Kalank starts off with an unconventional narrative and it takes a while to fully understand the main thread. That could be an advantage if the story is solid and unfolds in layers but it could also feel contrived and manipulative if the content is weak. Unfortunately, the latter is true for this film. Set in 1945, a woman Satya Chaudhry (Sonakshi Sinha) visits a young girl Roop (Alia Bhatt) to ask her hand in marriage to her husband Dev (Aditya Roy Kapur) as Satya is dying. There seems to be some tension between the two women but the cause of the rift is never explained. You may forgive the writer for the preposterousness of the premise one time but you soon realize that there are many suh incredulous twists and turns throughout the film. The young girl agrees for the sake of her “younger sisters” – haven’t we seen the sacrificing sister act many times before? Thankfully the said sisters are never mentioned once Roop marries the much married man and moves into a haveli of sorts for a loveless and sexless married life.
To make up for the lack of love and intimacy Roop starts learning music from the most probable teacher she could find, a tawaif Bahaar Begum (Madhuri Dixit). It does not matter that her husband’s family has a rule that nobody from the family ever visit the area, understandably since that section of the town is inhabited by prostitutes. The writer may have forgotten that Roop’s father is himself a “shastriya sangeet” teacher but perhaps they needed a singing tawaif in Madhuri Dixit, something on the lines of Chandramukhi in Devdas. Speaking of Devdas, the setting seems to have a big Sanjay Leela Bhansali hangover. Many a times, I had to remind myself I was not watching a Bhansali film. The frames have the Bhansali stamp all over except they are dimly lit. Where else do you find a tawaif speaking and behaving like a royal consort and living in a palace like house with expensive chandeliers and fine drapes? India was a poor nation in the forties and high end luxurious lifestyle was certainly not the norm.
Roop promptly falls in love with a blacksmith Zafar (Varun Dhawan) who speaks in riddles and oscillates between love and revenge. There’s a whole lot of history behind his rage and that includes Roop’s father in law Balraj Chaudhry (Sanjay Dutt). The romantic thread between Roop and Zafar is perhaps one of the most tepid I have seen, not the least due to the verbose nature of their interaction. Every character spews filmy dialogues rather than normal day to day conversation as if the film was set in the courts of Mughal kings. Zafar even doubles up as a matador to add to the fantasy. Soon the film starts to feel like a self indulgent drama lacking a soul.
Performance wise, Varun Dhawan, gets his part right. Other than his dialogue delivery which doesn’t match the heavy handed lines, he does a good job. Alia Bhatt is strangely lacking the spark that her character needed. Sanjay Dutt is dependable but Madhuri Dixit needs to get out of her Devdas mode. Aditya Roy Kapoor needs to loosen up. Cinematography by Binod Pradhan is first rate. The sets, the clothes, the people are all beautiful but the screenplay is the weakest link. To me, the film really came alive only in the last 20 minutes or so. By then it was too little and too late.