In the opening scenes of Kedarnath, the camera pans the mighty Himalayas and I gasped at the landscape. Complementing the stunning visuals of the magnificent mountains was the resounding score of Amit Trivedi’s Namo namo shankara.
The film is shot around the holy Hindu shrine of Kedarnath which is situated in the lap of the Himalayas. A pilgrimage to this Shiva shrine involves an arduous uphill trek of 14 km. Sushant Singh Rajput plays Mansoor Khan, a porter or a pitthoo, who ferries pilgrims, on his mule or on his back, up the steep mountainous path. In a hilly location, where livelihoods of the poor depend on backbreaking manual work and tourist footfalls, religious differences often take a back seat. And so sprightly Mansoor goes about his work happily, ringing the temple bells in gratitude with a smile on his lips.
He catches the eye of Mukku (Sara Ali Khan) who is a priest’s daughter. Mukku is short for Mandakini, for she is named after the gurgling river that flows through Kedarnath. Although Mandakini literally means ‘one who flows calmly’, the river has always known to be unpredictable during torrential rains. Like the river, Mukku is loquacious, outspoken, feisty and full of life, which is completely out of place in a household where women are expected to be submissive and quiet.
Egged by Mukku’s persistence, the subdued and introvertish Mansoor falls in love with her. The rest of the story is jaded and predictable— the usual reluctance and rage from both communities against a Hindu-Muslim affair. Abhishek Kapoor’s foray into direction is forgettable, as is the screenplay. When intermission rang in, the bland story had reached no where.
Things completely changed after the interval. The film recreates the horrific Uttarkashi floods and landslides of 2013 realistically. I shuddered as nature unleashed its fury and people’s loves and lives completely dissolved in its rage.
Sara Ali Khan shines in her debut. She is confident, spunky, pretty and also a cut above her mother, Amrita Singh. She hardly displays any awkwardness associated with a first film. Whether she is swearing, flirting or simply sulking, she succeeds in capturing your eye. Sushant, on the other hand is subdued, except for the first scene and in a dance. I couldn’t decipher whether this was deliberate— does he play an introvert, or was he expected to depict someone vulnerable in the power play? Either way, his effervescent self in the first scene is completely contradictory to his shyness when confronting Sara.
What could have been better? The screenplay and story, definitely. I appreciated the attempts to layer the story by adding conflict between Mukku and her sister over a broken betrothal. But it was not enough. There is also the worn-out fiance angle, which isn’t quite credible. There was scope to talk about environmental concerns from the over-marketing of the shrine in violent disregard of the fragile ecosystem. But my gut feeling is that the makers chickened out when confronted with the radicals who threatened to ban the film on religious grounds. So there are half-hearted cursory references to what caused the melting of the glaciers and the floods.
If there is one reason I would recommend watching Kedarnath for, it is to savour Tushar Kanti Ray’s spectacular cinematography. Amit Trivedi’s musical score is as refreshing as the mountain breeze and simply blends into the story telling. Of the songs, besides Trivedi’s infectious Namo Namo Shankara, I also liked Arijit’s rendition of Qaafirana. Asees Kaur’s husky voice in Jaan ‘Nisaar suits Sara’s ebullience.
The nightmarish visuals of the 2013 tragedy which befell the pilgrims of Uttarkashi left me with a shrivelled heart. Kedarnath is a grim reminder that nature has the upper hand in our lives. When she expresses her wrath, our woes and wrangles look worthless. Our stories melt into nothingness when she writes her script. And it is time we gave her the respect she deserves.