Cast: Sara Ali Khan, Sushant Singh Rajput, Nitish Bharadwaj, Akla Amin, Sonali Sachdev, Pooja Gor, Nishant Dahiya
Director: Abhishek Kapoor
Writer-director Abhishek Kapoor’s Kedarnath carries a heavy burden. In a short span of just 121 minutes, the film tries to do a lot many things.
For starters, it is the launch film of a star bachcha Sara Ali Khan — the biological daughter of Amrita Singh and Saif Ali Khan, and quite obviously one who has been groomed and nurtured for stardom-cum-divadom by Kareena Kapoor Khan.
Kedarnath also tells a love story about a Hindu girl and a Muslim boy and sets it in one of the sanctum sanctorum of Hinduism.
And while it does so, it wants to side with humanity and rap the bigotry of petty, petulant men. Kedarnath wants to show how personal tiffs between men are given an ugly, larger communal twist because of commercial interests, or because a man’s feelings of deep inadequacy about his size and girth.
Kedarnath also wants to make a point and raise consciousness about unbridled tarakki and development in our beauteous but fragile hill areas by setting its love story in the 2013 Uttarakhand floods in which about 5,000 people died.
That’s a lot of load on one film. Yet, like the many khachchars in hill areas, as well as the film’s own well-behaved khachchar, Rustom, it diligently carries to the finish line all that’s piled on its back, only sometimes pausing to take a dump, pee, or walking dangerously close to the edge.
When Kedarnath does reach the end, three things will stay with you for a long time.
One, Sara Ali Khan.
Ms Khan is a spitting image of two very cool, spunky women. She carries in her pleasant frame glimpses of her mother’s looks, and the screenpresence and she has Amrita’s power and confidence, and Kareena’s self-love. But those are strains she carries in a personality and with a style that’s uniquely her own. There’s a maturity and intelligence about her that makes her presence on the screen quite appealing.
Two, the Shiva iconography. For bhakts of Bum Bum Bhole, there are enough rousing scenes and chants, breathtaking tandav of the elements to raise a chilam to him that make you want to plan a trek or a teerath to Kedarnath and beyond.
Three, the film’s politics. While Kedarnath creates a Hindu-Muslim confrontational scenario, one that dips into so-called “love jihad” that we have been hearing for the last four years, it really just focuses on Hindus and aggressive Hindutvawadis, with passing glimpse of Muslims and Islam in passing.
Its eventual message then is not so much about secularism or equality, but more about wishy-washy humanity. Nothing wrong with that. But it’s a copout.
Kedarnath is mostly set on the road between the temple and the base, Gaurikund, where Mansoor Khan (Sushant Singh Rajput), a pithu with a khachchar of his own, is mostly found. But the film often parks itself in Rambara, in the house of a Panditji. Brajraj Mishra (Nitish Bharadwaj), a temple priest, lives with his wife Lata (Sonali Sachdev), elder daughter Brinda (Pooja Gor) and younger beti Mandakini, or Mukku (Sara Ali Khan).
Brinda, we soon realise, is singed into silent rage because of a decision her father took. But she erupts only at the women around her.
Mukku is not just bristling with anger at what has been decided for her, but also because she can’t take her sister’s heavy breathing that seems to hold her responsible.
Mansoor is an adorable creature always going beyond the call of duty to take care of the yatris.
He puts their needs above those of his own family, loves Kedarnath, rings the temple’s bell every single time he drops off a yatri, has no qualms saying “Jai Shiv Shankar” and the only sign of his own religion he carries is the tabeej around his neck.
With a cricket scene that follows, Mansoor passes the “Hindutva loyalty” test with flying colours.
Painting a kind of Muslim whose subservience to majority religion is not just complete, but is sealed with a selfie and a smile, is perhaps to be expected in these times in our country where the man who publicly turned down a Muslim skullcap is PM, and yet he and his party demands all Muslims and Christians to embrace all that is Hindu with the same gusto that he displays on meeting foreign heads of state.
Mukku’s introductory scene is verbose, rather stupid and annoying. But it conveys that she has spunk, is belligerent and not scared of confrontations or speaking her mind. I mean, she calls her father “Pandit”.
In this world of yatris on teeraths and sabhas of pandits who own and run Kedarnath like their personal fiefdom, is Kullu (Nishant Dahiya), smug, bigoted and planning vikas through construction of hotels while the pithus, who are mostly Muslims, don’t even have loos.
It’s with Kullu at the centre that some of the film’s clever are constructed to convey its politics.
“Tum kahan se aaye hamare beech?”
“Beech mein? Hum toh hamesha se yahan the.”
It’s quite nicely and forcefully done.
Especially when the film shows how the fight between Kullu and Mansoor, a love triangle really, becomes a Hindu verses Muslim fight.
The film’s end, where love ends up as tragic flotsam, can well be read as one that’s designed to be palatable to Hindutvawadis.
But then, it’s also what has been happening in situations these days when it’s a majority versus minority fight.
In this telling of so-called “love jihad”, I would have like Mukku and Mansoor to be at least equals. But Kedarnath often dips into Bollywood’s cinematic cliches to create good Muslim characters, but it also rises the emotional quotient high at several points to convey its message of humanity and harmony.
Kedarnath celebrates Shiva and all his rousing iconography with the help of cinematographer Tushar Kanti Ray’s very sharp camerawork and Amitabh Bhattacharya-Amit Trivedi’s jugalbandi on songs that use the Shiva chant to great effect.
The almost 10-minute long flood sequence, a tandav of elements, which employs nature’s fury to convey the anger of the gods, is quite stunning.
Like all past and future heroines, Sara wears cotton salwar kameez even when people all around her are shivering and covered from head to toe in warm woollens.
But when she is sad, she gets a shawl.
Despite these small problems, the film’s strength lies in the character who create its world. All of them are nicely written and assigned to very good actors. Nitish Bharadwaj is especially good, but Nishant Dahiya, whose dialogue delivery is controlled but powerful, is excellent. He exudes from his slender frame that aggressive Hindutva which always carries the threat violence.
Sushant Singh Rajput’s character is a sum total of old Bollywood clichés. There’s a deliberate invisibilisation of Mansoor’s Muslim identity while the film celebrates Hinduism in all its glory.
Sushant pulls his mouth too much, often spoiling some nice scenes, and his inept acting makes Sara sparkle even more.
Mukku, powered by Sara’s own forceful personality and spunk, stays true to her character till the end.
Sara has some rather awkward, difficult scenes and though this is her debut, she carries them very well.
In some of these scenes I saw glimpses of Amrita Singh from Chameli Ki Shaadi, and in some I felt as if she was channelling Geet from Jab We Met.
Desipte that Mukku was entirely a character created by Sara in ways that were intelligent and memorable. The Singhs, Tagores, Khans and Kapoors must raise a toast to her, and welcome the arrival of a star who can also act.