Director: Abhishek Varman
Cast: Madhuri Dixit-Nene, Sonakshi Sinha, Alia Bhatt, Varun Dhawan, Aditya Roy Kapur, Sanjay Dutt
Abhishek Varman’s much-anticipated film Kalank, despite the mixed verdict from critics, opened to a good audience turnout. Yours truly, who had missed out on the morning show found it practically impossible to get tickets for an afternoon show as theatres were completely booked. It was kind of reassuring.
Kalank, a pre-Partition drama about star-crossed lovers Roop (Alia Bhatt) and Zafar (Varun Dhawan) is the millennial reprised version of films like Yash Chopra’s Waqt that settle for historical events as a backdrop to family sagas.
The story set in a fictitious city Husnabad close to Lahore is about Zafar, an ironsmith and also the illegitimate child born of an affair between Bahaar Begum (Madhuri Dixit-Nene) and Balraj Chaudhary (Sanjay Dutt).
Roop, born to a poor musician, is expected to marry Dev Chaudhary (Aditya Roy Kapur), the aristocratic owner of a newspaper to change the family fortunes. When Dev’s cancer-stricken wife Satya (Sonakshi Sinha) shows up asking for her hand as a companion of sorts, it's just too tempting an offer to be passed up. This arrangement is agreed upon and Roop finds herself in a new home and an awkward relationship.
Zafar, on the other hand, seeks revenge. He wants to destroy Balraj Chaudhary's family name and in the restless Roop, he finds the perfect opportunity to do so. It's the perfect recipe for a love story with disastrous consequences.
Shibani Bathija's story was ripe for the explorations of both human frailties and greatness. And what better way to put those to test than throw them in a crisis and sit back to watch the outcome. Kalank does all of that but the two that really truly reveal themselves are Roop and Zafar. As for the rest, the screenplay, unfortunately, does not allow the fine ensemble enough room for standout performances.
Instead, way too much time is spent on the close-ups of a glowing Alia and shirtless Varun beating hot iron into swords. As an aside, during the promotions of 2 States, producer Karan Johar had ribbed director Abhishek Varman endlessly about nursing a crush on Alia! After watching Alia's countless close-ups, I admit, I did wonder if there was any truth to it!
On the upside, all actors, especially the supporting ones, despite the scant attention paid to their character details, hold forth, adding heft to scenes where they can. Madhuri as the imperious courtesan torn between her love for a wronged son and her duty to act righteously is delightful. Her fans will complain about her being given precious little to do but she is impressive, regardless of the screen time. Aditya, despite having fewer scenes, as well as Kunal Kemmu, hold their own.
The lead pair has its famed on-screen chemistry intact but individually too, they put in competent performances. Varun gets better with every film and in Kalank, he again surpasses expectations, as does Alia.
Director Sanjay Leela Bhansali's grandiose, operatic influence in songs and set design is more than evident especially in the way that Hira Mandi, the abode of Bahaar Begum, is designed. Costumes by Maxima Basu and Ajay Kumar are the last word in ethnic chic and are likely to set a few trends.
To sum it up, Director Abhishek Varman dresses up this old fashioned family drama well and reprises it for a whole new generation.