Film: Karthik Calling Karthik
Director: Vijay Lalwani
Actors: Farhan Akhtar, Deepika Padukone
Every film, I suppose, is a suspense, given you’re not supposed to know what happens next. Unless, the movie was an outcome of a proven ‘formula’, named so for its predictable nature: a defined hero, heroine, villain, vamp etc, and only a slightly tweaked plot.
This one’s clearly not a formula film. It isn’t merely suspense for most parts either. It’s the kind of thriller that practically every Bollywood B, or big budget, genre flick aspires for. What most of those movies forget to slip in, over their scaled slickness, are ‘people like us’ on screen, who can help relate to the happenstance. As an instructor for any writing will stress upon, empathy is the key. The filmmaker here (first-time director Lalwani) knows how to hold that key well. Most Hindi moviemakers of the genre don’t.
Karthik (Akhtar) is a nondescript sort of employee who could merge with the cubicles of any office space. He is over-worked, presumably under-paid, and has a loser, ill-tempered boss lording over his construction company. In his quiet meekness, young Karthik finds a minute or two to glance at the hottest girl (Padukone) of his office. He writes her emails, but saves it for himself. He develops a parallel mental universe as many introverted people are known to. He notices everything. No one notices him.
Fired from work; no job now; no friends either; Karthik, a believing Hindu presumably, aspires for ‘there and after’, since he couldn’t do much ‘here and now’. He attempts suicide. A phone call saves him. It’s a landline instrument that rings every morning hence, and becomes his 5 am friend.
The voice at the other end appears to be his own. That alter ego gives Karthik his daily ‘mojo’. It instructs him on how to take on his ‘Hari Sadu’ boss, fight off his competitors, and get the girl he wants. Clark Kent rightly turns into a Super Man. Yet, in that filmic transformation, there is still the element of the real.
Karthik being Karthik is no smooth operator; he’s for his girl the “safe guy”: a harmless bloke, I’m sure you’ve met (if you aren’t one yourself), who become great friends with women, but remain single otherwise. The sweet, well-worded romance stays intrinsic to the genuine rivets of a thriller.
The genre of course has its limitations. And someone who’s seen the film before, will inevitable blurt out, what the film’s deal was, or, ‘Who’s the caller’. As an audience, you’re not always two steps behind the script either. But that doesn’t take away from how the film holds you, almost all the way. This isn't easy. I suspect you’re not going to love the sound of a ringing landline for a while. I hope you don’t question the workings of your brain as much.
Akhtar is certainly aware of his acting chops. He never pushes himself beyond the palatable; remains under-stated; retains the goofy sense of humour. He makes for that life-sized, middle-of-the-road, mid-class everyman that used to be the Hindi cinema’s leading man, up until only two decades ago. Come to think of it, that comfy spot was lately monopolised by Rahul Bose alone. It’s good to see more (Abhay Deol, Irrfan Khan, Kay Kay...), and better films as well.