Director: Abhishek Kapoor
I timed it. The ship hits the iceberg precisely an hour and 38 minutes into Kedarnath.
To be fair, there isn’t a ship or an iceberg in sight in director Abhishek Kapoor’s love story. But Kedarnath, set against the devastating Uttarakhand floods of 2013, is basically Titanic beat for beat.
Kapoor and cinematographer Tushar Kanti Ray transport us to the pilgrimage town located in the cradle of the majestic Himalayan range. The camera pans and swivels to give us a real sense of the location: the steep route to the shrine, the raging Mandakini river, the bustle of locals and small businesses for the convenience of an unending stream of devotees. These details are special, chiefly because the plot is so run-of-the-mill.
Trouble is inevitable when Mukku (Sara Ali Khan), the daughter of a Hindu priest, and Mansoor, a porter, fall in love.
Mansoor is Muslim by religion, but the holy town of Kedarnath is in his blood. He cheerfully carries on the family tradition of ferrying devotees up to the temple on his trusted mule, or frequently on his own back. Their romance builds slowly and nicely, but the conflict comes off as trite. This isn’t just a matter of she’s-Hindu-he’s-Muslim, there’s also a villain in the form of the fiancé whom she’s been promised to by her unsympathetic dad. This track is especially regressive, given the dynamic between her fiancé and her older sibling.
There are token noises made about what rampant commercialization and expansion can cost the environment, but like most plot points in this film they go nowhere. The writing, in fact, is inert. Sara and Sushant have a delicate chemistry, and yet there’s little heft to their romance.
Sara Ali Khan, who frequently comes off as a spitting image of her mother, actress Amrita Singh, is especially confident for a debutant and imbues the character with a feisty, rebellious heart. The girl she plays, however, is hard to read, and that might have something to do with the clunky, inconsistent writing.
Sushant Singh Rajput invests Mansoor with an honest-to-goodness sincerity, playing him as something of a male Pollyanna for the most part. But it’s such a one-note character, there’s not a lot he can do with it.
Kedarnath hits its stride when the metaphoric iceberg strikes. Or specifically, with the cloudburst, the floods, and the landslides. Horrific images of three and four-storey buildings coming down like a pack of cards as the ground gives way to the strong currents are still fresh in most of our minds when someone mentions the events of 2013. The filmmakers recreate some of those images to good effect. Visuals of homes being washed away and families being ripped apart are especially chilling because you know this actually happened. The effects are serviceable, but the emotions run high. It’s in the final 20 minutes or so that the film genuinely makes you ‘feel’. The awe, shock, horror, and heartbreak are well earned.
Kedarnath ultimately falls short of living up to its promise, but I was happy to visit its world. The imagery is overwhelming, even if the writing feels labored. I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five.