Dulquer Salmaan's Bollywood Debut 'Karwaan' Is A Journey To Nowhere

It's baffling how an actor like Irrfan agreed to play a character who is only a comic relief in Karwaan.

The biggest crime Akarsh Khurana’s Karwaan commits, is that it makes promises and then forgets to deliver them. When the trailer dropped, many noted similarities in its tone with fantastic ‘slice-of-life films’ like say Little Miss Sunshine, and hoped that the Hindi counterpart would at least deliver on *some* of the bizarre humour or insight. As infuriating as it is, it does neither.

Karwaan tries to pass off as an ‘unplugged and experimental’ Hindi film with edgy humour, but it actually is a ‘by-the-numbers project’ put together by a studio. It has been designed to reap profits, and not because the makers are excited about the art of storytelling. The cast alone should be a giveaway, where they choose Southern superstar (Dulquer) for his Hindi debut, Irrfan for some street-cred and a millennial icon (Mithila Palkar) who can reach out to the YouTube population. Don’t let Arijit Singh’s lucid vocals during the ‘road song’ or Prateek Kuhad’s atypical acoustics during the opening credits fool you — Karwaan is a micro-version of a multi-starrer like Race 3 — or at least not far from it.

The story (credited to Bejoy Nambiar) is a simple one – two coffins are exchanged. An estranged son should put aside his grudges and make a journey to collect the last remains of his father. It’s not something that’s been done in Hindi cinema before, and therefore the problem arises when the director tries to tick the boxes of a mainstream masala film. Instead of letting the characters and the story take their natural course, Khurana twists and moulds the journey to accommodate a pool party with alcohol and loud music, a banal subplot around some goons, a night in a neon-lit motel and an ex-lover. It adds little to the ‘journey’.

For a film with an introverted protagonist (played by Dulquer Salmaan), the film says things out loud too often. Like in a scene where a character sees the leading man and says – ‘I think he’s out to find himself’.

The actors are all functional for their parts – Dulquer Salmaan being his quiet, charming self. Hesitant while talking to a girl in the lift, Salmaan’s Avinash is also quick to slut-shame a girl with a pregnancy kit, which makes his character’s outbursts seem contrived to manufacture conflict. The flashbacks between his father and his dreams about being a photographer seem even less grounded/genuine than a melodramatic Hirani film (3 Idiots) and a film produced by Karan Johar (Wake Up Sid!).

It’s baffling how an actor of Irrfan’s repute agreed to play a character that only serves as a comic relief. He says things (unpleasant of course) in his thick Bhopali accent to fair-skinned tourists, to mine some cheap laughs without ever giving us insight into why he is a bigot. He seems to throw a fit about Palkar’s shorts only to deliver the ‘quirky’ one-liner – chal, tere liye toh main sabzi bhi khaa loon.

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Mithila Palkar plays her part convincingly well. Which is not really an achievement considering most of her screen time has her glued to her phone and occasionally asking others if their mobile internet is working. She also goes about educating the leading man on #relatablestuff like not missing out on an ‘Instagram moment’ and filters. One can almost hear her pronounce WTH each time she says ‘What the hell’.

Karwaan is a hack-job, with a screenplay that seems to have been rushed through minus any rewrites. This should have been a much better film in the hands of more patient writers. It is also reprehensible how writer-director Khurana coerces a triple talaaq reference into the film, only to make a punchline out of it.

Salmaan’s last few minutes on screen are reminiscent of Jab We Met, but by then you’ve made your peace with the fact, that the writers have nothing original to say. It is too content as a ‘cool, urban and fun movie’ that the marketing team has led it makers to believe.