Kalank movie cast: Varun Dhawan, Alia Bhatt, Aditya Roy Kapoor, Sanjay Dutt, Madhuri Dixit, Kunal Khemmu, Sonakshi Sinha, Achint Kaur
Kalank movie director: Abhishek Varman
Kalank movie rating: One and a half stars
There’s a lot going on in Kalank: pre-Partition rumblings between Hindus and Muslims in fictional Husnabad near Lahore, illegitimate sons, dutiful daughters, ‘tawaaifs’ and ‘gaana-bajaana’, incurable diseases and wasting wives, all wrapped in love and betrayal and revenge.
It’s the kind of crowded multi-star cast movie which used to be made to appeal to a worshipful fan base back in the 70s. The inclusion of lavish song-and-dances, which includes ‘mujras’ and celebration of religious ‘tyohars’, and ‘mohabbat’ and ‘pyaar ka izhaar’ between Hindu and Muslim characters reminds you of the Muslim socials which were also so popular in that era.
Kalank is stuffed with stars, big and small: Sanjay Dutt and Madhuri Dixit come together after years. Varun Dhawan, Alia Bhatt, Sonakshi Sinha, Aditya Roy Kapoor, Kunal Khemmu are there too: that’s a whole lot of people to keep track of, in a movie whose scale and scope and ambition is epic.
If it had all come together the way it was intended to, this would have been a great throwback to the time Hindi cinema made movies in which the drama felt rooted, effort was expended in building characters, and the plot was buoyed by the presence of stars.
Sadly, the promise Kalank holds out is frittered away in its inordinate length, which you start feeling quite soon after it opens. The pace slows so often that you are left admiring the period detailing from the 1944-45-46 years, and there’s a lot to admire, in the movie’s havelis and ‘bazaars’ and other florid locations. That and the slack treatment: a film so expansive should also have the tools to ramp up the drama and be consistent with it.
You end up clutching at stray moments. Varun Dhawan as a ‘haraami’ offspring of a respectable father and not-so-respectable mother, all bare torso agleam, as he goes about fighting fake-looking bulls and brandishing swords, is a good fit for his part. Alia and Madhuri, all flowy and bejeweled, grab our attention in a few of their exchanges. As does the always solid Khemmu, whenever he comes on.
The film is dripping with the kind of dialogue we used to hear in yesteryear cinema: ‘yeh shaadi nahin, samjahuta hai’; ‘hadein sarhadon ki hoti hain soch ki nahin; main izzazat ya keemat ke bagair auraton ko haath nahin lagaata’ and so on and on. But except for Dhawan and Khemmu who chew on their lines with some amount of relish, the dialogues feel mouthed rather than felt, even between the veteran duo of Dutt and Dixit. Those two, whose characters share a past, should have left the screen a-smoulder (remember them in ‘Khalnayak’?): but they come off stilted and distant. As does the film.
Befitting a story set in the years leading up to the Partition, we get glimpses of the growing unrest between the Hindus and Muslims; we hear about the rise of the Muslim League and Jinnah, and the demand for two nations based on religion. There are initial attempts at showing both groups equally guilty of losing their moorings, but the climatic depiction of skull-cap-wearing, kohl-eyed, sword-waggling blood-thirsty Muslims chasing after innocent characters skews the narrative.
There is enough and more here, plot-wise, for a bunch of films. But finally, despite Varun Dhawan and Alia Bhatt’s histrionics (the former looking as if he could well belong to that era, and Bhatt staying watchable, if increasingly, exasperatingly familiar), and Dixit’s wondrous dancing abilities (nobody can touch her when it comes to the grace she displays when she is on the floor), Kalank doesn’t really lift off the screen. The whole feels like a giant set, stately and ponderous and minus impact; the cast all costumed and perfumed and largely life-less, sparking only in bits and pieces. As a character says, two-thirds into the film, ‘yeh kissa yahin nipat jaata’.
That would have been the best thing