Kalank is textured like a Sanjay Leela Bhansali film, there is no getting away from this comparison, from magnificent sets to exquisite costumes and jewellery, similarly, director Abhishek Varman crafts a theatrical world that is showcased in beautiful frames that are stunningly lit and wonderfully shadowed.
The movie is set in a fantasy city named Husnabad outside Lahore during pre-partition India-Pakistan in the 1940s, where an ill Satya (Sonakshi Sinha) marries her husband, a Newspaper Owner, Dev (Aditya Roy Kapur) to Roop (Alia Bhatt) – a young girl from Rajasthan, who is emotionally blackmailed to marry. Post Marriage Dev tells Roop that there will be respect in This marriage but no love, distraught by the entrapment of her decisions, Roop hears the voice of Bahaar Begum singing in Hira Mandi – the redlight district within the fantasy town of Husnabad, but her father-in-law Bajlraj Choudhry (Sanjay Dutt), wealthiest man in Husnabad forbade his family from going to Hira Mandi but Satya forces him to allow Roop to learn music from Bahaar Begum, an ex-courtesan turned music teacher (Madhuri Dixit). Roop meets Zafar (Varun Dhawan), a blacksmith who is self-destructive and flamboyant at the same time. He is trying to deal with his illegitimate birth.
The rest of the story orbits around Roop’s blossoming love for Zafar, the respect for her marriage to Dev, tackles the estranged relationship shared between Dev and his father, Zafar’s pain of being illegitimate as well as Satya’s last few moments with Dev, Bahaar Begums tale of heartache and a Spanish styled bullfight (for some reason) all set within the India-Pakistan pre-partition.
Abhishek Varman directs Kalank like theatre, every frame is opulent, plush and wonderfully framed. The cinematography by Binod Pradhan, who shot Devdas aptly captured Abhishek Varman’s vision. The music by Pritam is the soul of Kalank, Ghar More Pardesiya looks as beautiful as it sounds in the film, Rajvaadi Odhni, Title track, First Class and Tabaah Ho Gaye are wonderfully placed into the screenplay while Aira Gaira feels forced into the story simply to bring the male leads together. Manish Malhotra and Maxima Basu’s costumes are gorgeous.
While the story is predictable, with dialogues that feel like spoken-word at a poetry festival rather than conversational, it is the acting performances that keep you interested as the emotions feel real. Alia Bhatt is alluring and magnetic from the first frame, but her introduction reminds you of they way Aishwarya Rai in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and Deepika Padukone in Ram-Leela was introduced in Bhansali style. Alia Bhatt is convincing and you feel her emotions, Varun Dhawan as Zafar is given the most depth and he does a great job. Aditya Roy Kapur is good in his role, Sonakshi Sinha is convincing and plays her role beautifully. Madhuri Dixit does a commendable job playing Bahaar Begum, she is always a delight on-screen, she brought depth to an almost one-tone character. Sanjay Dutt fulfilled his role well, he was convincing. Kunal Khemu was brilliant as Zafar’s friend turned enemy.
My biggest issue with Kalank apart from the predictable script was the fact that it is pure fantasy, the elaborate sets of Hira Mandi feels like a 14th-century story rather than the 1940s, the worlds created from Abhishek’s vision seemed too plush and away from reality – on one hand, the Choudhry home and Newspaper office looked era-appropriate while the lavish buildings, the grandness of Hira Mandi and the Bull Fighting ring (The CGI was so badly done) seemed too far fetched to be in the 40s. The partition story was overpowered by the love story, it was not explored deep enough, this made it feel like an added element rather than part of the main screenplay. The story was one-tone, even the dramatic moments did not ascend.
With a run time of 2 Hours and 50 minutes, with a tighter edit, the story could have wrapped up much sooner and could have been more impactful or used the additional time to give more limelight to the actual partition story. The introduction of the interviewer, placed before the interval was not helpful to the screenplay.
Kalank feels like a theatrical drama captured on film, Regardless of its predictable storyline and screenplay, Kalank is worth watching for its alluring operatic qualities held together by soulful performances, lavish costumes, breathtaking cinematography, and great music.