Rating – 3/10 The interesting thing about Abhishek Varman’s Kalank (Blemish) is that it introduces almost all its characters in the initial minutes and then starts narrating the story, an ambitious period drama that asks its viewers to judge its moral at the end. Unfortunately, that is one of the few interesting elements in this otherwise nondescript tale of forbidden love and partition. Set in just a few months before the Partition of India, Kalank tells the story of a young woman (Alia Bhatt) coaxed into marrying the husband (Aditya Roy Kapoor) of her dying friend (Sonakshi Sinha). Tied into this unwanted union to show her loyalty to her friend, this woman now questions the status quo of a nearby place that has a potential for conflict, a communal one, with the help of her husband’s newspaper press (another interesting element). And in her exploration is where she finds a calling for her talent in perhaps the most popular dancer-for-hire (Madhuri Dixit) in the locality as well as a ray of hope in her chained life in a womanizing blacksmith-cum-daredevil (Varun Dhawan). No prizes for guessing what happens to some of these characters because Varman seems confused with writer Shibani Bathija’s story as he weaves and explores the relationships between these characters with an unusual degree of unpreparedness. In a way, it surprised me that there is some uncomfortable storytelling happening here, sampling characters that are not too far from realism. But then come the hidden messages and twists that rob the fun out of this drama that is only good at displaying its grand budget. Trying to make sense of the plot and why the characters do what they do, especially in the second act, is what turns Kalank into a tedious affair. Its transition from a romantic drama, struggling to disseminate the sounds of the aching hearts of its characters, into a retelling of the disastrous butchering of the Indian state, with communal rioting as the highlight, further dislodges the film’s construction. There is no closure between these transitions and characters seem to act without preamble to keep their audience guessing, which becomes tiring for them especially after having witnessed heavy sequences of singing and dancing that are visually extravagant yet sometimes detached from the plot. There is also a dance sequence involving Dixit in the second half which I think was made solely for the purpose of highlighting the actor’s dancing chops and nothing more. And to make it classic Bollywood, Kalank also has an item dance towards the end, which just adds into the many reasons for a lot of people to skip the rest of the film.
However, Kalank does stand high in departments that would see it win come awards season: the dialogues, the production setup, and the costumes. It is evident, if it was not already from the marketing, that Kalank has put all the resources into making its characters look like advanced versions of the people living in that period. If you like looking at attractive people wearing glitzy ornaments and threads, Kalank will be more than worth the money you spend on the ticket. Add to that the lavish production design, which makes me want to go back in time despite the circumstances, and the film manages to attract and entertain the doe-eyed viewer who is in the hall to take in the grandeur and nothing else. Unfortunately, all this display does stand out like a sore thumb. Not that I am a historian, but I strongly believe there have been anachronistic slips in these exotic, ethnic costumes worn by the characters throughout the film, even as they jump and dance in background adorned by some good CGI that couldn’t really be extended to scenes where it was needed the most. The film is also terribly too long, which gives me ample reasons to complain about. The chemistry between the characters is surprisingly effervescent, largely because of the heavy, shiny dialogues written by Hussain Dalal. There is a lot of philosophical talk in here, that might enthuse some people in the audience, but then again it is overkill when characters speak beyond their assumed intellect level. Everyone in Kalank tries to set a precedent and that is probably its biggest issue. The cast performances are tried at best. Kunal Khemu, thanks to his well-written character, stands out as he plays an acquaintance to Dhawan’s. Bhatt is sweet-looking yet fumbles a little towards the end to maintain her character that is made up of multiple layers. The shuffling between her fierce and submissive traits is lost both because of Varman’s direction and Bhatt’s unenthusiastic air, which she shares with Sanjay Dutt (who 100% does not want to belong here). I am not impressed by Kapoor’s performance either as he fails to move multiple muscles of his face on a single try. His interactions with Sinha’s character are ridiculously inorganic, almost making me head for the exit. But Sinha manages to keep the decorum of these scenes as she struggles to play a woman affected by cancer. Dhawan has the meatiest role in Kalank and his efforts (read chiseled body) are very clear both when he courageously gets into a ring with a bull to play a harmless matador and seduces every woman in the locality including Kiara Advani’s laughable character. Dixit has this much screen space. There are plenty of things wrong with Kalank, starting from the tepid writing to a lack of clarity in the proceedings. As mentioned before, all of its characters want to come first in this race conducted by Varman who forgot to add soul into this beautiful-looking, tasteless recipe. It is ambitious yet uninspiring, grand yet hollow, and unworthy of your attention save for a view or two of its dance sequences.