Abhishek Varman’s magnum opus is visually rich but falls back terribly due to pathetic execution
Since 2019 arrived, this was undoubtedly the most awaited one. Why not? Be it Sanjay-Madhuri appearing together after ages, Karan Johar’s emotional connect with the story as he has maintained, Madhuri being roped in after Sridevi’s death or even the arguments that it’s a visible imitation of Bhansali’s signature, Kalank is right on the way to fetching the audience in the smartest way possible. The film works at two levels, both inherently connected and equally noticeable. While it appeals to you initially with the presentation and effort the makers have taken, its the same build-up that also takes you away from the reality, so much so that you curse yourself for having bought the ticket in the first place. Utterly disappointing, in short.
Its 1946. Living in Husnabad near Lahore, Satya Chaudhry (Sonakshi Sinha) asks a family friend in Rajputana, Roop (Alia Bhatt) to marry her husband Dev (Aditya Roy Kapoor) as her last wish after she’s diagnosed with last stage of cancer. Hesitant at first, Roop gives in. Their lives however change after she falls in love with Zafar (Varun Dhawan), an ironsmith in Hiramandi , an infamous locality- the red light area.
Let’s face it. Story by Shibani Bhathija is layered, something that can be called an out-an-out filmy tale. Its not at novel though. With every ingredient present that makes a typical conventional masala film, this one here fails to score merit points. Also the screenplay by Varman isn’t able to give justice to even what is reasonably good. Here, it must also be noticed that the appeal seems to dampen the spirit also because the expectations are too many.
Situations take place in a very casual way and clearly the makers have not bothered to give the narrative a flow. While the first half is still tolerable since it establishes the characters, just 5 mins into the second half, you start waiting for the film to end. To add to your woes, the film is 168 mins long, too much to test your patience.
The story is set in pre-independence era, the only thing that gives the film some meaning. Otherwise the story isn’t anything to even pay attention to. Religious notions, industries leading to unemployment, businesses falling apart due to partition, and identifying with one’s land are merely touched upon. The main thing is the love story- that too very superficial. Apart from a couple of historic references, there is nothing in the script that sets it apart from any tale set in 2019.
Dialogues by Hussain Dalal should have been clearly more relatable. Of course at points they seem justified given the scale of the film but redundancy could be avoided clearly. Every other notion is laced with heavy and cheesy one liners, and you see very clearly that there wasn’t the need for that. With entry sequence of Alia reminding you of Mann Mohini of Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and exquisite sets taking you close to Bhansali’s making but not in terms of his sensibilities, it seems a chance let gone.
While the film rests majorly on art direction, even that loses its value and meaning because you are never really concerned about characters or what happens to them. Also, its not something you haven’t seen. Mission failed on this part. Forced heroism, unnecessary stretching of set-ups, and weaving in of sequences that don’t affect the film in any way bore you to an extent, that during the last 45 mins of the film, you are fed up of the drama.
Sanjay Dutt and Madhuri Dixit, both can be judged on similar parameters. Although the characterization is vastly different, their graph is similar. Both the senior actors have not contributed significantly to the plot. While Dutt is still fine, Madhuri isn’t “The Madhuri” at all. She’s fake and actually annoying. She seems to have acted in the film for some very big helplessness in life. She doesn’t bring any charm to the plot.
Varun Dhawan is plastic, most of the times. Forced heroism doesn’t suit him. Was he asked to watch file footage of SRK and imitate him? He’s actually in SRK zone and never really sheds it aside. Ofcourse, he never matches SRK in acting though. Since Varun is a decent actor, you don’t expect such naivety from him in a character that otherwise has an arc. He clearly overacts.
Alia Bhatt is brilliant. Her role is well carved and she gets the maximum scope to perform. She’s a genius when it comes to getting in the skin of the character, her earlier films are a testimony. Here also, whether she is dancing effortlessly in long takes or emoting through her eyes, she’s a charmer. This film infact can be watched only to admire her.
Aditya Roy Kapoor is okay, could be better. He has a strong role and he does manage well. You also wanted more of him. Sonakshi Sinha in a smaller but impact full role is way too good. She shows her different side and probably after Lootera, gives an act that is to be remembered.
Kunal Kemmu is superb. In fact after watching the film you feel he should have bern a part of promotions and not Dhawan. Kiara Advani is average. Nothing great to expect from her as actor here or from her character.
You also feel that instead of sticking to conventional etching of characters, the writers could have given some varied shades to the characters. Since the film is an ensemble, having stronger characters could have made sharper impact.
Music by Pritam is hit, for one. The songs have been doing great. But during the course of the film, instead of giving strength to the plot, they hamper the pace. In fact, you wish you had the forward button. Also, while the songs individually are okay, they don’t suit the era the film is set in. You definitely expect much better from a composer of Pritam’s sensibities. Background score by Sanchit-Ankit Balhara balances well. The scores created are impactful and give the plot a certain perspective.
Cinematography by Binod Pradhan is of superlative nature. He’s done his job fantastically where not only the story telling through camera is symbolic and meaningful, lighting too is extraordinary. The color palettes and elements in the frame give the film the much needed edge. Some frames even stand out for the compositions.
Production design by Amrita Mahal is grand, opulent, vibrant, visually rich, and all synonyms of such adjectives. The film with its sets grips you right from the first scene. However, they also seem plastic and artificial a lot of times, which could have been easily avoided. In fact, the sets at many points in the film seems a place in a parallel universe, hence you are not connected to the story through sets, as much as you should have.
Editing by Shweta Venkat Matthew is okay given the thin plot line. You are bored. You are fed up.
This one works in a 80-20 percentage. You like the people on screen and to some extent the rich colors. Apart from that, there is nothing in the film to even recommend it to others. There’s nothing you haven’t seen before. Love stories against 1947 partition and even definitive production design is obviously seen before. You are visually overwhelmed. You like the masala elements. But there are times when the film doesn’t feel real. Too much heroism in dialogues and cheesy emotions take you in a spot where its a turn off. This disappoints because this was easily fixable. It hurts to see a film of such scale falling apart. Wish it at least entertained.