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The fantasy of Kalank gets a reality check

While Gully Boy — based on real life — holds out credible hope, Kalank is a reminder of the ugliness we’re capable of

mumbai Updated: Apr 20, 2019 23:53 IST
Deepanjana Pal
Deepanjana Pal
Hindustan Times
Kalank,Kalank movie,Bollywood
A scene from the movie Kalank

Days after the release of Kalank, the real spoiler is not what happens to Varun Dhawan’s character; or that Kunal Khemu has the most memorable role in a film that stars Dhawan, Alia Bhatt, Sonakshi Sinha, Sanjay Dutt, Madhuri Dixit, and Aditya Roy Kapur. Instead, the big surprise is that more people have gravitated towards Gully Boy, with its account of how a boy from Mumbai’s slums made it big as a rapper than to the fantastical Kalank.

It’s impossible to say what has turned audiences away from Kalank. Maybe it’s the way the film vilifies the bulk of the Muslim community, or the generally bad acting or the overwhelming fakeness of the fantasy setting that prevents you from immersing yourself in it. While Gully Boy — based on real life — holds out credible hope, Kalank is a reminder of the ugliness we’re capable of and the uncomfortable truth that even with generous budgets, not all of us are capable of creating beauty.

According to the website Box Office India, Kalank recorded the best opening day of 2019, which goes to show that Indian audiences are itching for pretty fantasies. With help from the cinematography, production design, and costume departments, the film tried to deliver a Sanjay Leela Bhansali product without undertaking the cost of hiring Bhansali.

The town of Husnabad, where Kalank is set, is vaguely modelled on Venice, with its gondolas and water channels. In Rajputana (yes, that’s a place in Kalank’s India), are giggling girls in Rajasthani outfits, running out to a landscape that includes jagged, snow-bright, Himalayan peaks. An open-air arena that looked suspiciously Gladiator-esque was located on the outskirts of Lahore, which apparently is a stone’s throw from Kargil. Husnabad has lakes out of which Rama impersonators plunge during Dussehra and insane sound corridors that carry a hummed tune across a giant lake.

Sadly, without the benefit of Bhansali’s aesthetics and almost-neurotic attention to detail, Kalank just looks theatrical.

Equally unbelievable are the characters and events of the film. For instance, Roop (Bhatt) is told that by virtue of the fact that she is literate and has married into a family that owns a newspaper, she is qualified to become a journalist. She then waltzes into the newspaper’s sales and marketing meeting and tells those present whom they should tap for ads. Then there’s Kemmu’s Abdul, who is the stand-out character in Kalank and the only surprise in the film.

SPOILER ALERT: After a promisingly twisty start, Abdul, unfortunately, devolves into violent chaos. It makes no sense that he kills Zafar as viciously as he does. Is he upset that Zafar was lusting after Roop instead of him? Even then, why kill the man when Roop is clearly exiting left?

Of course, one could argue that life, as we know it from the news, isn’t particularly logical either. A 17-year-old girl in Bhagalpur was attacked with acid by her neighbour because she resisted his molestation attempt. The girl’s mother was held at gunpoint. The attacker’s name is Prince. If someone wrote this, we’d describe this violence as senseless and excessive. Similarly, if there was a script in which a judge presided over a case in which he is the accused, we’d lambast the writer for not knowing how the law works.

Yet that’s what happened on Saturday morning, when, after he was accused of sexual harassment by a former Supreme Court employee, the Chief Justice of India (CJI) organised a special hearing on the matter before a bench (of all male justices, whom the CJI had selected). No order was passed, but the accuser was vilified (even though neither she nor her legal representative was present).

Is it any wonder Indian audiences long for pretty fantasies and superheroes? As far as I’m concerned, Avengers: Endgame can’t come soon enough.

First Published: Apr 20, 2019 23:53 IST