Towards the end of Abhishek Varman’s Kalank, Roop, the story’s female protagonist played by Alia Bhatt, says “Red is both the color of love as well as hatred. In hatred we destroy others. In love we end up destroying ourselves.” She obviously wants to make a case in favor of love. Ironically, for the most part, she herself remains deprived of it. Perhaps, love is not meant for everyone. For, not everyone is so blessed. But is love really a blessing or is it a curse? After all, the most famous tales of love that we know are tragedies. Aren’t that?  And yet our hearts get so filled with hope every time we hear anyone talk about love. Set in 1946 Lahore in the backdrop of love, Kalank is story of forbidden love. And it is as old-fashioned as they come. Interestingly, the idea for the film was originally conceived by late Yash Johar several years ago. And so by making the film, Karan Johar has merely fulfilled his father’s dream.

Ever since Kalank’s trailer was released there has been a great curiosity regarding the film’s high profile ensemble cast. After all, a film of such scale and scope is quite rare. And the fact that it pairs Sanjay Dutt and Madhuri Dixit after more than two decades raised the expectations even higher. Not to mention the much anticipated reunion of Alia and Varun Dhawan after Badrinath Ki Dulhania. Whenever one thinks of Hindi period dramas the first name that strikes us is Sanjay Leela Bhansali. The filmmaker is single-handedly responsible for developing our taste for large scale period piece films over the last couple of decades. Kalank’s ensemble cast, its lavish set pieces and costumes, and the overall production values are vintage Bhansali. But, Varman, who made his directorial debut with 2 States, seemed too occupied with the idea of imitating Bhansali instead of trying to emulate his craftsmanship. As a result, he ends up making a film that comes across as a pastiche of Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Devdas, 1942: A Love Story, and Saawariya.

To make matters worse, Kalank’s unimaginative storyline and languorous pacing reduces it to a snoozefest. Clocking at 166 minutes, it is at least 30 minutes too long. Also, its music and songs are pretty monotonous. The performances vary from average to good. Perhaps, the only exception is Kunal Khemu who delivers a truly remarkable performance, overshadowing everyone around him. His intensity in the film’s climactic sequence is the film’s high point. It’s no secret that the motion picture camera loves Alia and Kalank is no exception. While the scenes that Alia and Varun share in Kalank aren’t bad, they do suggest that the actors are nowhere near their best. The biggest disappointment is Sanjay Dutt who seems wasted here. Madhuri Dixit too feels underutilized. Also, the film’s inconsistent period detail leaves a lot to be desired. But easily the most off-putting thing about Kalank is a badly CGI-ed bull fight scene that simply makes one cringe.

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