Film Review: ‘Kalank’

A lavish but ponderous Bollywood extravaganza that springs to life during a few exuberantly over-the-top production numbers.

Abhishek Varman
Varun Dhawan, Alia Bhatt, Madhuri Dixit, Sanjay Dutt, Sonakshi Sinha, Aditya Roy Kapur, Kunal Kemmu. Kriti Sanon. (Hindi, English dialogue)
Release Date:
Apr 17, 2019

2 hours 46 minutes

Events leading to the 1947 Partition of India serve as the forebodingly serious backdrop for the exhaustingly overextended razzmatazz of “Kalank,” writer-director Abhishek Varman’s lavish but ponderous Bollywood extravaganza, which opened in the U.S. on more than 300 screens the same day as its Indian release. Despite the preponderance of sets and costumes spectacular enough to make Baz Luhrmann weep with envy, and a handful of thrillingly choreographed production numbers that sporadically quicken the movie’s pulse and boost its eye-candy quotient, the attractive yet underwhelming lead players are too hampered by the lethargic narrative to sufficiently distract viewers from their awareness of time passing and interest diminishing.

The action unfolds in and around the city of Husnabad, a year or so before the Partition that eventually led to the establishment of India and Pakistan as independent countries. Newspaper publisher Dev Chaudhry (Aditya Roy Kapur), a well-to-do member of the Hindu-minority elite, routinely editorializes in his Daily Times for continuation of a united India — placing him at loggerheads with increasingly radicalized elements in the Muslim-majority population of the city.

On the other side of the Hindu-Muslim divide, in a notorious working-class neighborhood known as Hira Mandi, there’s Zafar (Varun Dhawan), a hunky, sword-forging blacksmith who’s usually more attentive to female conquests than revolutionary movements. He becomes progressively more outspoken in his opposition to Dev and other supporters of the status quo, especially when The Daily Times proselytizes for the opening of British-owned factories that could drive independent artisans such as himself out of business.

Of course, since “Kalank” is the kind of movie that it is — namely, a swoony romantic epic that exploits political upheavals only for their value as impediments to lovers, star-crossed and otherwise — Zafar has far more personal reasons to despise Dev. The swaggering blacksmith actually is the product of a years-ago adulterous union between Balraj Chaudhry (Sanjay Dutt), Dev’s father, and Bahaar Begum (Madhuri Dixit), a courtesan who continues to operate what appears to be a combination brothel and singing school in an opulent edifice roughly half the size of the Taj Mahal.

Abandoned by both parents, Zafar has grown up to be a prideful rascal who cuts an erotic swath through the female population of Husnabad, fights bulls with his bare hands for sport — one of the movie’s many excuses for Dhawan to doff his shirt and reveal his well-oiled torso — and yearns for an opportunity to take revenge on the Chaudhry family.

The day of reckoning arrives when Satya (Sonakshi Sinha), Dev’s wife, is diagnosed with cancer and opts to ensure her husband is cared for after her imminent passing. Through a carefully calibrated mix of entreaty and bribery, she convinces the beautiful Roop (Alia Bhatt) to become Dev’s second wife — in the mid-1940s, the opening titles helpfully inform us, polygamy was legal in India — so that she can more or less coach her own replacement. Right from the start, however, Dev insists that, while he will pay all due respect to Roop, he has no intention of consummating their marriage. This allows Roop more than enough time to take singing lessons at Bahaar Begum’s salon, where, naturally, she captures Zafar’s fancy even before he learns who she is and how valuable she can be.

Very little of what follows is at all surprising, and quite a bit of it is borderline silly. In his eagerness to make “Kalank” more wall-to-wall glamorous than a vintage MGM musical, writer-director Varman strains to make everything from ostensible slums to sword-wielding rioters appear vividly colorful, if not downright beautiful. The requisite romantic chemistry between Roop and Zafar never really sparks, partly because Zafar’s motivations seem to change arbitrarily from scene to scene, and largely because Bhatt is so unaccountably bland as Roop. And while it’s hardly unprecedented for violent language and actions to be elements in a Bollywood musical, the furious mayhem of this particular movie’s climax feels even more incongruous than usual.

