By Poulomi Das Dec. 07, 2018
Like most Hindi films, Kedarnath presents a love story saddled with infuriating tropes about Muslims and modern courtship. In the film, Sara Ali Khan behaves like an outspoken guy but needs a knight in shining armour to save her. And its Muslim hero has to offer a character certificate.
Abhishek Kapoor’s Kedarnath – set in the backdrop of the 2013 Uttarakhand floods – belongs to a genre largely untapped by Hindi cinema: disaster films. The inexperience is glaringly evident. In Hollywood disaster films such as Titanic, the eventual fate of its two leads rests solely on the demands of the plot. But in Kedarnath, a Bollywood love story set amid a disaster, the fate of its leads depend on whether one of them is a star kid making her debut. (It’s not hard to discern why the climax of Dhadak was favourable to Janhvi Kapoor).
Even in its plot, Kedarnath doesn’t stray very far away from expectations. It unfolds as an uninspiring rich-girl-poor-boy love story that soon becomes a doomed Hindu-Muslim romance opposed by parents and by nature. On paper, the idea of an interfaith couple in Kedarnath – the epicentre of Hinduism – in a climate that legitimises “love jihad” might come across as brave. But trust Kapoor to go out of his way to make it look gimmicky.
Much of the problem with Kedarnath is that it remains very disinterested in elucidating on its central premise: The environmental concerns that could have triggered the floods are presented as an insinuation and not identified as a cause. The film then offers no solid purpose for its backdrop, apart from an opportunity to give VFX a starring role.
Instead, Kedarnath seems wildly obsessed with the idea of two people romancing rather than providing us an insight on how two strangers from contrasting backgrounds and with differing personalities fall in love. It focuses only on checking all the boxes required to manufacture a passionate modern affair. There’s a class and religion divide; an outspoken woman who falls in love with her male saviour; a male lead who doesn’t give up despite being beaten up for loving her; stalking that is disguised as pining; self-harm which is confused with female agency; and a totally token obstacle.
Traditionally, most Hindi films are guilty of being woefully unaware of how courtship works in real life and Kedarnath takes no effort to understand it either, instead taking refuge in exaggerated tropes. For instance, Mandakini aka Mukku (a watchable Sara Ali Khan), the daughter of a conservative Hindu pandit, is predictably painted as the rebel without a cause – a cross between Manmarziyan’s Rumi and Jab We Met’s Geet. And Kedarnath brings alive her pluckiness by resorting to the three most infuriating stereotypes that could be bestowed on female leads: Mukku abuses, assumes that her scant regard for rules can justify her lack of ambition, and loves cricket. Basically, yet another female character who is supposed to be liberated and appealing only because she acts more like a guy.
What will it take for Bollywood to realistically portray two young people falling in love without romanticising downright creepy behaviour?
In fact, it’s Mukku’s passionate love for cricket – a personality trait which tops the list of male fantasies – that makes Mansoor (Rajput) notice her. One of the most unimaginative scene from Kedarnath involves the duo bonding over an India-Pakistan match that obviously ends with India scoring a six on the last ball. In her role as a manic-pixie cricket fan, she spews off stats about the match and celebrates India’s win with the over-enthusiasm of an IPL cheerleader. Naturally, it prompts Mansoor to lovingly look on with an expression that can roughly be translated to “How can a girl know so much about cricket from the kitchen?”
Even cringe-worthy is how the film depicts the progression of their week-long courtship. It starts off with Mukku’s sudden infatuation with Mansoor as if she’s a kid in a toy store. When he continues ignoring her, she attempts to get his attention by talking non-stop to his mule and throwing her cup of tea away so that he can share his tea with her. So far, so weird.
If that’s not enough, Mukku basically ambushes him into falling in love with her by quoting Rupi Kaur-level pretentious lines: “Baarish ki boonde humein aasman se jodti hai”. And then proceeding to drink raindrops which she playfully spits out on his face minutes later. More infuriating is, however, the route Mukku adopts to have Mansoor forgive her after an argument: She stalks him and later cuts herself. If the film’s writers – Abhishek Kapoor and Kanika Dhillon – are to be believed, then being a small-town brat is adorable when it’s an attractive woman. What will it take for Bollywood to realistically portray two young people falling in love without romanticising downright creepy behaviour?
Yet the worst victim of Kedarnath’s blind devotion to stereotypes is Mansoor, whose religion is exploited as a prop to cement his underdog status. In a year where Mulk has hit home with its nuanced representation of the plight of Muslims in an increasingly polarised country, Kedarnath makes its Muslim lead a sacrificial lamb. It’s what Mansoor loses to save the girl that makes him a hero, softening Mukku’s Hindu father’s stance on his religion. After all, how can Muslims be regarded as heroes unless they offer a character certificate?
In a film which features flash floods, it’s the love story that becomes the disaster. Kedarnath, is indeed a calamity.
When not obsessing over TV shows, planning unaffordable vacations, or stuffing her face with french fries, Poulomi likes believing that some day her sense of humour will be darker than her under-eye circles.