Kalank movie review: Varun Dhawan, Alia Bhatt, Madhuri Dixit shine in a stunning but soulless film

Movie- Kalank (Kalank Movie Review)

Director- Abhishek Varman

Cast- Varun Dhawan, Alia Bhatt, Sonakshi Sinha, Aditya Roy Kapur, Madhuri Dixit, Sanjay Dutt

First of all, this is a beautiful film. Instead, apparently set in pre-Independent India, Kalank appears to have been staged in a’ Good Earth’ catalog curated by Baz Luhrmann. In a disreputable neighborhood, a courtesan stands in her doorway while gondoliers paddle about what looks like a moat behind her, and later, when she feels the need to cry, she walks first to the center of the elaborate golden motifs painted on her floor before dropping to her knees and screaming cinematically. It’s as baroque as it gets.

Directed by Abhishek Varman and shot by the masterful Binod Pradhan, Kalank’s makers not only want every frame to be a painting, but every dialog to be a proverb, every scene a portent. The result is beautiful but tedious, an opera that needed a stout songstress to war through it midway. We see revolutionaries in different shades of mustard as it is set around Basant Panchami’s kite festival, but as Kalank goes on, we are conditioned to the exorbitant colors and matching them — from scarlet umbrellas to marsala walls and columns. Yet it jars when rioters holding swords march in fiery streets, dressed as if they had first bickered about a suitably Prussian shade of blue

“You sing well,” the courtesan says to a young engineer, “but there is not enough salt.” This search for the indefinable namak goes a long way in Indian art, and the older woman blames the blandness for the lack of spice in the girl’s life. The girl— Roop (Alia Bhatt) — may agree, caught in a passionless marriage through victorian circumstances: a wealthy woman with a few years to live wants Roop to be the bride of her husband after she passes away. The arrangement is mechanical until Roop, inevitably, can no longer be caged.

The names are the literal ones. The pretty girl is Roop, the outsider Bahaar Begum, the husband is Dev (like in pati-dev), the upright lady is Satya, and the boy who wins over women is named Zafar, meaning victor. Played by Varun Dhawan, his eyes tinged with kohl and misery, Zafar brings Kalank alive, a blacksmith forging swords with tight edges, and lines even more lethal. Zafar says he does not lay a hand on a woman without permission or payment, and an awestruck Roop wonders aloud that even he must have a limit. He might not. “Inhi tez jumlon se Heera Mandi ke auraton ke dil kaat rakhe hain,” admires his friend, emphasizing how Zafar often gets the last word due to the sharpness of his phrases in a film where all lines are poetically powerful.

Dhawan is super, understanding the syntax of melodrama, making the audience root for him. Bhatt is fine in their scenes together, but otherwise appears reluctant to embrace this gaudy in a cinematic style, while Sonakshi Sinha, like Satya, is rather effective as a woman perpetually biting her tongue — and bidding her time. Aditya Roy Kapoor is suitably detached as Dev, a man wondering where to start rebuilding his life, while Sanjay Dutt is silently doing little but glower. Above all, Madhuri Dixit reigns, playing Bahaar Begum with majestic grace, her tear-filled eyes flashing unmistakably with defiance. Dixit outdoes even these extraordinary backdrops despite an odd, Kathak-caricaturing dance.

Kalank is too theatrical and stage-y to feel current from verbose lines to obscene opulence, which is where the old-world setup works… until it doesn’t. More attention is paid to the chikan embroidery on the kurtas of the husband than to the climatic revolution, and the third act exposes the hollowness of the story while the film flutters inconsistently between timelines. The end asks the audience a question, but that means little.

The lingering visuals. A necklace fastened around Roop’s neck with velvet drawstrings; a fake bird in a theater performance spectacularly getting its wing cut off; a house size harp; and the first time Zafar meets Roop. During a Ram-Leela performance at Dussehra, he shows up with wet, blue-skinned Rams rising from behind the water, and when the lovers touch, burning Ravana heads cast a glow on their encounter. Kalank often feels too much, and I just wish it made me do the same. It’s an amazingly plated meal, but it needed salt.

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