A period film set in pre-independence Lahore/Husnabad, this tragic love triangle is caught in a time-wrap – decadent in its aphorisms and retrograde in its messaging.
The setting is a faux Sanjay Leela Bhansali fantasyland where homes are mammoth sized and impressively ornate while people living in them seem terribly small-minded and driven by a script that seems altogether fallacious. It’s a time when the British were leaving India (yet we never see a single Britisher in the frame), a period of turbulence and internal strife that also led up to the partition.
The setting itself called for an intense and heavily dramatic approach but that was not to be. Writer-Director Abhishek Varman, entrusted with channelling Yash Johar’s vision, tries hard to make a multi-star cast period blockbuster (a la Rajkumar kohli) from a lacklustre, underdeveloped narrative that feels flat and uninspiring despite the luminous talent that it heralds within its ornate frames.
The film opens with Satya (Sonakshi Sinha), the terminally ill wife of America returned publishing magnate Dev Chaudhary (Aditya Roy Kapoor) visiting the doctor – where she informs him that it’s more important for her to fulfil her ‘Karm’ than to stay put and extend her life for a few weeks. And her ‘karm’ happens to be to convince Roop (Alia Bhatt) to become her husband’s second wife. You got it- it’s the Sridevi, Anil Kapoor, Urmila ‘Judaai’ set-up, pushed back by several decades and without obvious monetary inducement.
We do understand that Roop’s acceptance is a form of ‘Karz.’ Phew! And there’s more to come. A singer-dancer from the ‘tawaif’ gharana, Bahar Begum (Madhuri Dixit looking radiant), who practices her persuasive art in supposedly low-down Heera Mandi – is actually shown as living it up in ornamental regalia fit for a queen, while lording it over a bordello that looks far more richly endowed and palatial than the Chaudhary mansion. There’s certainly no balance either in the imagination or the craft.
Bahar Begum, long ago, had an illicit relationship with Dev’s father, Balraj Chaudhary (Sanjay Dutt looking silly and ill-at-ease), delivered an illegitimate son Zafar (Varun Dhawan), now a blacksmith, whom she had once abandoned post-haste in an attempt to get back into Balraj’s good books. And to get these two subplots to connect we have Roop insisting on wanting to finish her music and dance studies under the tutelage of the magnanimous Begum. The rest is predictable balderdash…
The background score is terrible – populated by half-baked aa-aas that do nothing to fill up the yawning gaps in the narrative texture. The tempo of the narration is also a little too laid-back, the unconvincing plot devices making it too cumbersome to garner affect.
The production design by Amrita Mahal Nakai is a little too chintzy to appear rich and Binod Pradhan’s glossed-out cinematography fails to blind us to the obvious artifice in this ‘set’ based theatre of the absurd. The numerous music and dance interludes in a needlessly protracted runtime of nearly 3 hours make it impossible for the audience to feel enamoured.
The weak characterisations and the hackneyed justifications only add to the compounding tedium. The climactic portions borrow heavily from legendary Bollywood tropes and eventually end up making the entire sequence of events here look rather factitious and unworthy. Despite their likeable presence, the actors fail to drum up intensity or attachment with their performances. This tackily dressed-up extravaganza has nowhere to go, literally.
Cast: Varun Dhawan, Alia Bhatt, Aditya Roy Kapoor, Sonakshi Sinha, Sanjay Duttt, Madhuri Dixit, Kunal Khemmu, Kiara Advani
Director: Abhishek Varman
Rating: * *