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Kalank first look: Romanticised view of Partition era

Just so you make an informed decision, the trailer tells you the entire plot

mumbai Updated: Apr 08, 2019 17:12 IST
Deepanjana Pal
Deepanjana Pal
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,Bollywood,Kalank
Scene from Kalank featuring Alia Bhatt and Varun Dhawan.

There’s only one word to describe the latest trailer for Kalank: Considerate. With the Indian economy decelerating and unemployment at a record high, Dharma Productions understands you need to be careful with your cash. Just so you make an informed decision, the trailer tells you the entire plot of Kalank, complete with the scene that is no doubt an emotional high point in the film – Varun Dhawan and Aditya Roy Kapur incoherently yelling at each other on a ghat.

If anyone had told me even yesterday that I’d look at either Roy Kapur or Dhawan and think of giant, angry walruses, I’d have snorted in disbelief, but in that scene, the two men do in fact bear a marked resemblance to a scene from Netflix’s gorgeous documentary series Our Planet, in which two belligerent walruses roar at each other while fighting for the female walruses lying around inertly.

The women in Kalank, however, are not reminiscent of walruses, though the film’s plot may require Alia Bhatt and Sonakshi Sinha to do their share of lying around inertly since the former plays Roop, who is told that she will get respect but no love in her marriage to Dev (Roy Kapur). Sinha plays Dev’s first wife, Satya, who believes it is her wifely duty to arrange her husband’s second marriage.

Some netizens have observed that Kalank’s plot sounds a lot like Shauna Singh Baldwin’s novel, What the Body Remembers, set in 1940s’ Punjab and about a village belle named Roop, who becomes a wealthy landowner’s second wife because his first wife is unable to bear children. Of course, the differences between What the Body Remembers and Kalank are evident.

Does Baldwin’s novel have a pirouetting Madhuri Dixit or Dhawan as a well-oiled blacksmith who moonlights as a bullfighter and kajal model? I think not.

Kalank is obviously about two ‘shameful’ love affairs – one between Bahaar (Dixit) and Balraj Chaudhry (Sanjay Dutt), and the other between Zafar (Dhawan) and Roop (Bhatt). You’d think that Zafar is just what the Chaudhry family needs to double date its way out of unhappy matrimony, given there are two wives for one husband. But Zafar is Muslim and Kalank is set in Partition-era India, which means a whole lot of burning buildings, mobs carrying swords and torches, and reimagining the last scene of Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge with Dhawan’s Zafar unleashing his inner Kajol to run after a train from which Roop reaches out for him (she’s anchored in place by Dev, which doesn’t bode well for poor Zafar).

While the plot of Kalank isn’t hard to decode, the same cannot be said of the film’s setting because it’s peak fantasy even by Bollywood standards. On Instagram, producer Karan Johar described the film as a dream come to life (Samuel Taylor Coleridge dreamt up Kubla Khan; Johar, Kalank), which basically clears the decks as far as historical accuracy is concerned.

The world of Kalank isn’t meant to be real or even logically possible. If Punjab is indeed where Kalank is set, it’s a land of lakes and mountains, where it rains either water or rose petals. From palatial interiors to ornately pretty streets, the film conjures an India that is an exotic spectacle of song, dance and colour. Eid and Holi are celebrated with the same flourish. Spectacular street performances of the Ramayana bring Hindus and Muslims together, drawing at least two of them into an epic love story of their own. Here, there be dangling acrobats in the streets and the first edition of the Blue Man Group plunges out of a pool. The streets are clean and the buildings are immaculate. Wounds are photogenic and unironic single tears abound.

The real romanticism of Kalank’s trailer lies in how a story set in 20th-century India is infused with a baroque quality, as though no one in Dharma Productions thought of putting “1940s India” in Google’s image search. Practically everything but the men’s hairstyles makes it seem as though we’ve gone back way further than 1940s. Inequalities that chafe against our modernity in the present – feudal privilege, gender bias, religious divide – are packaged with rose-tinted nostalgia in Kalank, making them more palatable and encouraging the illusion that we’ve left them behind us.

As we wade deeper into poll season, with candidates from different political parties presenting visions for the future, it’ll be interesting to see whether the past that Kalank imagines strikes a chord with audiences. In our present, would we rather immerse ourselves in an exotic vision of an imaginary past? And will it be a world we want to retreat to if Roop and Zafar can’t manage a happy ending? After all, for disillusionment and heartbreak, we already have 21st-century reality.

First Published: Apr 06, 2019 23:33 IST