Even a week out of watching the newly-released and highly-anticipated saga, I’m still baffled as to how a film can be so overwhelming, yet underwhelming all at the
same time. I walked into the dark theater hoping to be enlightened by Kalank, a story set in pre-independence and pre-partition India, and instead, I walked out feeling laughably confused, both about what I’d just seen and how I felt about it all.
The film opens up with the revelation that Satya (Sonakshi Sinha) is suffering from a terminal illness and is nearing her untimely death. Knowing that she has very little time left, she takes it upon herself to find a companion for her husband, Dev Chaudhary (Aditya Roy Kapur). She requests that Roop (Alia Bhatt) live with her family and get to know Dev over a year, and despite her initial reluctance, Roop agrees to do so, but only as Dev’s second wife. Throughout the movie, we meet characters like Zafar (Varun Dhawan), Bahaar Begum (Madhuri Dixit) and Balraj Chaudhary (Sanjay Dutt), who we learn have interconnected pasts that become the underlying catalysts for each character’s modus operandi. Without giving too much away, for Bahaar Begum, this means her constant need for acceptance from major figures in her life, while Balraj is motivated by his past to maintain and protect the honor of his family. Zafar, staying true to his name, simply hopes to emerge victorious over all those who have wronged him. After an eventful first half hour that essentially lays out the entire story before us, the remainder of the movie can be summed up by Alia Bhatt’s opening line of the trailer: “Meri ghusse mein liye gayi ek faisle ne hum sab ki zindagi barbaad kardi / My one anger-inspired decision ruined all of our lives.”
Karan Johar’s latest production delivered the quintessential glitz and glamour, which I admittedly found to be a visual treat. However, this is one of many of out-of-place, unrealistic qualities this film has to offer. The sets, while beautiful to say the very least, are unexplainably baroque considering the time period in question, especially the sets of Heera Mandi, which was described as the “kaala dhabba” of the city, but literally looked like a film set as if this was the intended impact. Overall, I felt as if more care and attention to detail was given to the sets and design rather than to what I think should be more highly regarded: the actual story…
...Which brings me to my next pain point - what even was the editing in this movie?! I’m not the most tech savvy person out there, and yet, I truly believe I could have done a much better job with my mediocre iMovie skills. This film was so choppy, as if someone dropped the script into a shredder and struggled to put the pieces back together in time to start filming. There were many misplaced scenes and counterintuitive scene switches; the worst of this is seen when Varun Dhawan is literally mid-sentence when he is abruptly interrupted by the title track. I remember staring at the screen in shock, mouth wide open, wondering how someone could overlook such blatant disorganization. These weren’t subtle mistakes by any means, and overall, they resulted in a general lack of flow and sense in the story. For instance, the first time we see Roop actually narrating the movie through an interview with a journalist ten years after the Partition is about 30-minutes into the movie, with no proper transition or introduction that would make us think that it’s occurring in the future. We’ve seen other movies take this approach in a much more effective way, such as Ae Dil Hai Mushkil and Sanju. Considering that the directing team isn’t full of novices in the field, I was honestly taken aback by the amatuer execution in this sense. Also, I faced a chicken-and-egg situation here, because I felt that part of the blame of the lack of flow and organization could be attributed to the actual writing of the movie. On one hand, there were so many holes in the story, and on the other, we’d see scenes that were honestly unnecessary and of no value to the overall story (i.e. Varun’s bull-fighting scene and all but one of Kiara Advani’s scenes). Even a song as enjoyable as Aira Gaira could have been removed from the movie, if nothing more than to reduce the run time, since its only real purpose in the movie from my perspective was to bring the two male leads together for a hit song. Ultimately, I wish more attention was paid towards scenes that would even remotely add depth to an otherwise lacking movie.
Lastly, what I personally found to be most disappointing about Kalank was its portrayal of the India-Pakistan Partition. I’ve had a vested interest in the topic for quite some time, and have tried to soak up all that I can from its representation in entertainment, whether that be from Pakistani dramas like Dastaan and Aangan, or Bollywood movies like 1947: Earth. When I realized that Kalank would cover this topic, I was looking forward to seeing how it would be depicted on such a grand scale and platform considering the production teams behind the film. I did have a slight worry that it might be one-dimensional and biased, and unfortunately, that’s exactly what we were shown. Kunal Khemu’s character, Abdul Khan, is a Muslim blacksmith who leads a group of rebels demanding the partition of the Indian subcontinent on religious lines. We see his character instigating and garnering communal hostility towards the Chaudhary family for their support of the British colonization. In the climax, he is seen at the forefront of riots against the Hindus of the city. In reality, there were riots, mobs and bloodshed on the hands of Muslims and Hindus alike, but in Kalank, we only saw one group inflicting harm on the other. As a Muslim, this hit very close to home and also contributed to how unrealistic the movie was for me. To make matters worse, I felt as if the Partition was only arbitrarily in the background, thrown in to add mirchi to the climax and to close out the story, instead of being a main plotline of the movie. Movies and books that handle this effectively have invested so much in both time and depth to where such topics become an additional, active character, without which the story would be noticeably incomplete. In Kalank, Partition and the tensions related to it only became relevant in the last half hour of the movie, so it really might as well have not been in the story at all. For a topic of this magnitude and significance, I hoped that it would be given more importance and attention. I believe that movies about sensitive topics like this have a responsibility to do justice to the matter. It truly felt like the team of Kalank missed a golden opportunity to shed light on a tragic time that had a lasting impact on our culture and history.
Take a walk through my brain! Here are some other thoughts I had while watching Kalank:
Rajvaadi Odhni should have been promoted! Such a great entrance for Alia Bhatt and the song is beautiful!
Why was it necessary to contour Varun Dhawan’s abs?
Did they have 4th of July-level fireworks in the 1940s?
Aditya Roy Kapur and Sonakshi Sinha actually made my heart ache. They were probably the only characters I felt for throughout the whole movie.
The songs are so much more fun to watch and listen to on the big screen!
Train station scene = DDLJ vibes - Jaa Simran, jee le apni zindagi.
Kalank was a miss for me, but don’t let this stop you from watching the movie and forming your own opinion! Leave us a comment below, and let us know what you thought of the movie!