Bollywood’s obsession with love stories that attempt to break boundaries set by religious and societal disparities gets a handsome revival in Abhishek Kapoor’s Kedarnath. Here, he mounts a bittersweet romance in the magnificent temple town of Kedarnath where pilgrims are quick to appease their gods but are reluctant to value people of different faiths.
It’s when nature’s fury strikes with a devastating force that their vulnerability and inadequacies come to the fore. The narrative is perhaps predictable, one that Mani Ratnam had marvellously mastered in his 1995-blockbuster Bombay. Happily, Kaoor is able to ignite that same brilliance on his canvas.
A bigger budget for special effects would have uplifted the film to greater heights but it’s not as if shoddy patchwork at some crucial points and an unoriginal climax derides the movie of finesse. Yet, Kapoor manages to reduce much of the damage and he’s got co-writer Kanika Dhillon to thank for creating some very poignant moments.
Together, they brilliantly capture the irony behind our blinded faith. For a nation united by their love for cricket and obsession to defeat Pakistan on the pitch, we fail to admit to our own prejudices and insecurities. We watch a girl and a boy, bound by their love for the game but separated by religion, sit together and cheer their country to victory. But the game refuses to ignite the same passion when their hearts are broken. Tongue-in-cheek, Kapoor names the leading lady after the river Mandakini that had wreaked havoc in Kedarnath in 2013, and his man after the lady’s (real) grandfather, the legendary cricketer Mansur Ali Khan.
Wish these moments of brilliance were not so far and few. For most parts, Kapoor focuses entirely on the love story and refuses to let any other conflict take center stage. The mammoth 2013 disaster is reduced to 20 gripping, heart-thumping minutes at the end. You cannot but help to wonder what the real Kedarnath floods must have been like and are left with a sense of shock at the magnitude of the tragedy and pity for those were forever washed away by those deadly waters.
The filmmaker lets his actors, Tushar Kanti Ray’s marvellous camerawork, striking set designs and Amit Trivedi’s spectacular tunes do much of the work. And, that’s where it shows. It’s soulless but pretty. He stacks his cards impressively. Sara Ali Khan makes an inspiring debut as the spirited Mandakini, showcasing striking similarities to her mother (yesteryear actor Amrita Singh). There’s a sense of ease in her in front of the camera, and a refreshing nonchalance with which she carries herself. The film appears to ride on her slender shoulders.
Sushant Singh Rajput is effortless too, and pretty confident how to lend charisma and charm to his character, Mansur. The supporting cast is left to play their parts in a single stroke. Nishant Dahiya is the perpetually angry, fanatical lover, while Alka Amin is forever suspicious and miserable mother of the boy. Sonali Sachdev plays the eternally obedient and watchful mother of the girl while Pooja Gor slips in as the scheming but loving sister and Nitish Bharadwaj as the pious father.
It’s amazing that Abhishek Kapoor, given the tragedies his own Kedarnath suffered all through its production, with stops, delays, court cases, a change in producers, his leading lady taking her debut to another film and a bigger pair of producers and then coming back, has managed to keep his head above the churning waters and produce a film that’s not just immensely watchable, but also entirely enjoyable.