Director: Abhishek Kapoor
Cast: Sushant Singh Rajput, Sara Ali Khan, Nitish Bharadwaj, Alka Amin
Water plays a pivotal role in Kedarnath. It's the first thing we hear and see in the film. It shapes and takes lives, functioning as both benefactor and destroyer. Which is just one of the many things in this film that will remind you of Titanic. Like James Cameron's epic, Kedarnath is also a fictional love story set against a real life disaster – in this case, the devastating floods in Uttarakhand in 2013. Here too, the boy and girl come from opposite sides of the tracks. But director Abhishek Kapoor ups the stakes. So Mandakini or Mukku belongs to a powerful pundit family in Kedarnath while the Muslim Mansoor is a pitthu or porter. These two are battling class differences and religious intolerance – just like Rose in Titanic, Mukku has an affluent, loutish fiancée who also happens to be a bigot. Eventually, of course the two lovers are fighting nature itself.
Kedarnath is also a film about the power of faith – faith in God, in love, in the goodness of human beings. From the first frame, Mansoor is established as selfless and so generous that his mother is perpetually annoyed with him for underselling his services. I think Kedarnath is also about faith in the power of storytelling. This film has been through many upheavals including several court cases but Abhishek kept ploughing through. You can see the hard work on screen – a lot of the film has been shot on location in Kedarnath and apart from the clumsy VFX flood in the climax, it's beautiful.
The lead characters demanded commitment – physical and emotional – and both actors step up to the plate. Sushant Singh Rajput is carrying people up the steep mountain paths. In the end, both he and Sara Ali Khan are battered by water and lathered in mud. Mansoor is the subdued one in this relationship. Mukku is spirited and aggressive and not afraid of going after what her heart desires. Clearly writer Kanika Dhillon has a knack for writing women of a certain temperament and spine – remember Rumi in Manmarziyaan? Sara fits the bill. She's spirited and confident without being vain or coquettish. There is a lovely spontaneity about her.
There are moments of real sweetness and passion between Mukku and Mansoor – at one point, he sings, not very well, the Madan Mohan classic from Woh Kaun Thi? – "Lag Jaa Gale". Their romance reminded me of all those films in which rich girls fall hard for boys who are beneath their status, like Raja Hindustani or Jab Jab Phool Khile. It's old school and so is this film, which eventually becomes a hurdle. Kedarnath feels like it belongs to an earlier decade. Apart from Mukku's character, there is little that is fresh or contemporary.
There is an effort to create a small town ethos but many things jar – like Mukku's gorgeous outfits and jewelry
The films wants to be too many things – there is a running sub-plot involving Mukku's sister. Abhishek and Kanika also bung in an environmental angle. The story is overwrought but under-cooked and the tonality, inconsistent. There is an effort to create a small town ethos but many things jar – like Mukku's gorgeous outfits and jewelry. Even when it's snowing outside, she's wearing only a tasteful salwar kameez. At one point, her and Mansoor break into a synchronized dance at a friend's wedding. Suddenly,, the shy porter becomes a rockstar.
The second half has so much stuffed into into it that little makes an impact – including the flood. The narrative races choppily from one disconnected scene to another – at one point, we are in a tent at the Chorabari Lake with two characters we haven't met till now. They are bunged in only to reveal the fury of the flood. As people and homes are swept away, the film strains to be suspenseful and poignant but it doesn't quite get there.
Afterward I found myself thinking of the luminous Sara and this lovely line by lyricist Amitabh Bhattacharya in the song Qaafirana – aise tum mile ho jaise mil rahi ho itr se hawa. I wish the rest of Kedarnath had matched the magic of that. I'm going with two and a half stars.