Kedarnath Film review
By Sunita Vijay
For a film whose titular climax is centred around the cataclysmic flash floods the Kedar valley faced in 2013, to face the tempest of a ban in the very state which furnished the canvas for it to paint out a picturesque but interesting love tale, is irony at its zenith. We know we live in precariously intolerant times when, per convenience, we choose to label any romantic association between a Hindu girl and a Muslim boy as love jihad. Kedarnath, directed by Rock On and Kai Po Che fame Abhishek Kapoor, has fallen prey to the same rough weather, right from its days in production to now, its screening.
Shot mostly in the jaw-dropping vale of the Mandakini river in Uttarakhand, the film begins with an energising background score of Amit Trivedi’s Namo Namo, commencing our teerath to the revered shrine of Kedarnath in full swing. As someone who has herself had the opportunity to visit this heavenly locale twice, I can proudly testify to the amazing work of the camera in capturing the incandescent glacial snow peaks, soothing blue sky, gurgling sound of the Mandakini and above all, the impressive temple of Baba Kedar standing majestically against the peerless and unparalleled beauty of the snow clad Himalayas. The vibrancy of colours, religious music, and ample sunshine coherently leads to the introduction of the protagonists, Mansoor (Sushant Singh Rajput), a charmingly handsome and awfully benevolent Muslim porter/ pithoo, and Mukku or Mandakini (Sara Ali Khan), the daughter of a Hindu priest; she’s boisterous, commanding and exudes confidence, much like the river she takes her name from.
The plot seems weaker than the foundation of buildings which come crippling down in the film when disaster strikes. It’s the predictable, run-of-the-mill feud between the immense social capital wielded by the Hindu pandits in the Shiva’s land and the oppressed minority community of Muslim pithus. Kedarnath is bright and sunshiny in the first half, giving way to dark clouds in the second half, pregnant with the rage and frightening fury of nature, expressed via the all-consuming Mandakini. The songs go with the mood and are deeply calming. However, the film-makers’ attempt to hint at reasons behind nature’s riot against injustice, such as rampant commercialisation and unnatural treatment of fellow humans just because they aren’t Hindus, is a laudable but unfinished and poorly concluded business. Mukku’s irk at witnessing bill-boards in the valley, Mansoor’s impassioned speech to respect the ecological capacity of the valley, his appeal to recognise how Muslim porters are an indispensable and pre-existing part of a community that chants Shiva and rings temple bells to serve pilgrims: all are themes which tickle the promise of reaching a satisfying conclusion but are abandoned as quickly as they are mentioned, with no impactful consequence.
No praise shall suffice for Rajput’s work in the film. He is the man of the moment, the true hero, a sacrificial, robust, cheerful, docile and selfless human being, who often carries pilgrims at discounted rates despite being economically unhealthy himself and does all in his stride to give them a truly divine experience. Sushant fits the role like flannel washed in hot suds, evoking the most emotions!
Sara Ali Khan, in her first film, is a very promising find for the industry. Her debut is breezy, lively, and charged. Playing a rebel in her own stead, challenging the family’s beliefs and practices, oozing confidence in front of the camera, with an enchanting smile, domineering screen presence, and natural dialogue delivery, Sara’s comfortable in her skin. She’s free-spirited and bindaas, engaged to a highly sectarian man, who has greedy ambitions to raise hotels and shops in Rambara, a region halfway to the Kedarnath Shrine. She falls in love with Mansoor, a tragedy which builds up and comes crashing when disaster strikes the hamlet. If Mukku is more forthcoming in her views and in expressing her love, Mansoor is subdued and a silent lover. Together their romance is highly sweet, but at places not quite titillating.
Though Kedarnath seems to have survived the disasters of litigation and delayed release, whether it will survive the disaster of an unappealing script and above average VFX is a question mark. Kanika Dhillon, screenwriter of Manmarziyaan fame, could have done a better job here, especially while dealing with class/religion lessons with the broader conceptual narrative of ruthless environmental degradation. Small town ethos is lacking when the story is set in the remote places of Kedar and Rambara, but the dressing sense and style of speaking of the locals, especially Mukku’s, seems incongruous. I give a shout out to the makers for picturising the breath-taking scene of a sturdy boulder almost divinely placing itself right behind the Kedarnath temple at the peak of the gushing floods, protecting it, diverting the waters and forming an awe-inspiring sheshnaag, a befitting chaperon which secures the majesty of the shrine, which stood upright at its place, though sunken in the muddy debris left after the floods. However, some personal themes like the emotional confrontation between two sisters keeping Mukku’s fiancé as the bone of contention, a frustrating jig between parents and the spunky daughter, the ideal of a love that can bloom in any societal framework, remain unbaked.
Overall, the concern shown towards unscrupulous mushrooming of shops, lodges and hotels, insensitive human interventions, the uncontrollable number of pilgrims sent to a shrine nestled in the pristine valley which demands solitude, and the unbearable burden of careless businessmen, was noteworthy but not sterling enough to warrant commendation. The film lost the opportunity to send across a key message on behest of the environment, especially when it chose to use as backdrop a catastrophe as mammoth as the 2013 Uttarakhand floods. The fact that it is now mired in political concerns of love jihad, euphemistically quoted as “cultural-religious sensitivities”, further makes the larger theme sink in the debris of petty concerns. The Kedarnath shrine doesn’t need so much hustle and bustle. It needs serenity, hymns chiming, natural forests, rivers, flora-fauna blooming in harmony and insignificant human intervention, who are hell bent on turning green to grey. Perhaps a little less human intervention is also needed in the running of the film so that whatever little message manages to jut out is not drowned in the clamour of muddy allegations. Let Kedarnath’s message stand out, just like the shrine did.
I go with two and a half stars.