Tag Archives: Kunal Khemu

Movie Review: Kalank (2019)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Kalank (“Stigma“) is a middling extravaganza, neither as good nor as bad as it could have been. Lavish sets, impressive dance numbers, and a gorgeous cast make it an enjoyable enough one-time watch, so long as you keep your attention at surface level.

Set just before Partition, the story follows Roop (Alia Bhatt), a young woman forced to integrate into a wealthy Hindu family living near Muslim-majority Lahore under unusual circumstances. Her acquaintance Satya (Sonakshi Sinha) proposes a business arrangement: in exchange for funding dowries for Roop’s younger sisters, Roop will move in to Satya’s home and grow closer to Satya’s husband, Dev (Aditya Roy Kapur). Satya is dying from cancer, and she hopes Dev will marry Roop after Satya’s death. Roop insists that she’ll only enter the home as Dev’s co-wife — a prudent move since Satya otherwise wouldn’t be around to make sure her wishes are carried out after death.

The second marriage proceeds and Roop moves into the Chaudhry family mansion with Satya, Dev, and Dev’s stiff father, Balraj (Sanjay Dutt). It would have been interesting to watch Roop and Satya negotiate their evolving roles in the household (as Bhatt’s character Sehmat did in Raazi) and learn more about nature of their tense preexisting relationship, but filmmaker Abhishek Varman sidelines Satya. Her illness progresses off-screen, and she and Roop have few interactions after their initial one. It’s unfortunate how small Sinha’s role in Kalank is given her prominence in the film’s marketing and the quality of her performance in her few scenes.

Dev tells Roop that he agreed to the marriage to make Satya happy, and that while he will never be mean to Roop, neither he will ever love her. Perhaps it’s because of the limitations of Dev’s nature, but Kapur’s one-note performance in the role is not one of his best.

In order to escape her stifling home life, Roop undertakes vocal music tuition from the famed courtesan Bahaar Begum (Madhuri Dixit) in a working-class Muslim neighborhood. There Roop meets Gendry, er, Zafar (Varun Dhawan): a hunky blacksmith who’s the unacknowledged bastard son of — you guessed it — Roop’s father-in-law, Balraj. Zafar neglects to mention that to Roop so that he can use her to take revenge against the family that abandoned him.

Varman lays the melodrama on thick, with lots of longing looks, near-kisses, and simmering tensions between family members. It’s fun, if that’s the kind of story you’re in the mood for. The melodrama is enhanced by song numbers that are grand in scale and a delight to watch, especially when Madhuri Dixit takes the floor. The sets have a depth of field, and every rooftop and alleyway is populated with extras. Some settings do feel over-the-top for their location. Bahaar Begum’s brothel is apparently so successful that she can afford to stack chandeliers atop one another, and Blacksmith Alley’s festival budget tops the production costs of most Bollywood films.

Then again, I don’t think authenticity was Varman’s goal with Kalank — especially not with Karan Johar financing the film. Everything is big and glamorous, regardless of whether it makes sense. I’m not sure if the costumes are true to the time period, but they look fabulous. The cast members — particularly Dixit, Sinha, and Bhatt — look stunning under Devdas cinematographer Binod Pradhan’s lens.

Kalank gets its worst bang for its buck on an awful CGI bull-riding sequence involving Zafar that includes maybe one shot of an actual bull. I’m not sure why this made the final cut of the film, except that they must have spent a lot of money on it.

Kalank‘s larger-than-life relationship drama is set within a complicated political environment. While Roop is falling in love with Zafar behind her husband’s back, neoliberal Dev uses his newspaper to promote the economic benefits of bringing a steel mill to Lahore — a move that would decimate the local, Muslim-run blacksmith industry. Dev — who is also anti-Partition — thinks he’s just seeing the big picture, envisioning an India made prosperous by innovation. Never mind that only his family’s prosperity is assured by such advances, at the expense of a struggling lower class.

Dev’s main antagonist is Zafar’s friend Abdul Khan (Kunal Khemu, who’s excellent in Kalank), a politician responding to his base’s growing discontent. His own politics become more religiously divisive over time in part because of the mood of the neighborhood but also due to Zafar’s aggrieved goading. There’s an inevitability to the violent climax, and Khan admits he couldn’t stop it if he wanted to (not that he wants to, by that point).

Kalank‘s epilogue — featuring Bhatt in a weird direct-to-camera speech — suggests that all this trouble could’ve been avoided if we just set aside our differences and chose to get along. But could it? The plot makes a compelling case for the Muslims in the film to favor Partition by whatever means necessary. Things were already tough — huge festival budgets and extravagant brothel chandeliers notwithstanding — and likely to get worse, all so that the (Hindu) rich can get richer and the (Muslim) poor poorer. I’m not saying this applies to actual history, but in the terms the movie sets for itself, the angry mob’s response makes sense.

