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Kalank (2019) Reviews
Cast - Alia Bhatt, Varun Dhawan, Madhuri Dixit
Director: Abhishek Varman
Rating: 2.5/5

Kalank is a doomed story of love, set in the time of Partition. It’s mounted as a grand multi-starrer; a timeless tragic epic that runs 169 minutes long, and is crammed with exquisitely choreographed songs, grandiose sets, and gorgeous costumes. But Madhuri Dixit’s character could as well be talking about the film when she says to a young singer, “Awaaz achchi hain, bas namak kam hain.” It’s true; director Abhishek Varman brings the razzle-dazzle, but the passion is missing.

You could blame it on the tired telling of a moth-eaten tale, set in 1944 in the fictional town of Husnabad on the outskirts of Lahore. Good thing it’s fictional because the geographical landscape is mind-boggling. One minute we see Venetian-type canals with giant lotuses, or streets straight out of a Rajasthani town. Is this ‘Bhansaliville’, a mish-mash of the sets from Saawariya and Ram-Leela? But then suddenly there’s a romantic scene in what I could swear looked like Ladakh, and then we’re transported to a Gladiator-style arena in what appears to be Afghanistan. It’s bewildering, but location is the least of the film’s problems.

Let’s face it – the story, by Shibani Bathija, is passé. Varun Dhawan is a bastard – no really, I mean it. His character Zafar was conceived outside of noble union, and he’s reminded of this fact every single day and by practically everyone he meets on the street. “Woh najayaz,” someone will say. “Woh har****,” another voice utters. When it isn’t someone else saying it, Zafar frequently addresses himself this way. But wait, I’m digressing. 

A seething Zafar, who is a blacksmith in the city’s red-light district Hira Mandi, wants revenge for being rejected at birth by his rich father Balraj Chaudhury (Sanjay Dutt). He burns with angst against his mother, famed courtesan Bahar Begum (Madhuri Dixit), for the shame he has to bear for his illegitimacy. When the opportunity presents itself, he decides to exact vengeance by seducing Roop (Alia Bhatt), the second-wife of Balraj’s ‘legitimate’ son Dev (Aditya Roy Kapur). The architect of Roop’s and our own misery is Satya (Sonakshi Sinha), Dev’s dying wife, who coerces Roop to marry her husband.

Varman, who has also written the film’s screenplay, tries desperately to stoke this dramatic saga right up to the bloody climax of Partition riots. There are some high-energy moments like the confrontation between former lovers Balraj and Bahar, or the electric undercurrents between Zafar and Roop. But not every idea lands. A clumsy CGI duel between Zafar and an angry bull sticks out like a sore thumb. A dance number featuring Zafar and Dev with Kriti Sanon making a cameo is entirely gratuitous. The verbose dialogues, by Hussain Dalal, are a real mouthful, and seldom roll off the actors’ tongues with ease.

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