There is really only one main thing that lets the entire film down and that's its running time.
With multi-starrers currently seeming like the in thing in B-town, the arrival of ‘Kalank’ was heavily anticipated. The film looks like the ultimate casting coup with Sanjay Dutt and Madhuri Dixit-Nene coming together after two decades. Aside from this, Varun Dhawan and Alia Bhatt return for a film away from the usual light-hearted genre they have enjoyed success in and they are joined by fresh pairing Sonakshi Sinha and Aditya Roy Kapur. Directed by Abhishek Varman, after his success in 2014 with ‘2 States’, this Dharma Productions and Nadiadwala Grandson Entertainment film promises a hell of a lot but does it really deliver something as spectacular as the audiences are waiting for?
Roop (Bhatt) is convinced by Satya (Sinha) to spend a year in her household, making a bond with her husband Dev (Roy Kapur), as she is dying of cancer. When Roop insists on marrying Dev before she makes that shift, things get a little complicated. Once they’re married, Dev makes it clear that he will always respect Roop but his love is for Satya and Satya only. As such, Roop sets out to fulfil a passion of hers of singing but hearing the voice of Bahaar Begum (Dixit-Nene) everyday awakens a desire in her to learn singing from only her. The only snag is that she will need to enter Hira Mandi which Dev’s father Bajraj (Dutt) has forbidden anyone in the family from doing. Eventually he’s convinced to let her do so and she meets Zafar (Dhawan) who takes an instant liking to her. Will he be the one that comes in the way of Satya’s plan for Dev and Roop to come together after she’s passed or will Roop resist his advances?
Those who compared the glimpses the trailer gave with Bhansali’s signature cinema are right to have done so. Noone in Hindi cinema has ever had the impact and command Bhansali has on making each scene beautiful… until Mr Abhishek Varman. He manages to put his own stamp on period dramas with the way he puts the scenes together in this film. There are some scenes and settings which are absolutely exquisite and his vision is clear when it comes to the impact he wants to have and the costumes matching the backdrops. The particular ones that stand out are the Dussehra enactment which is happening when Roop enters Hira Mandi and is making her way to Bahaar Begum’s haweli and also when Bajraj and Bahaar Begum meet. The settings throughout seem to take you on a journey of themselves and this is nothing short of a Bhansali effect. The only downfall comes when audiences are told that the era is of the 1940s but some of the costumes and settings don’t seem to quite reflect this. For example the Aira Gaira song looks very modern day and the song First Class is not something you’d expect in a period film. There is often some confusion on these small things throughout the film and you can very obviously see the contemporary when you really shouldn’t.
As far as performances go, the film absolutely belongs to Dhawan, Bhatt and Roy Kapur – arguably. Dhawan is effective as Zafar in every scene apart from one but that’s through no fault of his own. He manages to perfect the rather complicated character of Zafar in all his emotions and this is good to see him do – especially as he’s changed his entire look for the film; which works in his favour. Bhatt is, as expected, great as Roop and her very simple costumes and make-up give her a fresh appeal amongst all the other characters. She also manages to get into the skin of her character well so that the audiences can identify even in situations where it’s difficult to do so. Roy Kapur is an absolute revelation. He plays his understated character of Dev with panache and his soulful and silent ability to leave the audiences wanting more works very well in the grand scheme of things. Also, he’s very quietly authoritative which suits him to a tee, especially in his scenes with Dutt. Sinha plays a shorter role than the others and her chemistry with Roy Kapur as well as her scenes with Bhatt set the scene for the rest of the film. Dixit-Nene is one performance many will have been waiting for but sadly she isn’t as great as expected. She plays the role of Bahaar Begum very well but it’s evident that she’s been made to look much older than she normally looks and this lets her down quite a bit. Her quite dramatic scenes are also a letdown somewhat but it is good to see the scene she shares with Dutt as this is truly a nostalgic moment. Dutt himself is in a special appearance but oddly seems to have more screen-time than Sinha. He’s good as the strong patriarch but doesn’t really leave much of a lasting impact.
Aside from the main cast, Kiara Advani has a small role beyond her appearance in First Class and she is the right dose of glamorous even though her costumes do seem very much more contemporary than the 1940s throughout the film. Kunal Khemu is also a revelation as Abdul and seems to creep up on the audiences as the story unravels. Seeing him in such a role in such a film is something different and fresh and his performance is applauseworthy. It’s also good to see Hiten Tejwani appear in a few scenes as Abbas.
The soundtrack of the film is somewhat a saving grace in some places of the story – especially the title track which is a beautiful song. Also, Ghar More Pardesiya and Rajvaadi Odhni are very well choreographed and picturised tracks starring Bhatt and Dixit-Nene. Aira Gaira brings in Kriti Sanon as a special appearance and seeing her shake a leg with Dhawan and Roy Kapur is a joy to watch – despite the very modern feel which doesn’t really represent the era.
There is really only one main thing that lets the entire film down and that’s its running time. There are scenes which can be cut completely or cut short and this sadly lessens the impact of some which could’ve seen the film elevated to another level. It is an intertwined story and it seems Varman has been keen to make sure all the dots add up but the audiences are very capable of doing that themselves if they were trusted enough to. To mention a few, the scene between Bahaar Begum and Zafar before the interval is too long, as well as the climax which absolutely feels like it goes on forever. Also, the scene where Zafar is seen fighting with the bull was not only unnecessary within the story but also shows special effects going wrong as it’s so unrealistic that it’s almost an insult to the audience in a time where VFX in India has taken leaps in recent years.
If you’ve decided to watch this one, be prepared to be in the cinema for around an hour or so longer than you should be (because that’s how much the film could’ve been shortened by). Also, look out for the (as expected) perfect chemistry between Bhatt and Dhawan who seem to re-define themselves as a pairing in this film. Seeing Dhawan and Roy Kapur together is also quite something else. The best part of the film is the picturesque world that the characters live in and this is by no way an exaggeration. However, if you’re expecting a film which leaves you wanting more overall and being one of the most beautiful to watch on screen at the same time, you’re simply asking for a little too much.