That said, it stinks to see another mainstream film depict Muslims as violent, except for those noble enough to sacrifice themselves to save innocent Hindus. And it stinks that this is another movie that wants us to sympathize most with characters who are wealthy enough to escape difficult situations without regard for the mess they leave behind.

In order to enjoy Kalank, one must ignore the politics undergirding it and allow oneself to revel in the superficial beauty of it all. I was able to do that while I was in the theater. Only afterward did the film’s unfortunate aspects start to weigh on me.

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Movie Review: Go Goa Gone (2013)

Go_Goa_Gone_poster2 Stars (out of 4)

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Timing is everything in horror movies. Getting it right keeps the audience on the edge of their seats. Get it wrong, and the audience feels like they’re ticking boxes on a horror cliché checklist. The zombie flick Go Goa Gone gets its timing all wrong.

The premise is actually good. Dumped by his girlfriend, dope-smoking loser Luv (Vir Das) wants to forget about his romantic troubles. His horny roommate, Hardik (Kunal Khemu), sees this as a perfect excuse for a weekend of partying. They tag along with their straight-laced pal, Bunny (Anand Tiwari), on a business trip to the beach paradise Goa. The guys find themselves in trouble when a new party drug turns a bunch of ravers into the living dead.

Instead of getting right to the action, there’s a bunch of needless setup scenes. Hardik gets in trouble with his boss. Luv tosses out all his booze and drugs in order to impress his girlfriend, only to have her ditch him when he proposes to her. This is all stuff that could’ve happened offscreen beforehand, and the guys could cover it while they sit on the couch getting high. We don’t need to see it.

It takes about twenty minutes for the guys to get to Goa, and another twenty minutes for the zombies to show up. In a movie with a runtime of 110 minutes, that’s way too long.

Go Goa Gone has a lot in common with Delhi Belly (which also starred Das), another raunchy comedy made for an adult audience. Unfortunately, directors Raj & D.K. missed one of the crucial elements that made Delhi Belly so effective: no intermission.

With a runtime of only 90 minutes and no intermission, Delhi Belly maintains a cracking pace. It’s efficient, with no wasted scenes and no extraneous dialog. Go Goa Gone‘s additional twenty minutes of time to kill and the need for a break at a sensible point in the middle makes it bloated and slow by comparison.

This is most noticeable in the dialog, which is very funny at times — but which, like the undead, goes on longer than it should. For example, when Luv realizes that he and Hardik are being pursued by a bunch of flesh-eating zombies, he asks, “We only have ghosts and spirits in India. Where’d they come from?” “Globalization,” answers Hardik.

Rather than ending on that clever line, the scene continues on with further speculation as to the origin of the zombies. Watching the film, I kept thinking about the Seinfeld episode where George realizes that he’s dragging out his jokes too long and resolves to “end on a high note.” (A clip from the episode is embedded below.) Raj & D.K. don’t know when to end a funny scene, and the jokes get lost.

Even the scenes with the zombies feel boring. The creatures most often appear in large, slow-moving hordes, which the main characters easily outrun. Characters open doors with impunity, since there never seems to be a zombie hiding behind them. I usually hate jump scares, but even I was disappointed by the film’s lack of them.

The only advantage to the big groups of zombies is that it allows the Russian mobster Boris (Saif Ali Khan) to use them for target practice. Khan’s dyed-blond hair and exaggerated Russian accent are funny, but not for long. The fact that he’s always there to save the guys takes the agency away from our heroes.

Das and Khemu have a great rapport and do their best to carry the film. Tiwari’s character seems shoehorned in to make self-aware jokes about being the friend who always gets killed first in horror films. Pooja Gupta fits in better as Luv’s new love interest, Luna. Her presence sparks some amusing conflict between Luv and Hardik, as they compete over her in the middle of a zombie apocalypse.

There’s a lot of funny stuff in Go Goa Gone, but this kind of movie doesn’t work in the traditional Indian tale-of-two-halves format. The intermission break is the biggest thing keeping horror from becoming a popular genre in Bollywood. Without quick-hitting jokes and surprising scares at the right intervals, this kind of horror-comedy just doesn’t work.

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Opening June 12: Kal Kissne Dekha

Finally, Bollywood is back in the Chicago area. One new Hindi film opens this weekend, while another enters its second week in theaters.

New this weekend is Kal Kissne Dekha. The movie stars newcomer Jackky Bhagnani as Nihal, a psychic college student who comes to the aid of Meesha, played by fellow newcomer Vaishali Desai. The film also features performances by Rubina Ali and Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail, two of the cute kids from Slumdog Millionaire. Kal Kissne Dekha opens Friday, June 12 at the AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington and at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles.

Carrying over for another week at the Golf Glen 5 is the comedic thriller 99, which stars Kunal Khemu, Boman Irani and Soha Ali Khan.

Here’s the trailer for Kal Kissne Dekha: