'Kalank' review: Alia Bhatt-Varun Dhawan's tragic love story is visually stunning but fails to connect

Stills from the song 'Ghar More Pardesiya' from the film 'Kalank'. Photograph:( Twitter )

WION Web Team New Delhi, Delhi, India Apr 17, 2019, 02.56 PM (IST) Shomini Sen

Who doesn't like a tragic love story? One gets a strange sense of satisfaction to watch unrequited love on the big screen. You can cry buckets, relate to it some way or the other and however be the ending, come out of the theater with happy tears. 

In the last decade or two- the one name that comes to mind when one thinks of tragic love-dramas in Bollywood is Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Bhansali, with his opulence, over-the-top dramas has made unrequited love look stunning on the big screen. So when the trailer of filmmaker Abhishek Varman's 'Kalank' first came out- one couldn't help but notice the Bhansali influence in every frame. But does 'Kalank' make for a Bhansali level of tragic love-story? Only in parts.

A story, which is loosely inspired by Yash Chopra's 'Trishul', is set in Husnabad, outside of Lahore in the year 1946. Its a time when India's is on the brink of partition and tension between Hindu and Muslim extremist is palpable. And amid this hate blossoms love between two uncanny people. Roop (Alia Bhatt) the rebellious woman trapped in a loveless marriage and Zafar(Varun Dhawan) an angst-ridden bastard who has grown up in the lanes of Hiramandi, the famous red-light area of Lahore.  

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The two are not meant to be together. She is an educated woman, wife of a rich man, Dev Chaudhary (Aditya Roy Kapur) who just to spite her in-laws goes to learn music from Bahaar Begum(Madhuri Dixit) in the forbidden Hiramandi. He only knows how to hate, and uses Roop initially to destroy Dev's father( Sanjay Dutt) but finds himself falling in love instead. 

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Roop and Dev's forbidden love is the core of 'Kalank' and the Hindu-Muslim riots form the backdrop of the story. With a huge budget (Karan Johar and Sajid Nadiadwala are co-producers) Varman, who also writes the screenplay, presents a fictional world which is opulent and visually stunning. In Varman's version of Hiramandi, Ramleela spills out the streets in a very elaborate fashion, where Ravan is burnt by multiple Rams emerging from the water and where canals in Hiramandi are decorated by flower petals. 

Binod Pradhan does complete justice in capturing the grandeur on screen making scenes look beautiful and sets the tone of the film just right. Music by Pritam is hummable with the titke track standing out the most. 

Among the actors, Varun and Alia get the maximum screen time. Alia, who has in a short span of time proved her mettle as an actor, delivers a restraint performance as the strong-willed, stubborn, rebellious Roop. She is vulnerable in love but also angry at how her life has turned out. And Alia delivers these emotions well on screen. Varun, on the other hand, struggles a bit to show the angst that his character Zafar has. You have seen several prominent actors from Big B to SRK- play such flawed heroes on screen. So Varun has big shoes to fill. While the actor tries, it is the screenplay that lets him down. His anger for his parents is discussed to great length but somehow you are unable to connect to him. 

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The other two love-stories, unfortunately, take a back seat. I wish writer Shibani Bhatija had invested more on Aditya-Sonakshi and Sanjay-Madhuri's track. Those two stories had so much more to explore. Aditya, in fact, is pitch perfect as the righteous, lonesome Dev who is stuck between his two wives- one of whom he dearly loves. Sonakshi too holds her own in the limited screen time that she has. It's a treat to watch Madhuri and Sanjay on screen together albeit for a brief period. Wish they had more scenes together! Kunal Khemmu makes an impressive cameo as well. 

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The actors are all good but their performances are ultimately marred by very sketchy writing. Despite a stretched first half, the story fails to establish why Roop and Zafar are drawn towards each other. The second half redeems the film to a great extent where the story picks up with a very well shot climax. 

The makers take copious amount of liberty in telling a period-saga where outskirts of Lahore have mountains, streams and rocky shores similar to Ladakh and where the state of Rajputana (erstwhile Rajasthan) has meadows and snow-capped mountains in the background. There is also a bizarre scene where Varun Dhawan takes on a bull in a arena in what appears to be in Afganistan! 

In the end, 'Kalank' suffers from a Bhansali hangover- it even copies a few scenes from his films- and while there is no harm in doing that, the story is not as vividly told as Bhansali skillfully does. And that's where 'Kalank' falters. 

'Kalank' visually stuns, has good performances from its actors, but it doesn't stay with you for too long which a film of this scale ideally should. 

Story highlights

A story, which is loosely inspired by Yash Chopra's 'Trishul', is set in Husnabad, outside of Lahore in the year 1946. Its a time when India's is on the brink of partition and tension between Hindu and Muslim extremist is palpable. And amid this hate blossoms love between two uncanny people.