“Kedarnath”… A generally watchable film whose scenery does more heavy-lifting than the screenplay

Posted on December 13, 2018


Spoilers ahead…

I’m going to begin with the scene you expect in every story where an upper-class Hindu girl falls for a lower-class Muslim boy. The girl’s family finds out. They’re livid when they discover her in his house. Her father drags her away, but she isn’t kicking and screaming. She’s already been through a sort of trial-by-fire when the boy doubted her love, and now, something’s hardened inside her. The next day, the boy comes to her home to explain. The girl’s fiancé (yes, this is the kind of film where she has a fiancé) orders his goons to beat the boy up. It’s pouring. The boy writhes in the slush as kicks and blows come at him. So far so familiar, but here’s the twist. The girl watches from the floor above, calmly. Her hysterical sister asks her to do something, else the boy might die. She simply says, “Itne mein hi mar gaya to aage kaise jhelega!” If he dies after just this much [suffering], then how will he take what’s going to come!

It’s a grand line that belongs in an aria, and it makes you wish the build-up to this moment had been similarly operatic. Abhishek Kapoor’s Kedarnath is the well-worn story of opposites, Mansoor (Sushant Singh Rajput) and Mandakini (Sara Ali Khan). If something tells you M & M aren’t in for a candied romance, you know this genre. I was reminded of Betaab, for instance, which marked the debut of Amrita Singh (Sara’s real-life mother, who has bequeathed her daughter some of her refreshing sass and spitfire-spunk). There, too, we had the horse-riding boy who lived with his widowed mother amidst the mountains, and fell for the bratty upper-class girl. But unlike that film, Kedarnath isn’t about taming the shrew. For one, Mansoor is too nice a guy. Even Mandakini’s father agrees. “Masoom hai,” he says. He’s an innocent. The father is played by a face that kept telling me I’ve seen the actor somewhere. Wiki then reminded me it’s Nitish Bharadwaj. Apparently, it’s not that big a hop from Dwaraka to Kedarnath.

The film opens with Mansoor — he’s a porter who ferries pilgrims up and down the slopes — establishing how nice he is. He wins over a woman who refuses to use the services of a Muslim. And later, when he falls for Mandakini, it’s almost a wilful submission. It appears that she wants him and he’s too nice to say no. When Mandakini comes to his friend’s wedding, he sings: Kaise main kahoon shukriya / Uska mujhpe ehsaan hai / Naacheezon ki basti mein woh / Jo banke aayi mehmaan hai. These are startlingly self-effacing words for a modern-day Hindi-film hero — he’s thankful that she’s done him this favour, that she’s visited this gathering of nobodies. Sushant Singh Rajput adopts some fussy, Method-y mannerisms, but he puts across Mansoor’s earnestness without making the man seem bland. (“Nice” is hardest to make interesting on screen.)

Mandakini is naughty to Mansoor’s nice — “shaitan ki dum,” as her exasperated mother calls her. I wish the film had told us more about why – a shared love for cricket apart — this girl would fall for this guy. I also wish today’s films would stop referencing Lag jaa gale every time they want to raise the temperature of the drama through the use of a classic film song. (There are other swoony numbers, you know.) Plus, there’s juicier melodrama in the (sadly underwritten) angle that Mandakini’s fiancé (Nishant Dahiya) was earlier engaged to her sister (Pooja Gor). But other parts are written well. I liked the grim humour when Mansoor tells Mandakini, “Hamein poora yakeen hai aap hamein gehri museebat mein daal dengi.” (You’re going to get me into deep trouble.) Sure enough, the skies burst out and we are sucked into the best recreation of the 2013 Uttarakhand floods Indian VFX houses can render. (It’s not bad.) What about Mansoor and Mandakini? Hell or high water, the heart will go on…

Yes, the template is from Titanic, and that’s why the environmental angle in the first half is a waste of time. The characters keep debating whether more hotels will hurt the fragile ecosystem, but that kind of “realism” and “logic” (along with footage from the actual 2013 floods) have no place in such a story, which is right out of Greek myth. In Titanic, it’s as though the gods decided to punish man’s hubris in making that ship and believing it could outpower Nature. In Kedarnath, the gods are pissed off because people won’t allow the union of two secular lovers, a Muslim who says “Om namah Shivaay” and a pandit’s daughter who cares only that Mansoor is a good man (who incidentally happens to be a Muslim). What’s needed isn’t eco-mindedness but daft romanticism. But the film is generally watchable, and apart from the leads, a lot of the credit goes to the cinematographer, Tushar Kanti Ray. In the first scene, his camera does a 360 — not pivoted at one point but a free-floating kind of circular movement, whose freedom colours the rest of the film. The scenery is gorgeous. I don’t see myself actually going to Kedarnath, but I was happy to have had this vivid, second-hand experience.

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Posted in: Cinema: Hindi