Karan Johar’s Kalank made a mark on the audience with its star-studded trailer, and will always remain in my mind as just that, star-studded. The ability of Bollywood to create astounding sets, complete with extravagant costumes, songs and poetic dialogues always manage to take away the attention from what should be the focal point of a film – the content.

While this is a feminist analysis of the film, speaking from the perspective of a mainstream cinema-goer, the capabilities of several great actors in the film has been reduced to mere screen presence, albeit in a very glamorous and flashy manner. Madhuri Dixit’s character does not say a single word for at least thirty minutes into the film and her jewellery makes more impact than she does. Sanjay Dutt’s fatherly figure sticks to the disruptive notions of familial bonds and societal status and manages to completely disregard the fragilities of the emotions of his own kin.

While some would say that it is a period drama and the feud over blood, property and status shown in the film are a reflection of those times, the makers of Kalank clearly fail to keep in mind that their film is also set against the backdrop of a very politically heated era. The film succumbs to the romance that it shows and says little about the importance of the history it is supposedly based on.

Kalank is set in the fictitious town of Husnabad, near Lahore, in 1946. It is a film which uses the notion of forbidden love and communal riots as its twin pillars, minus the healthy love, and communal tensions as its background.

The lead characters of the film are all battling their demons, rather ineptly, while also proving to be toxic in each other’s lives, to say the least.

Madhuri Dixit’s character does not say a single word for at least thirty minutes into the film and her jewellery makes more impact than she does.

Alia Bhatt’s character, Roop, is a troubled soul. Ten minutes into the film, she is emotionally blackmailed by not one but two people, into a nuptial bond with a married man with whom she never falls in love. This is the driving force of the entire script. What a lot of us will fail to see is that while stirring new forms of romance in the story is what romantic film directors and screenplay writers are supposed to do, their subtle misogyny remains clearly afloat over attempts to create scenarios where damsels in distress fall in love with the knight in shining armour.

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The knight in question harasses his future love interest within seconds of meeting her, where he directly asks her if she wants to have sex with him because she is stuck in a loveless marriage and then casually remarks that “Bina ijaazat ya keemat ke, mai kisi aurat ko choota bhi nahi” (I do not even touch a woman, until I have her permission or have paid for it). What is rather ironical is the fact that he did, in fact, hold Roop’s hand, forcefully and without her consent, only minutes before delivering this masculinity-laden dialogue. Once again, Bollywood fails to see that raping a woman is not the only violation of consent.

This particular scene, where Roop meets her future love interest, Zafar (Varun Dhawan) for the first time is a blatant reflection of how sexual harassment is normalised in the mainstream media, and the flamboyant Bollywood films even glorify it to the point where the woman is shown smiling coyly at the end of the sequence, putting a stamp to the very problematic belief that ‘women want it’.

Roop is thrown from one male shadow to another in the entire film; first her father, who marries her off to be able to fund his other daughters’ marriages – then her husband, who will ‘never be able to love her’, her father in law, who very confidently asks her to ‘take care of her husband’, with whom she was stuck in a loveless marriage of compromise. Finally, she falls into the arms of a womaniser, whose actions are justified by his sorry past.

The personal agency of two of the three leading women is lost in the film, both of them stuck amidst the necessity of them to sacrifice for the ones they love. Both these women are accomplished in their own ways. Roop is educated and is a gifted dancer and singer. Madhuri Dixit’s character, Bahar Begum, is a beautiful courtesan who lives in the most socially polluted part of the town, but on her own terms. She teaches classical music and dance to the young girls who live with her. Sonakshi Sinha, or Satya, as they call her in Kalank, is reduced to a loving wife who would sacrifice all her peace and happiness for the sake of her husband – and he would do anything for his wife, as long as she asks for it, while being trapped in the turmoil of loss and guilt himself.

Kalank does everything to glorify the idea of toxic love, but does little justice to the backstories of the supporting cast.

Aditya Roy Kapoor’s character, Dev, comes as a happy surprise in Kalank. He is the only man in the entire film who sees how dysfunctional his family is and does not survive for honour or revenge. However, the script does little to justify his character, and his emotions are pushed to the fringes – emotions which are not particularly ‘masculine’ as he is overcome with feelings of loss, remorse, accountability for the mistakes of his closed ones.

One scene in the film where two leading men, Zafar and Dev, are seen bonding over alcohol and a chat on the day of Eid, just begins to be pleasing, right before it is thrown off track with a sexist remark from Zafar. This particular sequence reduces male bonding and emotional intimacy to being about sex and the number of women they sleep with.

While the subtle misogyny is everywhere in Kalank, what is the starkest observation about the film is the fact that every single aspect of the storyline runs on male dominance, the power they possess over the women who love them and on revenge.

The love story of Zafar and Roop has its foundation in the vengeance that the former seeks. Roop, being the charming and loving woman that she is, manages to convert Zafar’s hatred to love and sacrifice. Kalank amazingly glorifies the idea of women saving damaged, unstable men. Roop is emotionally abused by Zafar for as long she has known him, but forgivingly falls in an embrace with him at the first mention of love.

Kalank does everything to glorify the idea of toxic love, but does little justice to the backstories of the supporting cast. Bahar Begum’s character, already reduced to smothers, is juggled between the male ego of her past lover and her son. Balraj (Sanjay Dutt) incredibly doges all responsibility of his past on a woman’s head, and cries foul at the name of his family’s honour. Roop is a little more than the beautiful property of her husband and is fought over by men who treat her like their pride.

Kalank also fails to look at the political intricacies and religious fundamentalism of the time it is set in. The makers are rather clever to use the riots in the climax, but deceitfully so, they fail to reflect upon the events that led to thousands of deaths of displacements. They create a fictitious scenario of a steel mill and blacksmiths who were opposed to it, but this minor storyline fails to even register in the mind. The fact that it leads to riots in the film is delusional and seems like a hurried job to get the missing pieces straight.

Overall, Kalank is a cinematic brilliance, complete with beautiful landscapes, music and gorgeous sets. But it does little to tell a story and does a rather poor job in doing so. All it glorifies is toxic love, co-dependence in the name of marriage, and the male ego. It is based on revenge and how women are torn between men who seek it.

Featured Image Source: Bollywood

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