In one of the defining scenes of Kalank, Roop breaks the fourth wall and throws a question back to the audience to know “To aapne is kahaani me kya dekha – Kalank ya Mohabbat? ” I wish she could hear me saying “Kaash kuchh to dikh jaata..”
And that in a nutshell is Kalank for me – a colossal disappointment as grand and as empty as the world it creates.
Abhishek Varman, who had created a much better film than the book it was based on in his earlier outing, has gone on a reverse gear on his storytelling and filmmaking craft with this film. This is a completely superficial and plastic world that gets weighed down by its own opulence and theatrical treatment in many different ways:
- This is a world where the access to a courtesan’s palatial home is only through gondola like boats when the setting needs to get a romantic feel, but can easily be accessed otherwise on road in a horse carriage in more intense and stressful moments!
- In this world, the production design wants to create a painting in every frame, so much so that you almost always find the background wall colors completely color coordinated with the foreground costumes irrespective of the location, and you almost begin questioning how the wall colors of the same locations keep instantly changing like magic!
- Here is a magical world where irrespective of whether you are in Husnabad on the other side or somewhere in the Indian Rajputana side, you can see snow-capped mountains, the barren desert sands, and at times lush blue water rivers all in the same frame!
- In this world, it is difficult to differentiate who is rich or who is poor because everyone is going around loaded in designer clothes, and even when someone is terminally ill, the person is always spic and span with not a single hair strand out of place or not a single dark spot on an ever glowing face!
- Here is a world, where every line delivered by every character is a quotable quote, but none of those hefty lines really feel spoken with any feelings at all!
- In the Kalank world, every twist in the tale can be seen from thousand miles, but is revealed by the makers as if it is the biggest secret ever to come out in a family drama seen hundred times over!
- This is also a world of 1940s where a woman can easily become a journalist without breaking a sweat, and finds no major resistance from her most respected in-laws home to casually land-up in a courtesan’s place (with a linked messy back story) to learn music, with hardly any sequences to follow up on the interest!
- This is the world where women in the background always seem to be moving in perfectly choreographed steps, and there is a patterned precision of color coordinated wardrobe and synchronized action even in men rioting on the streets of a burning city!
- It is the pre-independence world calling out partition in every second scene, marked by a conspicuous absence of any Britisher throughout the film! By the way, it is a highly skewed political world as well where only the Muslims talk about partition and bloodshed!
- In this fabricated world, heroism can only be proved if you are a victorious bull fighter, fighting a ridiculously funny CGI bull in a completely out of place Gladiator styled bull fight stadium in an alien terrain very different from the rest of the world you have been shown so far!
- And yes, we did notice a couple of blink and miss hand holding scenes forcibly inserted in the opening credits sequence of this world, as if to forcefully draw attention to the correction done on the CGI blunder involving a metal hand from the trailer!
All this when major scenes of the film feel lifted in texture and spirit not just from the Sanjay Leela Bhansali world, but many other worlds of Dharma and Yash Raj as well. So Roop with a kite in her hand is introduced in a scene which is a mish-mash of Nandini’s running away from the screen in manmohini and singing lai de lai de rajvaadi odhni instead of a nimbooda! Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam is again remembered in another scene where two men bond over a common woman in their lives not knowing who they are, or that they are talking about the same woman, Roop / Nandini as the case may be! In the continuing sequence, the inspiration shifts to Life in a Metro, where one shattered soul inspires the other to scream out loud with all their energy to release all the pent up stress, only that the sequence became such a beautiful part of Anurag Basu’s film unlike here. Bahaar Begum in Kalank resides in a world that breathes and visually feels exactly similar as that of Chandramukhi’s from Devdas, again sans the pain and soul of the later. The Chowdhry’s seem to be resident of the same bunglow as the Syed’s from Raazi at least from the outside (Dharma trying to reuse and save money?), and one cannot help but remember Paakhi Roy Choudhury from Lootera as the inspiration to create almost every frame of Satya. Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge finds its obvious reference not just in the much publicized train sequence, but also in how Roop talks about her destiny aligning herself to Zafar’s mighty force of attraction. In fact, Roop’s and Zafar’s romance is built on Dharma heavily self-referencing itself back to ideas from Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna’s evolution of the extra marital relationship or Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham’s romance between unequals on manicured streets and bazaars. No wonder then that at one point Karan Johar wanted Shah Rukh Khan to play Zafar, because the character is a rehash from various shades of multiple characters Khan has played in earlier Johar films.
