Director: Abhishek Kapoor
Cast: Sara Ali Khan, Sushant Singh Rajput
In the most sexually-charged moment in Kedarnath, the film’s leading pair climbs up to a cave-shack. “Tumne kabhi asmaan piya hai? (“Have you ever drunk the sky?”),” asks the girl. The hero is unstirred, missing the hint — prompting the girl to spin a spooky yarn about her dead grandma. She then gulps a bit of rain and spews it on the guy’s face, hoping for a move. Defeated, she goes, “Will you only take, not give?” — to which our hero responds with a gruffy male rendition of Lata Mangeshkar’s Lag Jaa Gale, as though it were the girl (and not him) who needed some restless 60s spurring.
Kedarnath, directed by Abhishek Kapoor, is full of old wine in a new bottle: Muslim boy loves Hindu girl; parents disagree. The word ‘bagawat’ is flung around, tailed closely by the ultimate movie ultimatum: “Either burn me, or forget her...” Some timeliness can be claimed in light of present-day intolerance (the film was accused of promoting ‘love jihad’ by expected factions), but the tedium and predictability make it hard to root for the characters, or feel their pain. The backdrop — of the 2013 North Indian floods — could have been substantial, were it not so brutally pulled down by sloppy CGI and a rushed treatment. But let’s talk about Sara Ali Khan.
The anticipation around her debut wasn’t entirely unjustified. She did earn some miles with her prerelease interviews — which were witty, smart, refreshing — but her acting skills still signal a long climb ahead. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since her performance does hint at a willingness to learn: there’s a reassuring earnestness to the way she measures out her movements and waits before responding to a co-actor’s lines (the first sign of a willing performer).
It’s the lines themselves, though, that let her down. Sara plays Mukku, younger daughter of a local pandit in Kedarnath, who falls in love with Sushant Singh Rajput’s Mansoor, a Muslim porter lugging pilgrims to the temple gate. In a scene where Mansoor gets beaten up by goons and Mukku is asked to intervene, she frankly and guiltlessly says, “If he croaks so easily, how will he put up what’s ahead?” There’s also near-constant emphasis on Mukku’s rebellious nature: so much so that she gashes a finger when asked to serve pakodas; and spills delicious- looking chai — glass after glass — as part of a stupid romantic gag.
Sushant, for his part, braves backaches and slipped discs to shoulder this difficult film. He is a competent leading man who understands the underdog arc well. In the lovely opening scene, we see Mansoor win over a crabby old woman by affecting a Bhojpuri accent and clicking selfies. Later, when ribbed about his religion at a town-hall meeting, he flares up with rage but lets diplomacy prevail. This film, despite the occasional violence, seems insistent on the power of words in dispelling communal tension. (“Things can be resolved with talk,” reasons a character when faced by a charging mob).
Yet, no real ground is ever broken — either by the lovers or the fencesitting adults, such as Mukku’s mom — and it takes the great climactic wash to furiously level things out. Screenwriter Kanika Dhillon slowbleeds the romance and holds off the disaster, which, until the horrendous flood effects arrive, appears to be a smart choice.
The first hour boasts nice visuals of misty mountain-tops and sunlit creeks, but most of it is disfigured by the simulated muddy water and poor cloudbursts that aspire for horror-film gloom. The disaster- movie nods stick out a mile — a Woody Harrelson/Charlie Frost-like character gets swept up in the rain and Mansoor, pulling an Indian Jack Dawson, winks, “I know you will land me in deep trouble…” Kedarnath is an ambitious film. Abhishek Kapoor melds two difficult subjects — interfaith romance, natural calamity — while working within a moderate budget. The writing is clunky and the payoff unearned, and everything feels like a drag at the two-hour runtime. The execution hurts the most.