Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions catapulted itself into opulent period drama territory on Tuesday with the teaser launch of Kalank. Co-produced with Nadiadwala Grandson Entertainment, the April 17 release is the most expensive project yet from Dharma Productions as well as a “labour of love,” Johar said at a media event in Mumbai.

Directed by Abhishek Varman (2 States, 2014), Kalank has a star-studded cast that includes Alia Bhatt, Varun Dhawan, Madhuri Dixit, Sanjay Dutt, Sonakshi Sinha and Aditya Roy Kapur. The cast was tight-lipped about the film’s plot, which, the teaser suggests, is set before Independence, revolves around lovers separated by circumstances and their faith, and involves inter-generational revenge.

“This is a film about six people, their relationships, what they go through and what changes their lives,” Sonakshi Sinha said at the event in Mumbai. Alia Bhatt added, “It’s a true ensemble film, in which every character is a primary character.”

The cast and filmmakers were similarly reluctant to talk about the significance of the title. “The word kalank can have many interpretations,” Karan Johar said. “It might mean love to some and a blemish to others. You have to decide after watching the film.”

Kalank (2019).

The story of Kalank was conceived by Karan Johar along with his father, producer Yash Johar, in 2003. Yash Johar’s death the following year was one of the reasons that Kalank was put on the backburner.

“I shared the idea of the film with my dad as he was well acquainted with the atmosphere that we are talking about in the film,” Johar said. “He started researching and took photos of the locations for the film. But when he passed away in 2004, I could not make the film. It was too tough as it had a lot of his memories attached to it.”

Varun Dhawan in Kalank. Courtesy Dharma Productions/Nadiadwala Grandson Entertainment.

A few years later, Abhishek Varman took over the project, and has been credited as screenwriter along with Shibani Bathija. “I kept speaking about the story to many people and when I told the story to Abhishek, he loved it and I thought he would be able to develop it,” Karan Johar said. “The screenplay has been intricately developed by Abhishek. This film is very emotional as it was my dad’s dream. For me, the film is beyond the box office as it is very special.”

Alia Bhatt and Varun Dhawan in Kalank. Courtesy Dharma Productions/Nadiadwala Grandson Entertainment.

Madhuri Dixit plays the role originally meant for Sridevi, who died in February 2018. “I had a heavy heart because she was such a great artist,” Dixit said at the Mumbai event. “We always had her memories while shooting.”

Dixit’s casting ensures that she will share screen space with Sanjay Dutt, her former co-star with whom she was romantically linked in the 1990s. “It has been many years since we last worked together, and it was a great experience in this film,” Dutt said.

Sanjay Dutt and Madhuri Dixit in Kalank. Courtesy Dharma Productions/Nadiadwala Grandson Entertainment.