Hindi cinema claims to be looking for fresh content, but then someone pitches a rich girl-poor boy love story that ends with a deluge, and it gets greenlit, without anyone thinking that it sounds like old-style Bollywood-meets-Titanic?.
The only novelty about Abhishek Kapoor’s Kedarnath is its location — the picturesque pilgrim town of Kedarnath (lovingly shot by Tushar Kanti Ray) in Uttarakhand. The film tries to be so many things at once — a love story, class and religion clash, environmental caution and disaster movie rolled into one — that it ends up being nothing much.
Mansoor (Sushant Singh Rajput) is an energetic and cheerful ‘pitthoo’— the men who guide pilgrims up the steep hillside on horseback or on their own backs. His religion has never come in the way, he chants and rings temple bells like all the natives. Mandakini, aka Mukku (Sara Ali Khan), is the disgruntled daughter of a priest and landlord, perpetually grumpy because she was forced to get engaged to her sister Vrinda’s (Pooja Gor) fiancé Kullu (Nishant Dahiya). Why her parents permitted this humiliation of their older daughter is not clear, but at least Vrinda has reason to be glum.
For some reason, Mukku takes a shine to Mansoor --- it’s not as if she is short of suitors; probably because of her Facebook profile, men keep landing up on her doorstep to ask for her hand in marriage. But Mukku pursues Mansoor with such desperation that he finally capitulates. He takes her up the hill over a few days, for some inexplicable errand; on the way, they flirt, share glasses of tea and on a stormy night a kiss by the fireside.
Meanwhile, there are disputes because greedy Kullu wants to build a hotel and bring more tourists to the town, while sensible Mansoor warns of overburdening the land. Suddenly his religious identity is thrown in his face. The real deluge in Uttarakhand is mentioned right at the start, so there is no surprise, but the battle between the Muslim pitthoos and the Pandits comes without preamble. Kullu simply decides to throw them out, and there is no protest.
Mukku’s romance is exposed by her jealous sister, and she is forced to marry Kullu. In spite of the threatened hotel not yet being built, the hillside collapses anyway taking with it homes and people, while the river swells up in uncontrollable fury to take the movie into calamity zone a la Titanic, but without a fraction of the tension or terror.
After sitting through 150 minutes of the film, there is no payoff. Usually, at least performances stand out in mainstream Hindi cinema, but the lead pair is so lacking in chemistry, their characters written in such a lacklustre manner, that one wonders why Sara Ali Khan’s star parents did not see that Kedarnath was not the right debut for her. She shows some spark, however, and her career will probably survive this tepid start.