It takes 10 quick minutes to figure out the story of Abhishek Kapoor’s Kedarnath. Even if you haven’t seen the trailer. Even if you don’t know anything about the film. Starring Sushant Singh Rajput and debutant Sara Ali Khan, Kedarnath begins by paying tribute to the victims of the “Uttarakhand floods in June 2013”.
The film opens in May 2013. The hero, Mansoor (Rajput), is poor, a porter; he’s also a Muslim. The heroine, Mukku (Khan), is wealthy and a Hindu; her father is a pandit. Her fiancé, Kullu (Nitesh Dahiya), is a greedy businessman who wants to suffocate the town with tourists (and lodges). He’s also condescending towards Mansoor. Kullu likes Mukku; Mukku likes Mansoor. You know how this will end.
Which is fine. An old, predictable story can be a good story, too. But Kapoor and Kanika Dhillon, the movie’s screenwriters, invest little effort in overcoming that hurdle. Mansoor and Mukku frequently meet, but they hardly bond. We get one small scene of them watching a cricket match together and, later, sharing a cup of chai, but other than that you never get why these two are drawn to each other.
The lack of attention to detail doesn’t help either. For someone who has recently joined Facebook, and is disconnected from the internet lingo, Mukku uses “tacky” and “senti” often. Kedarnath sees itself as an epic romantic drama – its poster reads “love is a pilgrimage” – but it lacks the basic quality of a simple rom-com: the chemistry between the leads.
Rajput should shoulder a major share of that blame. His role often requires him to be sheepish, but his shifting gaze and stifled smile – a standard non-expression – render a potentially complex part generic. If he tried mimicking Ranveer Singh in Raabta (2017), then he’s after Shahrukh Khan here. (He even extends his arms at a crucial point in the movie.) But Rajput is close to neither, and his borrowed style has been a disappointment. He held our attention in his debut, Kai Po Che (2013), but since then he’s devolved into a wannabe star struggling hard to find his stage.
Kapoor’s descent mirror Rajput’s. He made a comeback with Rock On!! (2008), then directed Kai Po Che, which failed to find worthy successors. His next, Fitoor (2016), and latest, Kedarnath, signal a unmistakable downfall. Kapoor films Kedarnath with such evident disinterest that you (almost) feel bad for him.
Nothing about the scenes interests or intrigues you. What stands out, instead, is the reliance on computer-generated (CG) imagery to make the frames either pretty or horrid. Early on, CG lakes, rains and even a rat, leave the film looking artificial and dramatically inert. But the real CG-fest is the film’s climax, where nearly anything of importance – walls crumbling, ground collapsing, river overflowing – seems designed on a computer. The film deals with a real tragedy, but instead of feeling the weight of loss, all we see is pixels.
Khan is a refreshing respite, infusing energy in a listless movie – although even she, like her co-star, struggles in the melodramatic scenes. Dahiya, saddled with an unimaginative part, nevertheless enjoys his role of a petty baddie.
Kedarnath’s mediocrity is unique: it doesn’t entertain; it doesn’t offend. It just exists without joy or reason. Love may well be a pilgrimage, but Kedarnath takes you on an arduous trek to a shrine when you knew that you were never a believer.