Sugar, Spice, and everything nice. But to this concoction was accidentally poured in too much of an extras ingredient - Chemical 'X'. Who could've imagined that 'Kalank' will end up following the 'Powerpuff Girls' theme as its screenplay?
As this film was about to begin, I saw the last line from a Disclaimer that said polygamy is illegal in India as per the Marriage Act of 1955. The film is set in the partition era almost about a decade back. This is not a film that delves into the vices of polygamy and so as the film was ending I realized that this 'disclaimer' was in fact, a 'premonition' for the film's narrative. Kalank's core issue is - too many marriages. It tries to pull off marriages with cinematography, music, old school romance, poetry, Urdu, a partition era backdrop and with celebrating the 'X' factor of its muti-starrer cast - The result hence is a tragic doom (much like the denouements of the romantic dramas that it draws inspiration from).
This filmmaking is a constant, consistent series of earnest Hits & Trials
The film begins with a montage-like series of flashes. In theory, this might be a clever route to exposition. There are objects and figure of characters in shadows placed in the events that are about to unfold. But lets for the sake of a sanity check address the fact that the audience isn't familiar with any of these characters/subjects yet and there has been no plot development and character introduction so far. While this opening sequence excels at creating a visually aesthetic texture and a mysterious vibe all of it gets de-emphasized when the film tries to introduce each pivotal character subsequently with a song filling the gap between every two characters. Somehow, this for me had a striking resemblance to the concluding sequence of Bahubali-The beginning (here we knew the characters that were a part of these flashes and this was a sneak into the sequel). The basic result here good to look at engaging moments that we are snapped out of abruptly due to haywire tonality.
The film establishes itself through its two leading ladies, the two pivotal ones. Satya is short on her time with life and Roop is a lively girl with her kites (metaphor) and Mewari frolic - A simile?!.. There's a lot of poetry but no prose and ironically then arrives a song called 'First Class'.
The first half of the film feels especially muddled. The core characters are introduced individually and each has a song dedicated to them. The evident problem with the film can be seen through the fact that even after 30 minutes into the runtime, the audience knows only about Roop and Satya properly and maybe Zafar (an Iron-willed Blacksmith) gets a bit relatable through the slowly unfolding layers of his characters while rest of the characters are just people with faces. While Roop is supposed to be the narrator of the story hardly anytime is dedicated to making her angst relatable - It is especially hard because while she comes off from a poor family her costumes can give all designers some serious goals. The problem with Satya is that while one might feel for her due to her failing struggle with Cancer, she is actually trying to coax a young girl into a second marriage with her own husband and she is no Anand/Aman with their warm and lively smiles either. The flaw in the way of its storytelling can be seen through the way it deals with one of its very crucial mystery moments - I could predict it the very first time that I saw Zafar, Bahar Begum & Balraj Chaudhary (reminded me of Balraj Sahni because the film's world resembled the era of his films) respectively on screen. The film tried to have a mysterious tone with its opening sequence but while revealing this angle it lands flat. The other issue is that while the film is set in the Partition era we see no Britishers (the only reason the time seems somewhat apt is a one-dimensional communal scenario and it's surrounding political backdrop) and actually it resembles the Technicolor/Eastman India from the 50s and 60s. As such the film takes too long to find a place for setting its foot and the audience gets a movie that feels extremely long!
This film is in parts inspired from - Pakeezah, Kal ho Naa ho, Devdas, Hum Dil de chuke Sanam, even DDLJ, does product placement for Lux and celebrates the Urdu dialogued epic romantic drama films from the 60s but... it's all on the surface!
The strength of the film lies within its world building. The production, art design, costume, and cinematography deserves all the applause they can get. Abhishek Varman's film and Husnabad look the way that's befitting of an Art director's (R. Varman) son. He clearly has put his learning from his days as an A.D. for Ashutosh Gowariker's 'Jodhaa Akbar' to good use in that department. The nostalgia that this world produces and the poetry that resembles films like Pakeezah, Waqt and others from the 60s feels pleasant. It was a time when Ghadas/Suraahis (earthen pots) were a common sight in the marketplace, Urdu gave a poetic touch to every dialogue (however this film's cast struggles with their dialogues except Madhuri Dixit. The reason for it partly goes to weakly constructed dialogue writing by Hussain Dalal who faced the same issues in his previous works like 'Karwaan' & 'Fanney Khan') when Heera Mandis, Nautch girls and secular Dussehra used to be a thing.
Madhuri Dixit easily recreates the fine details from her role as Chandramukhi in Devdas. Also, more credit goes for this to great choreography and dance routines.
The beauty of this film lies in moments where Roop a woman forced into a marriage finds solace, dance lessons(taaleem), love in Heera Mandi. It's on point poetry when 'Heera Mandi ka Dussehra' is considered 'Mashoor' and 'Maryaada Purshottam's' victory is celebrated in the red light area. Perhaps that's why the song 'Ghar More Pardesiya' replenishes our lost interest in the film, serves as a saving grace and gives some of the best moments in the film. Sadly, this is short lived. The issues with the film continue as it shows a random bullfight that doesn't contribute much to the screenplay and an Item song like cameo by Kriti Sanon. A problem lies also with the outlandish manner that the film treats its geography with (for starters- Roop running from Mewar to nearby snowcapped mountains!).
Zafar an illegitimate born, says in a scene -'Logon ke kaam ko tavajjo do naa ki unke Baap ke Naam ko'. This is a film in which all the core characters are played by actors who are second generations of film families except Madhuri Dixit and Kunal Khemu.
The acting performances by Madhuri Dixit, Kunal Khemu (who turns a generic role into something more) and Sonakshi Sinha are on point. Sanjay Dutt has a stiffness but it works. Alia Bhatt gets an undercooked character while Varun Dhawan gets the meatier chunk. However, dialogue delivery in Urdu is not his forte. Characters played by Achint Kaur and Hiten Tejwani serve merely as a plot device. Aditya Roy Kapoor does a fine job too and his alcohol drinking streak is still unbroken - in fact, his character eases down after having alcohol in the film (this moment too like many others in the film is inspired from the poetry of 'raqeebi' that Hindi classics from 'Sangam' till 'Hum dil de chuke sanam' have shown ).￼
The problem with Kalank's poetry is that it forgets to connect it with the layers of the narrative and with the depths of its characters which is something that the film it draws inspiration from did flawlessly. Also, the actors who did those parts had a mature aura to carry it off while here only Madhuri Dixit is able to maintain that demure. The film improves into its later parts but sadly it's too late to engage an audience made up of a generation that's been away from old school poetic/epic romances for about more than a decade and a half.
At the film's end, there is an epilogue narrated by Roop which delves into the films core theme. Is love a stain or an embellishing mark. By this time in the film, this doesn't even remain an important question. The reason - This 'spot' of love that this film talks about is a spot on a canvas that's been spurted with a random splash of vibrant colors, toning the "spot's" significance down. Sadly, this is something that 'Surf Excel' had been doing a better job at, through their campaign 'Daag Acche Hain' - I wonder if the same can be said about 'Kalanks'.
#5StarNahiDoonga -> Because where there's a Surf Excel advertisement catch[hrase getting overly expressed, a 5 star will only lead to brand conflicts and my reviews aren't Balraj Chaudhary's home!
- Sarthak Awasthi
"Through the 2 lenses of my spectacles"
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