There’s really nothing in the dialogue-heavy sections of “Kalank” that is as impressive and infectiously exuberant as the over-the-top performance of a tune like “Aira Gaira,” an exuberant show-stopper that has a saucy young woman (Kriti Sanon) cavorting with Zafar and Dev (who don’t recognize each other) and a few hundred dancing extras. Indeed, whenever there is a long stretch between the big production numbers here, you can’t help wishing everyone would just stop yapping and start singing and dancing again.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: ‘Kalank’

Reviewed at AMC Studio 30, Houston, April 17, 2019. Running time: 166 MIN.

Production: (India) A Fox Star Studios release and presentation of a Dharma Prods. production in association with Nadiadwala Grandson Entertainment. Producers: Karan Johar, Sajid Nadiadwala, Hiroo Yash Johar, Apoorva Mehta.

Crew: Director, screenplay: Abhishek Varman. Camera (color): Binod Pradhan. Editor: Shweta Venkat Mathew. Music: Sanchit Balhara, Ankit Balhara.

With: Varun Dhawan, Alia Bhatt, Madhuri Dixit, Sanjay Dutt, Sonakshi Sinha, Aditya Roy Kapur, Kunal Kemmu. Kriti Sanon. (Hindi, English dialogue)

More Film

  • Samuel-W.-Gelfman

    Samuel Gelfman, Roger Corman Film Producer, Dies at 88

    Samuel Gelfman, a New York producer known for his work on Roger Corman’s “Caged Heat,” “Cockfighter” and “Cannonball!,” died Thursday morning at UCLA Hospital in Westwood following complications from heart and respiratory disease, his son Peter Gelfman confirmed. He was 88. Gelfman was born in Brooklyn, New York and was raised in Caldwell New Jersey [...]

  • Margot Robbie stars in ONCE UPON

    Box Office: 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood' Pulls Ahead of 'Hobbs & Shaw' Overseas

    Sony’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” might not have hit No. 1 in North America, but Quentin Tarantino’s latest film is leading the way at the international box office, where it collected $53.7 million from 46 markets. That marks the best foreign opening of Tarantino’s career, coming in ahead of 2012’s “Django Unchained.” “Once [...]

  • Good Boys Movie

    Box Office: 'Good Boys' Leads Crowded Weekend With $21 Million

    The Bean Bag Boys, the self-appointed nickname for the trio of best friends in Universal’s “Good Boys,” are conquering much more than sixth grade. They are also leading the domestic box office, exceeding expectations and collecting $21 million on opening weekend. “Good Boys,” which screened at 3,204 North American theaters, is a much-needed win for [...]

  • Amanda Awards

    ‘Out Stealing Horses’ Tops Norway’s 2019 Amanda Awards

    HAUGESUND, Norway —  Hans Petter Moland’s sweeping literary adaptation “Out Stealing Horses” put in a dominant showing at Norway’s Amanda Awards on Saturday night, placing first with a collected five awards, including best Norwegian film. Celebrating its 35th edition this year, the Norwegian industry’s top film prize helped kick off the Haugesund Film Festival and [...]

  • Editorial use onlyMandatory Credit: Photo by

    Richard Williams, 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' Animator, Dies at 86

    Renowned animator Richard Williams, best known for his work on “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” died Friday at his home in Bristol, England, Variety has confirmed. He was 86. Williams was a distinguished animator, director, producer, author and teacher whose work has garnered three Oscars and three BAFTA Awards. In addition to his groundbreaking work as [...]

  • Instinct

    Locarno Film Review: 'Instinct'

    Now that “Game of Thrones” has finally reached its conclusion, releasing its gifted international ensemble into the casting wilds, will Hollywood remember just what it has in Carice van Houten? It’s not that the statuesque Dutch thesp hasn’t been consistently employed since her startling 2006 breakout in Paul Verhoeven’s “Black Book,” or even that she’s [...]

  • Good Boys Movie

    Box Office: 'Good Boys' Eyes Best Original Comedy Opening of 2019

    Universal’s “Good Boys” is surpassing expectations as it heads toward an estimated $20.8 million opening weekend at the domestic box office following $8.3 million in Friday ticket sales. That’s well above earlier estimates which placed the film in the $12 million to $15 million range, marking the first R-rated comedy to open at No. 1 [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content