Pre-independence and Partition-era stories are always the most striking. They cover the lives of people torn apart from their families, their land, their identity. Alia Bhatt- and Varun Dhawan-starrer Kalank takes a similar story of love and loss, and places it in a fantastical time where real-life conflicts seem purely incidental.
The multi-starrer film from Dharma Productions, directed by Abhishek Varman, tries to go the Sanjay Leela Bhansali way with ornate, larger-than-life sets, extravagant scenes, and dramatic lines. But somewhere in the elaborate dance numbers, Kalank loses sight of the crux of its story — the context in which it’s set.
India is on the brink of gaining Independence set to be partitioned. And this setting has been extensively used by filmmakers to place a love story in the middle of chaos. But Abhishek Varman here fails to make use of it and leaves you surprised on several occasions, often making you suddenly realise that Kalank is actually set in 1945 and not in the 1600s (or in a magical land going by the last two minutes).
As for the love story, the signature feature of all Dharma Productions — the love triangle — forms the centre of this one as well. Roop (Alia Bhatt) enters into an odd marriage of convenience with a man born into an influential family. She unwittingly falls in love with the perceived enemy and is caught in the crosshairs of family secrets, communal violence, and a country undergoing its darkest ordeal.
Alia Bhatt, Aditya Roy Kapoor and Varun Dhawan make for a good-looking trio but that’s where the pros end. Aditya Roy Kapoor leaves a lot to be desired from a character who is clearly meant to be nuanced, and comes across as dull and stoic. Alia Bhatt performs with her usual zeal, but with another brave-young-woman character, she may be on the verge of being typecast. Varun Dhawan, surprisingly, is the only one who is somewhat believable but goes overboard in places. Sonakshi Sinha, Madhuri Dixit and Sanjay Dutt are satisfactory but not memorable. The real let-down, however, is Kunal Khemu as the friend-turned-foe. The character’s grey strokes have the potential of making a real mark on the viewer but Khemu struggles to make impact of any kind.
While the cinematography, writing, and editing are technically good, the film is excruciatingly long. The seven-minute songs and three-minute scenes of actors looking longingly at each other remind you of a bygone era of cinema. Period dramas are, understandably, long but not so much so that you wonder if the real ‘kalank’ is on you, the viewer, for proving that you have three hours to waste on a story that is memorable only until the popcorn lasts.