To watch a Hindu-Muslim romance onscreen at a time when inter-faith love stories in real life are labelled ‘jihad’, feels like an onerous task. There’s more baggage there than at unclaimed counters at airports.
By all reports, Abhishek Kapoor’s Kedarnath was to be an old school romance set in the backdrop of the real-life disaster of 2013 that killed thousands of people. In the end, however, it simply turned out to be a vortex of all the ugliness of caste, class and religion, with a very thin slice of romance, and a large side of cheap-looking expensive VFX.
The problem with Kedarnath is that it tried to tell a story it wasn’t equipped to. One cannot take on brahminical patriarchy that’s rockier than any gorge could ever be, plus a Hindu-Muslim romance, and a natural disaster that left thousands devastated, all at once. There’s just too much happening. As Trump says, bigly sad.
Kedarnath is the love story of Mansoor Khan (Sushant Singh Rajput), a pitthoo who carries pilgrims uphill to the main temple for a living, and Mandakini (debutante Sara Ali Khan), the daughter of the priest at said temple. And if you’ve been alive for over five minutes in this country, you know what that leads to. But it isn’t just caste, class and religion that separates these two. While Mansoor is friendly and ‘inexperienced’ at the matters of the heart, Mandakini, or Mukku as she is unfortunately nicknamed, has had several suitors, is on (GASP) Facebook, and generally has more spunk than her entire family combined. Much like the river Mandakini, that flows through Kedarnath, both sustaining the valley and at times keeping it hostage, its namesake too is bubbly for the most part, and wild when provoked.
Engaged to her sister’s former fiance (a turn of events not explained coherently enough), and angry at her father because of it, Mukku lashes out in ways that will seem funny to hipsters, deranged to others. It is Sara Ali Khan who single-handedly keeps your interest in a film whose narration suffers from extreme flakiness. Not that she’s perfect in her debut (is anyone?), but there’s something delightfully unrestrained in Sara, which in a film where Sushant Singh Rajput visibly looks like he’s having an out-of-body experience, keeps things from falling apart. One of the two main leads sleepwalking over a slack (story) line does not for an exceptional film make. And yet, Kedarnath isn’t a bad film either. It is just another film 2018 gave us that could have, should have, would have been better, had someone paid as much attention to the screenplay as they did to the casts’ wardrobes.