Mumbai, 07 Dec 2018 11:28 IST
Saif Ali Khan and Amrita Singh's daughter shows ample promise in her first film. More than a love pilgrimage, director Abhishek Kapoor's Kedarnath is an endearing story of the undying human spirit.
A love story told in the backdrop of a disaster. This reviewer is not really fond of such tales, for they run the risk of the human tragedy being submerged in the director’s fictional romanticism. Hundreds, maybe thousands perish, but the lives and stories of the beautiful protagonists take precedence over all else.
A year ago, Abhishek Kapoor had announced his film Kedarnath, an inter-faith love story between a Muslim porter and a young Brahmin woman set in the backdrop of the 2013 flash flood in the Uttarakhand town. The trailer appeared to suggest the flood was the curse of a woman denied her love. And the usual ‘love jihad’ talk was whipped up by some politicians. So one could not be faulted for looking at Kedarnath with scepticism.
Men are divided by faith, but a natural disaster doesn’t choose its victims. There is great loss of human life, but the true character of a human being comes to the fore during a catastrophe when good Samaritans leave prejudices of caste and creed aside to help others out. Kedarnath's makers called it a love pilgrimage, but this is a film that pays tribute to the undying human spirit.
Mansoor Khan (Sushant Singh Rajput) is a pithoo, someone who ferries a pilgrim on his back, in the Kedarnath region. Quite often pithoos around Hindu holy shrines are Muslim. For all the venom that people with vested interests spread in the name of religion, the sight of Muslim men chanting mantras of Hindu deities is a reflection of India’s cultural bonding.
Mandakini, fondly called Mukku by her family, is the Brahmin woman who falls for Mansoor. While he loves Mukku, the poor pithoo is not optimistic about this relationship given the religious and class divides. There is predictable opposition to the relationship and as a viewer you know how this story will pan out.
The story is a collaborative effort between Kanika Dhillon and Kapoor, with the former also penning the dialogues and screenplay. While the story is predictable, Dhillon and Kapoor save it from the usual tropes. There is no undue melodrama, no runaway bride, not much bloodshed.
Filmmakers need to observe great sensitivity while handling such subjects. Such stories in the past lacked soul. With all due respect to people from all walks of life, the idea of a rich girl finding comfort in a poor boy's house was too good to be true.
Dhillon and Kapoor take a practical approach to the story. While the woman is possessive, Mansoor is not too optimistic about their future together. Kapoor and Dhillon are sensitive to the sentiments attached. There can be an argument that the duo is trying to please all, but what novelty would Kedarnath offer had it taken the traditional route?
If Mansoor is the ice, Mukku is the fire. As we saw in Manmarziyaan (2018), Dhillon likes her Juliet to have a rebellious streak. Mukku doesn’t smoke, drink, or lust, but like Rumi of Manmarziyaan, she is unafraid to speak her mind.
Mukku turned sour from the moment her sister’s groom-to-be had a change of heart and sought her hand in marriage. How many families today will entertain such men? Nevertheless, Brijesh Mishra (Nitish Bhardwaj) is happy to oblige Kullu (Nishant Dahiya). Mukku calls her father Pundit, often argues with her mother, and blames sister Brinda (Pooja Gor) for her woes.
Sara Ali Khan probably imbibes this feisty attitude from her mother Amrita Singh, who stood out for playing such characters. Let’s just say rebelling comes naturally to mother and daughter. Sara Ali Khan is gifted with beauty, has tremendous screen presence, but, more importantly for a first-time actress, she shows great promise. The 23-year-old is competent for the best part of the film, though she goes a little awry when playing the possessive lover.
It is her innocence and stubbornness that make Mukku an endearing character. Sara Ali Khan is a talent that can only get better with experience.
Sushant Singh Rajput has had a topsy-turvy career so far. The odd good show is often followed by disappointment. Rajput is fine here to begin with, but the performance lacks consistency. Self-confidence is not a trait you associate with a poor labourer, but Rajput is a little too underwhelming in his act. He is off the mark in his emotional bursts. Also, for a pithoo, he has one too many bright t-shirts.
Nitish Bhardwaj, Pooja Gor and Alka Amin are competent, but one man who is more than impressive is Nishant Dahiya. He plays the conniving Kullu, the groom-to-be of Mukku. Dahiya comes across as a naturally gifted actor, a talent that needs to be watched.
In the endeavour to tell the love story, Abhishek Kapoor does not lose sight of the victims of the devastating floods. Very subtly he touches upon the threat posed to the mountains by excessive urbanization. It is easy to term such floods natural disasters, but men do need to evaluate the harm unfettered industrialization can cause to the environment.
Composer Amit Trivedi and lyricist Amitabh Bhattacharya create some fine tracks, chiefly 'Qaafirna' and the meditative 'Namo Namo' chant. Cinematographer Tushar Kanti Ray captures both the beauty of Kedarnath and the gloomy atmosphere amidst the rains admirably. The indoor scenes are shot in dim light, reflective of the humble houses in the mountains.
Kapoor gets it right with the first half, but the second is not as compelling. Hindu-Muslim bonding over an India-Pakistan match is perhaps more appropriate for a sports film than a love story. Also, this trope is no longer engaging. The special effects, mainly the floods, are a little off the mark, but this is no superhero film.
Some of the scenes in the climax can best be described as a miracle, but the drama is gripping and moving.
As one who went into the hall with scepticism, Kedarnath pleasantly surprised this reviewer. Sara Ali Khan is a breath of fresh air. Dhillon and Kapoor treat the subject and the tragedy with sensitivity. Love may be blind, but Kapoor and Dhillon don’t lose sight of practicality. Kapoor had a tough time getting Kedarnath released. After all the struggles, the director can take a dip in the holy waters and cherish this Kedarnath.
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