I was so desperate to catch "Kalank", I kept calling the neighbourhood multiplex to confirm timings. Imagine, I had temporarily forgotten that one of my daughters was heavily pregnant (full-term) and the possibility of her being rushed to Breach Candy Hospital for the delivery was distinct! Such was my excitement. It must have been so infectious that when pregnant daughter declared this was possibly her last chance to watch "Kalank" at a theatre, I promptly booked a ticket for her, too. Oh dear, oh dear. We rushed to catch the show, hoping the baby would stay in for the next three hours. But within minutes of watching Alia/Roop chasing colour-coordinated kites across village terraces, clad in the sort of lehenga a guest would wear to a society mehendi, I knew it was a kati patang we were in for - a movie that was blowing in the wind like a lost kite. Despite the initial disappointment, I told myself, wonderful things awaited us...I mean, look at the star cast! Yeah. Look at it! Pretty impressive, huh? Well, sure. By the time I was introduced to the principal characters one by one (in between dances galore), I was totally bewildered. What was this? A period film? If yes, which period exactly? The opulent sets provided no clues. Were we in Mohenjo Daro? No? Ottoman Empire? Lekh Tandon's 1966 "Amrapali"? But that didn't look like Vyjayanthimala. Ooops...it was Madhuri! And Alia - maybe she was still in "Raazi" mode? (Same sort of role, different hero, similar costumes.) Okay...what was Aditya Roy Kapur doing in the film? And why was he dressed like Sachin Pilot? Hadn't Sonakshi played a ditto role (dying, dying, dead) in another movie ("Lootera", 2013)? Then along came Varun Dhawan (lots of money saved here on costumes - he is bare-chested for the most part), playing the rakish lover boy, popping phallic-looking swords into a red-hot furnace. Sizzling! The chemistry between him and the swords, I mean. Sanjay Dutt loped in as a media tycoon - a man who wears sherwanis to bed and looks morose throughout. Wait - I have forgotten the one character who I actually liked - Kunal Khemu's. It was the only sincere performance in a movie mounted like a soulless Fashion Week finale - all grandeur and no heart.
The thing is, audience taste has changed since those distant days when mere spectacle was enough. 40 years ago, film-makers could get away with grandiose sets and elaborately filmed dances. But even in these two departments, "Kalank" falters. Heera Mandi in Lahore can't make up its mind whether it is a street Venice (what's with the gondolas?) or something out of a dated television mythological? The dances (far too many and nothing new) take the usual SLB route, using Hindu festivals to showcase absurdities (the paper garuda was straight out of Folies Bergere in Paris). Madhuri's much-touted solo made me long for "Maar Dala". You can safely ignore the rest.
This entire Hindu-Musalman dynamic in Bollywood has been turned into such a cliché, it is time to protest. Every male Musalman comes with a taaweez and heavy-duty surma. Every crowd scene features a sea of white skull caps. The ladies walk around 24x7 in elaborate shararas with jhoomars dangling from their heads. Excuse me - but surma and skull caps, shararas and jhoomars are not the sum total of the multi-layered Muslim identity, just as dozens of blue-painted Rams and a gigantic burning Ravan do not qualify as true representatives of Hindu festivals. There is a complete lack of cohesion in locales and narratives here. A bull fight outside Lahore? Complete with a Spanish-style bull ring. Except that this matador (Varun) fights the enraged bull bare-chested and with his bare hands! With no plausible explanation, the story travels abruptly from Gwalior to Kargil, and what looks like the ghats of Varanasi. But at least those scenes provided the much needed visual relief from the cardboardy, OTT sets featuring hundreds of inert, identically clad extras.
I have reason to quibble. And it hardly matters if "Kalank" goes on to make200-300 crores. There is something precious called high standards. One goes to a production of this level expecting nothing less than top-class film-making. One can disagree with the plot and quibble over historical distortions. That's legit. That's fine. It's a movie after all. An entertainer, not a documentary. But when a project is top-lined by big, reputed names, expectations are understandably high. Audiences are quick to acknowledge talent and originality ("Gully Boy"), and equally quick to reject a heavily packaged but essentially light-weight product. A party dance track or two ("Aira Gaira", "First Class'') in a so-called period film cannot fix the damage, nor salvage the film.
As we walked out, my pregnant daughter clutching her belly, and me clutching my head, I found myself singing the one track that was in perfect sync with my mood - "Tabah ho gaye". Yes, I was devastated. I won't be eating biryani for a while.
(Shobhaa De is an established writer, columnist, opinion shaper and social commentator, who is considered an authority on popular culture.)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.
................................ Advertisement ................................