Tejas Nair | August 04, 2018
Rating – 4/10
What is a road movie if it does not broach the topic of self-discovery? Karwaan is thankfully not devoid of the usual ingredients plus some more eccentricities developed by its formulaic characters. These do not help it stand out from all the other road movies we have seen before.
Writer Bejoy Nambiar’s cliched story is a straightforward setup of a drained and unenthusiastic software engineer Avinash (Dulquer Salmaan) trying to retrieve his late father’s body from Coimbatore. Helping him in this ‘endeavour’, as per director Akarsh Khurana, is a mysterious and over-zealous mechanic friend Shaukat (Irrfan Khan) who seems to be a walking book of jokes and contrived thoughts that look like they were also borrowed from the elastic Internet and a ridiculously similar recent Bollywood film, Tanuja Chandra’s Qarib Qarib Singlle (2018). Together they follow Khurana and scenarist Adhir Bhat’s storyboard to an eventful journey from Bangalore while meeting at least three new people that would change their lives. That Mithila Palkar plays (Tanya) one of these people not only adds to the annoyance in the experience but also completes Karwaan as a rehash of all road films.
Whether it is Avinash who shows no remorse at his father’s death or about the body mix-up or Tanya who is that spoiled brat with Himalayan proportions of angst inside her just because she had to deal with a death when she was eight, Karwaan has a reason for everything. It tries to justify its characters’ actions using random story arcs that are emotional, but downright ridiculous. Death seems to be an easy subject for each and every character in Karwaan until it suddenly isn’t. Forget about the transition, the characters fail to emphasize this development as we see the film take a turn at the eleventh minute just to show that “different people grieve differently”. I am all in for eccentric road trips but there has to be honesty in the storytelling when you are trying to convey a message, even if it means trading it with sassy humour. Karwaan lacks that honesty.
The narrative gets a flat tyre when it extends to a territory that would have reduced the running time by 30 minutes. But then how would they demystify Shaukat’s story and add more to the sassy humour. There is a clear attempt at projecting this entire thing as a bittersweet story about life and death, yet the contrived nature plays spoilsport with it. The bending of the genre is appreciative, and I am more than happy with Hussain Dalal’s funny dialogues and their timing, but none of that would help salvage the car heading towards an accident because of the flat tyre that they fail to mend.
Salmaan manages to portray his character like the decrepit van used in the film. It works and is perfect for the use, but it still has some problems. His Hindi dialogues are a bit rusty (but Avinash’s a native of Bangalore, mind you) but his expressions and acting, in general, make up for it. His deep voice adds to his character, which is why I would say that his casting was one of the best decisions the makers made for the film. The same isn’t true for Irrfan who is typecast and made to look like a fool in the name of comedy. His actions surely will tickle your bones and make you chuckle for about three seconds. You will soon realize that this comedy is the only saving grace of the movie, and the character who delivers it is annoying to the core. But Palkar wins that throne as her teenage character successfully captures the millennial vibe, using Snapchat and Instagram to chronicle the trip, testing if she’s preggers just to add that “you know what’ to the story, and having no regard to her mum or anyone in her life to showcase the “cool teenager of the 21st century”. She is incredible, but her character is again a piece of cliched cake that Khurana seems to be a master baker of. I’m only happier that she didn’t pull off a Kiki challenge using the symbolic van. That would have given the writers one more joke for Shaukat to crack. Sad.
The lead protagonist’s anger towards his job and the IT sector, in general, is loud and clear in Khurana’s screenplay, and I have all the reasons to believe that Khurana knows someone who or was himself laid off by an IT company. Not taking names, but this type of stereotyping is all over the place in his Karwaan. From Shaukat’s vindictive dialogues about partition and the British Raj to two unsuspecting foreigners (who may not even be English), again his condescending ways against two hippies from Europe, and his overall decipherment of people in large highlights and shamelessly supports the dogma that the world has been trying to eradicate. I cannot support entertainment of that kind even if it is meant to be light hearted. I wonder if the CBFC only cares about sex and Kashmir.
Moreover, for the entire running time of the film, I even believed that Irrfan had just moved out from the sets of the Tanuja Chandra film and stepped into Khurana’s without even changing his attire. Such is the similarity between the characters, whose life philosophy seems to be originating from the same source. The other two characters use each other as sources and thereby discover themselves. The soothing soundtrack is supportive of the nature of the film but they will be forgotten before you move out of the hall. But what WILL stay with you instead is the logistical issues in the film. As a pedant, I was wondering how these people were transporting a dead body inside an aluminium box for days and without even once mentioning anything about a stench. Of course, Tanya once points out the decomposition factor, but a little more info would not have made me accuse Khurana of letting easy, small holes into his plot.
Karwaan plays out like a fairytale of sorts where the forgiving characters go about on a journey that does not disclose any logistical parameters neither sheds light into what matters. It dances on the periphery and strives to add comedy to everything, even death, which is counter-productive to what it sets out to be. The performance, comedy, and the overall positive vibe earn it four stars, but as a road movie, it still is a middle-bencher.
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