Karwaan Review: An entertaining, inoffensive little film
A harmless entertainer that gets most things right
In Akarsh Khurana's Karwaan, banal existence and daily exchanges feel like customer service calls for the protagonist Avinash (Dulquer Salmaan). He doesn't think twice about handling an irate customer in the worst way possible, but when it comes to saying goodnight to a neighbour with whom he has a habit of exchanging flirtatious glances, he crumbles. At one point, he says he hasn't spoken about his feelings or anything personal to anyone in a long time and that makes him react in disproportionate, less than ideal ways. He used to be a photographer, a profession he once believed to be his calling. He captures people, things in their intimate, expressive moments. But now, after years in a white-collar job with a made-to-order, incompetent, terrible boss, he has forgotten how to express. A lot of it is the baggage of his equation with his father, the figure that stood firm against his wishes to be a photographer or pursue the arts, with whom he has no relationship to speak of as of this moment. The moment arrives, announcing the departure of his father.
Director: Akarsh Khurana
Cast: Irrfan, Dulquer Salmaan, Mithila Palkar
Karwaan is in the mould of those mumblecore Hollywood indies that have soothing background scores, privileged people breaking out of their shells, muffled thoughts and voices finding a release as they decide to just take it a bit easy. Prateek Kuhad croons about footsteps and even the breath being carefree. This is not a criticism, certainly not a sharp one, if that, but Karwaan comes packed and locked in that flavour and if you let it lie in the open for a while, you lose the good stuff. It is harmless and inoffensive, entertaining thanks to Irrfan as Shaukat playing the perfect loudmouth foil to the reticent Avinash. Karwaan is also aware of all its qualities and that's both its strength and weakness. At one point, Tanya (Mithila Palkar) points out how the three principal characters all have a complicated relationship with their fathers. As soon as it is spelled out, Karwaan loses some of its fizz. There is another character who says Avinash must now find himself. Again, spelled out, the overkill does a disservice to the film.
Karwaan also appealed to me at an altogether separate level -- how it is farthest from the places Bollywood films are usually set in. An unapologetic road film, it begins in Bangalore, moves to Ooty and Coimbatore, passes through Kumarakom, Kozhikode and Kochi (The Kerala-TN in Karwaan exists in a different map even if the party takes multiple detours. I didn't have a problem buying this). The unnamed characters speak a different, uncertain Hindi and at times, don't speak the language at all. An ironic situation arises where Dulquer Salmaan's Avinash looks for help to understand someone's Malayalam. Avinash admonishes Tanya for referring to the language of Karnataka as Kannadiga. These are the portions where Karwaan is both entertaining and inventive, especially when Irrfan's shtick stops working.
Avinash in his depressed state probably needs professional help but the purpose of a film like Karwaan is to sidestep that and get him through a few eventful days that open up a different life for him. So the question is are we, the silent spectators, able to go through the same motions as the fellow travellers in their journey of self-discovery. Khurana's film accomplishes that for more than half its run. That's more than ideal.