Kalank often invokes the Ramayana by harking back to Rama's moral dilemma, Sita's agni-pareeksha
Kalank is steeped in references to the Ramayana as it puts its principal characters through the same moral dilemma that Rama faced when Sita returned from Lanka.
As Roop (Alia Bhatt) and Zafar (Varun Dhawan) advance towards each other in Hira Mandi, 1946, a large group of men in blue, dressed as Lord Rama, shoot flaming arrows at a life-sized effigy of Ravana in the background. It is a stunning sequence captured masterfully by Binod Pradhan. It is also a shot that marks the start of Roop and Zafar's Ramleela.
'Ghar More Pardesiya', sung mellifluously by Shreya Ghoshal, is positioned as the build-up to their first encounter. On the day of Dussherra, Ramleela is staged in epic proportions in the lanes of the Muslim-dominated area of Hira Mandi. Bahaar Beghum (Madhuri Dixit), a Muslim brothel owner, starts narrating the Ramleela when Roop enters Hira Mandi for the first time. Beghum is quite 'at home' when she sings a Rasleela bhajan, and her celestial demeanour suggests that she is aware of how the story of Roop and Zafar is going to play out.
That day is as much a homecoming for Beghum as it is for Roop and Zafar. While Roop returns to her passion for singing and dancing under Beghum's tutelage, Beghum sees a huge part of herself in Roop, the one that loved dancing and singing, and was ready to fall in love.
Zafar also enjoys a homecoming in multiple ways. Firstly, he looks passively interested in the Ramleela celebration as if some part of him gravitates towards that culture. Secondly, he meets Roop, the woman who would — as we'd find out later — end up making him discover his true 'home'. And finally, he comes back to the same brothel where he was born.
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 (washman) 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, 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 but confesses later to Zafar that she continues to be in love with Balraj. Her singing 'Ghar More Pardesiya' every night stems from a helpless lover's deep longing.
Roop, married to Baljraj's son Dev (Aditya Roy Kapur), is fascinated by the pain in Beghum's voice and expresses her desire to learn singing and dancing from her, possibly in a subconscious attempt to discover her own Ram, and in turn her own pain of betrayal.
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 honours the word given by her father to that of Satya (Sonakshi Sinha). She agrees to marry Satya's husband Dev in order 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, 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 fulfill the traditional role of warding off evil, prying glances. She struggles the 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'. At 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. In fact, 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 like Rama did, 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.
All images from YouTube.
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