Kalank movie review: All show and no go

MUMBAI : There’s a lot going on in Kalank: pre-Partition rumblings between Hindus and Muslims in Husnabad near Lahore, illegitimate sons, dutiful daughters, ‘tawaaifs’ and ‘gaana-bajaana’, incurable diseases and wasting wives, all wrapped in love and betrayal and revenge.

It’s the kind of crowded multi-star cast movie which used to be made to appeal to a worshipful fan base back in the 70s. The inclusion of lavish song-and-dances, which includes ‘mujras’ and celebration of religious ‘tyohars’, and ‘mohabbat’ and ‘pyaar ka izhaar’ between Hindu and Muslim characters reminds you of the Muslim socials which were also so popular in that era.

Kalank is stuffed with stars, big and small: Sanjay Dutt and Madhuri Dixit come together after years. Varun Dhawan, Alia Bhatt, Sonakshi Sinha, Aditya Roy Kapoor are there too: that’s a whole lot of people to keep track of, in a movie whose scale and scope and ambition is epic.

If it had all come together the way it was intended to, this would have been a great throwback to the time Hindi cinema would make movies when time was expended in building characters and quirks, when the plot was buoyed by the presence of stars.

But sadly, the promise Kalank holds out is frittered away in its inordinate length, which you start feeling quite soon after it opens. The pace slows so often that you are left admiring the period detailing from the 1944-45-46 years, in the movie’s havelis and ‘bazaars’ and newspaper offices. That and the slack treatment: a film like this should also have the tools to ramp up the drama and be consistent with it.

You end up clutching at stray moments. Varun Dhawan as Zafar, a ‘haraami’ offspring of a respectable father and not-so-respectable mother, all bare torso agleam, as he goes about fighting bulls and brandishing swords. Alia Bhatt and Madhuri Dixit, all flowy and bejewelled, in some of their exchanges. The film is dripping with the kind of dialogue of yesteryear cinema: ‘yeh shaadi nahin, samjahuta hai’ ; ‘hadein sarhadon ki hoti hain soch ki nahin; main izzazat ya keemat ke bagair auraton ko haath nahin lagaata’ and so on and on. But except for Dhawan and Khemmu who chew on their lines with some amount of relish, the dialogues feel mouthed rather than felt, even between the veteran duo of Dutt and Dixit.

There is enough and more here, plot-wise, for a bunch of films. But finally, despite Dhawan and Bhatt’s histrionics (the former looks as if he could belong to that era, and Bhatt stays watchable), and Dixit’s wondrous dancing abilities (nobody can touch her when it comes to the grace she displays when she is on the floor), Kalank doesn’t really lift off the screen. The whole feels like a giant set, stately and ponderous and minus impact; the characters all costumed and perfumed and largely life-less, sparking only in bits and pieces. As a character says, two-thirds into the film, ‘yeh kissa yahin nipat jaata’.