Fox Star Studios, Dharma Productions & Nadiadwala Grandsons Entertainment present “Kalank”

Produced by: Hiroo Johar, Yash Johar, Sajid Nadiadwala & Apoorva Mehta

Directed by: Abhishek Verman

Written by: Shibani Bathija, Abhishek Verman & Hussain Dalal

Music: Pritam

Starring: Madhuri Dixit-Nene, Varun Dhawan, Alia Bhatt, Sonakshi Sinha, Aditya Roy Kapur, Sp. App.: Sanjay Dutt, Kriti Sanon, Kiara Advani, Kunal Khemu, Achint Kaur, Hiten Tejwani, Vikram Kapadia, Pavail Gulati, Deepak Qazir & others

Nine special appearances – and five lead artistes! If this movie works, this can start a new trend in Hindi cinema – of all supporting artistes, for reasons unknown, being billed this way, whether it is Kriti Sanon, who comes just for a song, or Sanjay Dutt and Kunal Khemu, who have key roles in the plot!

We are surprised that the late Yash Johar, who was as intelligent as he was emotional, first conceived this rather stretched and convoluted drama of six souls in torment, which, as a plot, tries to bridge a gap between eternal love and a stain on one’s character. There are also sizable bits of “Trishul” here, just as there was inspiration for “Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania” in “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge” and a tribute in a different way to “Kabhi Kabhie” in the ensemble “Kabhi Kushi Kabhie Gham…” as well. Note then, that Johar was a great friend, admirer and associate of the Yash Chopra, who produced or directed all the original sources!

If you dismantle the film into parts, we have three tragic love stories, an illegitimate offspring, a marriage of convenience, the horrors of Partition, communal frenzy then and the golden-hearted ‘tawaif’ all mixed up along with a musical angle of two heroines into music. Money unlimited is splurged on needless grandeur (the result seems, sadly, more like the soulless “Fitoor” directed by another Abhishek – Kapoor – rather than that of a Sanjay Leela Bhansali making sure that his content dominates the splendiferous packaging).

And that remains the main shortcoming of this shallow film that wants to be a family entertainer on love and relationships. The same – even if addle-pated – story could have been narrated in normal fashion, with normal houses, sets, locations and ambiance. At least the return on investment aspect would have been safer!

Roop (Alia Bhatt) listens to the dying Satya (Sonakshi Sinha)’s request to come down to Husnabad and live with her husband Dev (Aditya Roy Kapur) and her for a year, until she dies, in return for educating her sisters. Now why Roop and her father agree to this moth-headed idea is beyond comprehension even for the 1940s. Roop, being educated, places a condition – she has to marry Dev first so that she is not left in the lurch after Satya dies. Dev tells her that she will get respect and privileges in the Chowdhury household, headed by his father Balraj (Sanjay Dutt), but not love.

A music student, Roop is smitten by the faraway voice of ex-prostitute Bahaar Begum (Madhuri Dixit-Nene), whose one-time ‘kotha’ (where she now teaches music) is in Hiramandi, a nearby area of ill-repute. She insists on learning music there and impresses Bahaar. She also encounters the arrogant blacksmith Zafar (Varun Dhawan), who likes bedding every girl and is a total rebel as he knows that he is illegitimate and has been disowned by both his parents.

Zafar and Roop are attracted to each other, and Zafar’s friend Abdul, who is keen on Partition, tries to warn him that she is married, that too to Dev. Dev runs a well-known newspaper and wants that the nation remain one. While Satya is dying, Balraj tells his son that they should leave the town and move to Amritsar, as they can become victims of communal frenzy. Till she is alive, Dev refuses. But after her death, when he agrees to go with his father, Roop revolts. She loves Zafar, who is going to stay in Husnabad, right?

There is also a secret, of course, that anyone schooled in Hindi films will immediately cotton on to – Zafar’s illegitimacy. So is he after revenge or not, on his father/mother/parents?

To director Verman (also the screenplay writer) and his co-writers’ credit, the first half is largely gripping despite its length and convolution. We, therefore, place great hope on the always-more-crucial second half of this 168-minute marathon. But we almost see a different film and a definite plunging graph. Sequences are stretched almost to their elastic limit, and ennui prevails. Some of the motivations and actions of Roop, Zafar and Dev seem unfathomable and even fat-headedly stubborn. Besides, if a film is based around Partition, there has to be blood-curdling mass violence, right?

So does the stain on Zafar’s character go away? Does eternal love triumph? Does Zafar take his revenge on those who dumped him?

“Kalank” is ultimate proof, if needed, that new-age Hindi cinema and older concepts of complete, well-rounded stories are two diverse worlds that should not be mixed, especially by a confused director. After a long while, when 2018 saw at least five to six directors who came up with terrific second films after disastrous debuts, we see a filmmaker who gave us such a refreshing film in “2 States” tumbling and fumbling after that great debut.

We would like to modify that statement: Verman does extract solid performances from almost all his actors, films songs – created for the story – in an eye-catching manner and mounts the film on a grand scale, handicapped, however, by an indulgent script – but then, why did he green-light it?

Binod Pradhan’s camerawork is old-fashioned, the art direction (Amrita Mahal Nakai) magnificent and the crucial editing (Shweta Venkat Matthew) is constrained. The choreographers and costume designers do a great job, and Pritam’s background score is uniform, unlike his songs, which are a mixed bag. Lyricist Amitabh Bhattacharya invokes the lexicon of older times and mixes it with today’s lingo in relatable manner, without compromising on content.

The acting honors go to Alia Bhatt and Varun Dhawan, the former astounding us again with her sheer range and depth at this age. Dhawan is effortless, but his dialogue delivery could have been more serious considering the role. Aditya Roy Kapur, as usual, is underrated and after a shaky start, gets into solid ground with his low-profile character. Sonakshi Sinha is effective as Satya, and so is Madhuri Dixit Nene as Bahaar Begum. Kunal Khemu is excellent as Abdul, and Kriti Sanon, in the song “Aira Gaira” shows where she has reached in a very short innings – her expressions and dance moves are superb.

Speaking of dance, we expected superlative stuff from Dixit, but even Bhatt matches her, considering the difference in their experience and skills, and the long shots of both actresses are a treat to watch. Hiten Tejwani makes a mark in his role, but Kiara Advani’s ill-conceived character does not add anything to the film.

Overall, the film mysteriously loses its soul in the second half, and the explosive voltage of the Bahaar-Zafar confrontation in the first half simply cannot be matched by the calculated and synthetic feel of their meeting in the second half. Also, a sequence that should have been the emotional spine and highlight of the film, the meeting between Sanjay Dutt and Dixit, is a completely damp squib in the way it is written and enacted.

The film might open well on hype and the holiday opening, but beyond that, do not expect eternal love for it.

Rating: **1/2

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