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cinema

Kalank (2019)

As the Swivel Chair Spins #11

If you were to ask any resident of Husnabad as it appears in this film, the route to Hira Mandi, the notorious locality where courtesans and blacksmiths co-inhabit, the resident would probably come up with something like this 

“ No eagle requires direction to fly, it knows they way from its heart” 

The Streets of Husnabad from Kalank
all day song, dance and poetry

Very difficult to deal with such daily poetry, so it is always better to carry modern tools such as Google maps when visiting Hira Mandi. The visitor will likely be awed by the erected sets of Husnabad, which seems to be the combination of Istanbul and Venice, but is labelled as pre-Partition Pakistan. For example you would need a gondola to reach the mahal of courtesan Baahar Begum, to whose voice the whole city goes to sleep; much like Vaidehi Kaathirundhal. But unlike the older Tamil film, here the songs are not about loss but about longing. 

Madhuri Dixit as Baahar Begum, once courtesan now music teacher
once courtesan now music teacher

Naturally our heroine Roop, who is new to Husnabad and who has been forced into a contract marriage with nice guy template Dev Chaudhary because his first wife Satya is in her last stretch of her life, death quickened by cancer; but normally we wouldn’t notice because even cancer here is beautiful or atleast made to look beautiful. 

Making everything beautiful, does not make this a Bhansali film, nor does the classical number or the rose tinted look of Pakistan of the time; but hey they tried a lot. As another Husnabad resident would immediately come up with lines like 

“Only the blind would look for story, in a film about love” 

Alia Bhatt and Varun Dhawan from Kalank
love boating

Maybe that Husnabad resident is right, I should indeed focus on the gondola ride at the end of the street and the mega burning Raavan before whose embers that our lovers Roop and Zafar meet. Obviously it is love at first sight, the complication in this love story ( as in most love stories) comes from the fact that Roop is a recently married woman. But as the movie which upends the Partition says “love has no borders” who am I to question. 

While even with a healthy level of cynicism I do accept this love, but Kalank tries to push another theme called ‘respect’, all the characters here are looking for one of the two or both. 

Roop says to Dev that she will not be able to love him, but she will respect him and she has given up on her lover Zafar,  because she no longer respects him. 

Right, so that was a streaming pause moment for me. Maybe you should go back and read that again. Maybe movie love is different from all this, better to leave abstract things to the poets in the streets of Hira Mandi and focus on characters. 

Alia Bhatt plays Roop, a free spirited like a kite without restraint-stubborn Rajputana girl whose dreams are cut short until they are rekindled when they meet Varun Dhawan’s Zafar, a brooding blacksmith whose eyes light up like a furnace when he hears the word “Inteqam”.

Their love story is a given, obviously since they are the leads of the movie and their story would be championed over the others, every side glance cements it, but director Abhishek Varman tends towards maximising this supposed poetry in the hope to make another Bhansali. 

But as the Husnabad street poet would quote beautifully

“Chandeliers and Courtesans alone don’t make a Bhansali

Like how a melting clock doesn’t make a Dali” 

My biggest issue with the film is not the confusion between love, sex and respect, it’s not even the over insistence n beauty, decor and makeup, it’s not even the off-mood Baahubali type bull fight that Zafar gets into, it’s not even the dullness of the senior actors (Madhuri and Sanjay) who have seen far better times but are unable to recreate it now, heck it’s not even the overblow Dusshera celebrations that I touched upon earlier. 

Nice Guys Get Nothing 
Aditya Roy Kapur as Nice Guy Dev Chowdary

It’s about the nice guy, Dev Choudhary; it is not good to be a good guy in Bollywood. As in, if we crystallize all of Bollywood films into the single line as “who gets the girl”, the good guy would never get it. 

Everyone in Bollywood hates nice guys, the character is always given to the ‘other’ hero, not the lead. His character undergoes no change that even if he has the means and need to express his feelings (for the heroine, what else), he won’t do it, his character won’t do it. 

He is the well educated, understanding, silent and “aapko books pasand hai” type guy who loses or in most cases willing to ‘sacrifice’ the girl to the street corner romeo who says sweet things to your wife like “ let the willingness of your eyes not be marred by the obstacle that is your eyelids”. Our man can never say such things, he is probably editing a cabinet report committee on steel factories in his library somewhere. Nice guys are not exciting (for the heroine, hence audience), nice guys are nice, but that’s just it. 

It’s even verbally said in Kalank, for those who might not appreciate this reading of the film, when Baahar Begum tells Roop that Dev (Aditya Roy Kapoor) is an ‘achcha ladka”, Roop responds by saying, is being “achcha” enough to spend a lifetime with? 

Umm, his plight continues, he loses his wife to cancer, who is another ‘achcha ladki’ Sonakshi Sinha who sacrifices her position  of bahu in the family, so that her husband can have a happy future. Has a wandering father (Sanjay Dutt) who from reports seems to be the Zafar of the previous generations, naturally the Begum fell for him! 

All of Dev’s credentials of being a London educated, progressive news editor and sensitive husband all fall to zero before the first class rascal nature of the romeos, because that is where Mohabbat is. 

Love is strange, but Bollywood is stranger. Maybe the end is a bit of a surprise, going against tradition, he does ‘get’ the girl, but her heart? Oh it is floating somewhere in the clouds or in the Gondolas of Husnabad. Nice guys, even when they win, they lose. 

Nice guys get nothing and that’s my biggest issue with Kalank. 

PS

Oh yeah I forgot to mention about the good old zero sum bollywood socialism sub plot, where Zafar instigates rebels against the coming of a steel plant which can only mean local industries will go bankrupt. Naturally this leads to a riot. 

Kalank is streaming on Amazon Prime and pardon my Hindi, I am learning through subtitles. 

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