Karan Johar's magnum opus Kalank has been much awaited and it finally hit theatres on April 17, 2019. A grandly mounted period film based in pre-independent India, Kalank is the story about a high-profile family and its secrets that unfold among communal tension in the wake of Partition in 1947. Starring Alia Bhatt, Varun Dhawan, Madhuri Dixit, Sanjay Dutt, Sonakshi Sinha, Aditya Roy Kapur and Kunal Kemmu in the lead, Kalank has the most interesting ensemble cast in recent times.
Thankfully, these actors prove yet again why they are the best. Kalank would not have been Kalank without them. We say that because, overall, Kalank seems like a Karan Johar version of a Sanjay Leela Bhansali film. The opulent sets, the costumes, the drama, the dances, the pace - everything reminds you of Bhansali.
Why should you watch Kalank then? It’s a tale of forbidden love in the age of morals and myths, but not one but two forbidden love stories in there.
Kalank is based in 1946 pre-Independence India, where the Chaudhry family resides in the town of Husnabad on the outskirts of Lahore. Their daughter-in-law Satya (Sonakshi Sinha) is terminally ill and gets her husband Dev Chaudhry (Aditya Roy Kapur) married off to Rajasthani girl Roop (Alia Bhatt).
With it being a marriage without consummation, the young Roop concentrates on her other interests, like learning to sing from the local tawaif Begum Bahaar (Madhuri Dixit). It’s at the Begum’s Hira Mandi kotha that she meets ironsmith Zafar (Varun Dhawan), and the two fall in love.
What will happen when the Chaudhry family finds out? What other secrets are there hiding in the town of Husnabad? All these unfold as the movie progresses, keeping you engrossed. The partition part of the movie and the Hindu-Muslim tension thrown in does not quite gel with the rest of the plot but was necessary to form a complete story.
Madhuri Dixit as Begum Bahaar is the best performer in Kalank. She is the only one who holds your attention on screen. Sanjay Dutt as Balraj Chaudhry hardly has screen time but is decent.
Alia Bhatt and Varun Dhawan have given superlative performances, too, but there is nothing new in their chemistry. Alia Bhatt conveys through her eyes a lot, but she needs to complement that with good dialogue delivery. She should work on that for her future films. Varun Dhawan excels as the vulnerable yet strong Zafar who is a Casanova and yet hopelessly in love with Roop.
Sonakshi Sinha is very good in a small role but could’ve done better. Aditya Roy Kapur has improved as an actor and has a towering screen presence. Kunal Kemmu is Abdul, the leader of the ironsmiths and Muslims, seems apt for this role with grey shades. But he deserves better from Bollywood as an actor. Kiara Advani as Zafar’s muse is just about there for a few minutes, but is noticeable.
Apart from the costumes, sets and songs of the film that impress, credit should be given to the dialogue writer for some gems. But these beautiful lines will be lost to the new generation of viewers, who are busy on their phones even as they are waiting for something dramatic to happen on the big screen.
The cinematography by the ace lensman Binod Pradhan makes Kalank a spectacular watch in each frame. Pradhan has never gone over the top. He has kept it real yet stunning.
The VFX although at par as far as the sets are concerned, they fail in the bull-fight sequence where it is very obvious that the bull Varun Dhawan is tackling is not there in the first place.
The film could've been cut by 15-20 minutes. It's a yawn for people of the Gen-Z.
Verdict: Kalank has definitely paved the way for bringing ensemble cast movies back in Bollywood, starting with Karan Johar's own Takht that stars Ranveer Singh, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Alia Bhatt, Vicky Kaushal, Bhumi Pednekar, Janhvi Kapoor and Anil Kapoor in the lead. Kalank is a good watch for lovers of such films and also for the scale that it has been made. But it is a long film.