex play of relationships that impacts her husband, a wealthy news editor Dev (Aditya Roy Kapur), a consistently bare-chested gladiator/blacksmith Zafar (Varun Dhawan), a renown courtesan (Madhuri Dixit), and the lovely Roop (Bhatt), who reluctantly agrees to be wife number two out of obligation and familial pressures.
I’m all for the 90s drama of yore – Kshatriya and Parampara were right up my alley back in the day, and it’s obvious that was kind of the intent here (the film was conceptualised years ago, so that figures), but the problem sitting through Kalank is, that as an audience we’re really spoilt in terms of the digital content that we consume these days, so sloppiness, however spectacular it looks, won’t really wash as easily anymore. So if you have a bullfight and it looks shite (my god, I should be a poet), we will notice. If you have a scene where one of the protagonists is visibly inebriated, only to hop behind a wheel, sober AF in the next, we will notice. If one of your protagonists is terminally ill and on death’s door, but looks astonishingly radiant, you guessed it, we will notice! And more importantly, if the characterisation is artificial and the effort laboured and so painstakingly obvious, despite all the performers being incredibly easy on the eye (it was difficult to look at Dhawan’s face with that distracting torso on display), we’ll just cease to give a toss. Maybe that’s a little brutal. But there are many many such blemishes here, which didn’t really sit quite right with me, and as much as I wanted to go easy on this film (its star cast being a principal reason), it proved to be an arduous task to let mediocrity slip by that nonchalantly.
Inevitably it’s left to its cast then to salvage Kalank’s spectacular frames, and unsurprisingly, they get the job done, but with the names that were in the credits, you can’t help but feel a little underwhelmed with what’s dished out here, however over-cooked it may be.
Dixit expectedly, is regal, and delivers some of her lines with unbridled panache, but there’s nowhere near enough of her, and the screenplay would have benefited from delving a little deeper into her forbidden love story with Balraj Chaudhary (Sanjay Dutt, disappointingly one note, and billed as a special appearance, but inexplicably in the proceedings throughout). Seeing Dixit and Dutt together in one frame will invoke nostalgia, and I’m sure that’s definitely the idea here but the script should have milked more of this rare opportunity, given their lines have an air of irony about them given the duo’s history, and because let’s face it, it’s unlikely to happen ever again is it?
Bhatt meanwhile, looks astonishingly beautiful and has been styled to perfection, but never quite seems to connect with her character, or the era, and it’s not for her lack of trying mind. She’s still by far, the best thing in the film and her chemistry with Dhawan (suitably smouldering and not without his share of moments), elevates the proceedings somewhat, but to rely solely on them to resuscitate the going’s on is a serious lapse in judgement on Varman’s part. In a similar vein, Roy Kapur tries to infuse life into his stoic, deadpan persona, but never really gets anywhere, despite looking irresistibly handsome.
There are other stray cameos here and there that go largely unnoticed too. Kiara Advani who flits in and out of the frame whenever convenient, potentially deserved a meatier part, because we’re led to believe that her and Zafar are actually a ‘thing’, while Kriti Sanon looks suitably delicious in her item number, but it’s hardly one that will stay with you. Kunal Khemu, gets his moments but again, we never get an insight into his character arc, because the film jumps to and fro so frequently.
At the end of it all you’re left exasperated by the hap-hazardness of it all and perhaps even a little pissed because both us as an audience and the stars themselves deserved better.
Eternal love? Not sure. Eternal headache? Let me get back to you on that one.