There is a wave of creators and consumers dipping into the rich well of Hindu mythology that never seems to dry. Hindu mythology has continued to remain a favoured trope across mediums and genres in Indian popular culture. A similar example can be observed in the movie, Kalank. The Indian Epic, Ramayana plays a key symbolic role in the scheme of things in Kalank.

It starts retrospectively when Beghum, all of 18 years old, falls in love with Balraj Chaudhary (Sanjay Dutt), the rich influential editor of an esteemed daily. However, Balraj soon stops visiting the brothel when he discovers Beghum is pregnant with his child. He ends up abandoning the relationship, giving in to the societal perception that his illegitimate son was a kalank (blot) on his reputation. A parallel can be drawn to when Ram refused to accept Sita after a dhobi (washerman) convinces him that she was ‘corrupted’ after spending years in Ravana’s Lanka.

The betrayal takes a toll on Beghum who abandons her newborn child, Zafar (Varun Dhawan), in the hope of getting Balraj back. But soon, she realises that Balraj was also evading the stain of a relationship with a courtesan. Consequently, she gives up dancing and confesses later to Zafar that she is still in love with Balraj. Her singing ‘Ghar More Pardesiya‘ (which also narrates the Ramayana in the form of a song) every night stems from a helpless lover’s deep longing.

Interestingly, at the start of ‘Ghar More Pardesiya‘, there is a reference to the famous line from the Ramayana, “Praan jaye par vachan na jaaye“, which refers to Rama respecting his father’s word to his stepmother that he would embrace vanvasa (refuge in the jungles), forfeiting his wealth and the throne to his brother Bharat.

This aspect of the Ramayana also finds its way into the lives of the two lead characters of Kalank. Roop (Alia Bhatt) honours the word given by her father to Satya (Sonakshi Sinha). She agrees to marry Satya’s husband Dev (Aditya Roy Kapoor) to fill the impending void that Satya would leave behind once she dies of cancer. Roop, thus, finds herself torn between her duty to serve as Dev’s wife and her instinct to fall for Zafar.

Zafar, on the other hand, is the Rama to Dev’s Bharat. While Bharat enjoys the wealth and mansion built by their father Balraj, Rama is left to fend for himself on the streets of Hira Mandi. Kalank, however, offers a different take on the dynamic of brothers when it shows its Rama, i.e. Zafar, as a bitter man who has resolved to seek revenge from the Chaudharys.

He mobilises the majority Muslim population of the area, led by his friend and politician Abdul (Kunal Kemmu), against the Chaudharys, who publish articles in their daily that empathise with the British rule. He then seeks to win over Roop in order to get back at Dev and Balraj Chaudhary for never accepting him as a family member. Roop starts to question why he finds faults in every aspect of life, eventually making him reconsider his move to use Roop as a vehicle of vengeance.

Similarly, Roop also faces the same ‘agni pareeksha‘. She never sees Zafar as a kalank, but only as kajal (kohl), which can fulfil the traditional role of warding off evil, prying glances. She struggles most when Beghum reveals Zafar’s grand plan of vengeance to her (because Beghum wants to protect Roop, in whom she sees her younger version). But Roop finds tremendous strength in her faith and continues to love Zafar, though she admits her respect for him has been diluted.

After spilling the beans to Roop, Beghum returns to her brothel and revisits her own betrayal through a Kathak recital, ‘Tabaah Ho Gaye’. In the end, she performs vicious Kathak chakkars, indicating how life has come full circle and that the Ramayana has repeated itself. But Zafar soon breaks the vicious cycle by grabbing hold of Beghum. Though he initially tries to choke her, he ends up forgiving her. Roop’s distant words, that also hint at the cyclic nature of vengeance, echo in his head, “Agar kisi ki tabahi mei khushi mile, toh humse zyada tabaah aur koi nahi iss duniya mei.”

In the end, Zafar and Roop rise above the hate. They were destined to do so from their first encounter itself — when a Ravana effigy (symbolic of hate) begins burning to ashes. They could have given in to societal expectations as Rama, or Balraj, did. But they choose kajal over kalank, and thus arrived home. As they unite in a land beyond all rights and wrongs in the final moments of the film, a vivacious Beghum dances her way to glory whereas a morose Balraj is seen all alone — staring into the darkness.

– Aayushi Bawa, Amity International School, Noida

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