And yet, it is the central romance between Roop and Zafar, which a Karan Johar backed film should have ideally aced even in sleep, that comes across as the weakest of everything in the film. The primary reason for the same comes down to how poorly Roop has been written through and through. It is impossible to find logic in any of her character motivations, right from wanting to suddenly learn music, to her sudden attraction to a man on the streets without rhyme and reason. And no, an unhappy marriage or her stubbornness to break free does not explain that. To top it up, Alia Bhatt comes across as severely miscast as Roop, and right from her Katthak dance to her emoting for Zafar in the most intense scenes, she completely misses becoming Roop. In spite of her getting the maximum screen time in such a long film, it is possibly her weakest performance since her debut film. Varun Dhawan gets the meatiest role of the film in Zafar who has the opportunity to display multiple shades of a complex character, and he does not let the opportunity go off. In spite of some major challenges with his diction in quite a few places, Varun’s is one of the better performances of the film, he does play it to the gallery as required by the script, and does outshine the presence of veterans when they are in common frames. However, one does feel the absence of the megastar for this larger than life massy character as Zafar is a role tailor made for Shah Rukh Khan.
It is painful to see how writers are stuck in their mind while envisaging characters for Madhuri Dixit, giving her almost the same arc, the same theatrical high browed pitch and similar rehearsed superficial lines in every film in a garb to highlight her grace. Bahaar Begum and Madhuri hence feel so repetitive and plastic, that it almost becomes impossible to get invested in her pain and suffering at any moment. Hence, even her maternal advice to the next generation to save lives, or her coming together with Dutt in the same frame after decades does not generate any sparks or make any connect with the audience. Sanjay Dutt as Balraj Chowdhry adds further to the dullness, and his overall involvement in the character feels as distant as his spaced out positon from Dev across tables. Sonakshi Sinha as Satya is practically reduced to an extended cameo, and it is a problem for the script if she keeps looking like a million bucks even when she is not supposed to. She makes an impact even in her small presence and together with Dev features in some of the most endearing moments of the film. But it is Aditya Roy Kapur in his restrained act of Dev Chowdhry who is the most impressive in the film and steals the show from everyone around consistently (other than when he has to dance with Varun Dhawan in a dual with the focus of the song being completely on Dhawan). The man shows some surprising chemistry both with Alia Bhatt and Sonakshi Sinha to evoke varied emotions of humor, respect, love, pain and charm across scenes, but for the over-dramatic climax where the camera is not much interested in him for the most part and he is almost forgotten for a few moments. This could be one of the best written characters for Kapur ever, and he aces it with a very sophisticated easy going charm. The same cannot be said about the writing of the rest of the characters. Even Kunal Khemu’s attempt to stand out goes waste as his character is strictly one note.
The poor writing across many of these characters gets majorly amplified by the messy job at the editing table as well. The non-linear narrative is forcibly introduced and other than some abrupt jumps and cuts does nothing to add sparks to the boring film. We don’t even know why was Roop narrating such a dull story to anyone. Hadn’t it been her home production, no one else would have printed it! May be, a good story was never the focus of this film. The film wants itself to flourish and stand apart in its spectacularly grand cinematography, but even that impact is drastically reduced because the ambiance that it wants to capture is all so synthetic! The appreciation for the amount of hard work gone behind creating this designer world of Kalank is somewhere lost in its own fabricated grandeur, and while one may eye all the classy collection of shawls of Dutt, or the rich chikankari wardrobe of Bhatt, they fail to create the desired impact when stitched in tandem with the rest of the technical fabric of the film.
The soundtrack, which is usually otherwise a strong point of the Dharma universe, is equally soulless as rest of the film. The first forty five minutes of the film begins to feel like a music video with four songs of various moods almost playing in quick succession of each other and none of them making an impact. Ghar More Pardesia sounds better than the rest, but the makers completely miss the opportunity to add some sort of subtext to the caricaturishly flamboyant Dusshera world that they create. One will never be able to explain why a Roop suddenly engages herself in a jugalbandi at Bahaar Begum’s alien world in a performance that completely falls flat. For all the hype built around Kalank title track, it lacks even more namak that Pardesiya, while all the dramatic build-up before Tabaah Ho Gaye still can’t justify the disastrous choreography of that song with some of Madhuri’s steps even appearing as stitched together graphically. This set piece miserably failing is far more painful than the emotions of this song and its storytelling. The background score of the film is much better than the songs, but there is a very strong semblance of Titanic as it constantly plays along in many haunting moments of the film.
For a film that is full of quotable lines from start to finish, let us then summarize Kalank borrowing from itself. We tried to watch the film with a very large heart as the characters request twice over in this film, in an attempt to forgive and forget with time. Forget, we will. Forgive, not so sure!
Kalank ke liye na to izzat hogi, na pyaar!
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