Directed by Abhishek Varman and shot by the masterful Binod Pradhan, the makers of Kalank not only want every frame to be a painting, but every dialogue a proverb, every scene a portent. The result is beautiful but tedious, an opera that needed a stout songstress to warble through it midway. We see revolutionaries in different shades of mustard, since it is set around the kite festival of Basant Panchami, but as Kalank goes on, we are conditioned to the exorbitant colours and their matching — from scarlet umbrellas to marsala walls and columns. Yet it jars when rioters holding swords march in fiery streets, dressed as if they’d first bickered about a suitably Prussian shade of blue.
Kalank, if exploited for all its politics and ambiguity, has the material for a nine-part mini series. As a movie trying to cram in romance, betrayal, morality, sacrifice, virtue, ideology and tons of masala in under three hours with mostly miscast actors having to do all the heavy lifting, it feels like a lifetime. At the end of this rather long movie, Alia asks 'What do you see in this story? Kalank or love?' I saw beauty at its emptiest. You won't be able to look away. But you won't feel anything either.
Opulent sets, visual flourishes, intense emotions, a luminous Madhuri Dixit who still emotes and pirouettes like a dream and a stunningly on-top-of-her-game Alia Bhatt make Kalank a near-spotless movie experience. On the surface at any rate. The film, first envisaged many years ago by the late Yash Johar, is 30 minutes too long, the Heera Mandi setting is overly spick and span, and the plot devices are occasionally unconvincing. However, writer-director Abhishek Varman keeps the propensity for excess largely contained within a firm structure, which ensures that even in its less-than-perfect moments the film does not come unstuck. Kalank has unmistakable contemporary resonance because it celebrates the transformative power of love and reconciliation in a time of rampant discord. It is worth a viewing not only for what it says, but also for how it says it.
Kalank is many things. It’s a heady cocktail of deceit, love, vendetta and heartbreak. It also marries many styles of narration. In fact, the grandeur sometimes overtakes the plot, making you inhale deeply. You have to actually exhale again to continue absorbing more. Kalank is a visual treat. Three words to sum it up would be – it’s beautifully chaotic (incidentally, this is also Alia’s Twitter status). Anyway, some movies are best seen and less analysed. Go, watch it!
Kalank is driven by aesthetics and heightened emotion. Beautiful people in exquisite clothes suffer in soft lighting. Like Bhansali, Abhishek creates an operatic fantasy filled with staggering sets, swirling fabric and heartache. Let me warn you – this film is not for everyone. To enjoy it, you must wholly suspend disbelief. You can’t question the lack of realism or narrative logic or historical authenticity. This is Abhishek’s world. You can only surrender to it. The the story wobbles precariously when the plot addresses the political climate it is set in – the hate and bloodshed of pre-Partition India. There is no room here for the devastation to be depicted with any authenticity. The story stretches on interminably and eventually, an exhaustion seeps in. Still, Kalank is likely to be the most visually stunning film you will see this year. Besides, Bahaar Begum has given me a line that I am dying to throw at the next boring person I meet – kal ayyiyega, filhal is guftugu se thak gaye hain hum. That’s a keeper.