Karwaan (2018) Review!!!

Synopsis – Two friends and a chirpy teenager take a road trip from Bangalore to Kochi.

My Take – Personally I really enjoy road trip based film, no matter what language they are in, mainly as there is something medicinal about watching characters embark on a journey of self-discovery. Also because a road trip can also be used as a tool to convey growth, change, catharsis, coming of age, acceptance and resolution. Here, director Akarsh Khurana uses the same tools to take us down a journey with a trio of disparate individuals who are brought together by one life-changing event.

Released nearly ten days ago, this film has been in the news for two reasons, one for possibly being actor Irrfan Khan‘s last release for some time as he is currently in the U.S. battling a rare form of cancer, and secondly because this film marks the Bollywood debut of Malayalam superstar Dulquer Salmaan. While Akarsh Khurana’s second directorial effort after the stoner comedy High-Jack attempts to give us a glimpse into the lives of three individuals, all dealing with their own definitions of loss, it thankfully is more than just a sweetly understated road flick. Instead, it’s much deeper than that. What’s intriguing is that the filmmaker uses death as a theme to make us realize that when you let go, you create space for something better. Backed by the writing of Bejoy Nambiar (Shaitan, Wazir) and laugh out loud dialogues from Hussain Dalal, this film is surely a pleasant, simple yet impactful watch.

The story follows Avinash (Dulquer Salmaan), a bored IT engineering, pushed to working in an IT film he hates by his strict, middle-class father, who was against Avinash’s dream of becoming a photographer. As a result, Avinash spends his routine under performing, sleeping at his desk and of course, being humiliated by his ill-tempered boss at every given opportunity. That is until he receives a call from a travel agency, informing him about his father’s death in a road accident on the way to Gangotri.

While the travel agency would be sending the body to the nearest airport, all Avinash has to do is to collect it. Roping in the help of his friend Shaukat (Irrfan Khan) and his van, Avinash aims to pick up the body and disperse it at the closest crematorium that is before they both discover that they have received the wrong body, rather of a lady who too had died in the same accident. Soon learning that his father father’s body has been sent to the daughter of the woman, whose body he has received, the two must reach Kochi for the exchange, while detouring from Ooty to pick up the granddaughter of the deceased lady, Tanya (Mithila Palkar). What follows is a journey full of adventure, discovery and a lot of laughs.

The story may seem bizarre but it makes perfect sense when you watch it unfold. It builds gradually with clever dialogues, textured locations, and soothing songs. In fact, death has never been more refreshing. This is a feel good film that’s mostly laughs. It’s never heavy even when it tries go below the surface which it doesn’t quite manage to do. While the film doesn’t offer a smooth ride from the start, as it takes a while for the characters to blend into the atmosphere and continues to maintain its slow pace throughout, yet amidst the constant chuckles you’re hardly bothered. Director Akarsh Khurana has made the film with a soft touch, as the plot is straightforward but engrossing going from funny to emotional back to funny within a matter of seconds.

Apart from the tragedy that kicks off the narrative, nothing much seems to happen here yet a lot does. It is a story of rumination and awakenings, and as in life, here too, such things rarely happen with drum rolls and bugle calls. Thankfully though, the director didn’t try and turn the story into a love angle, though there is a flame and an ex in the plot, though their role is limited. The first thing you notice about the film is how it makes a conscious attempt at keeping the storytelling low-key and about the characters than anything else. Each character is introduced with the least bit of fuss, and the writing for the most keeps things simple, and lets the audience read between the lines by eschewing the usual expository techniques.

Here the characters are as real as they can get and that’s exactly what strikes an instant chord with you. They are flawed in their own ways and their problems are totally relatable. Avinash had a dysfunctional relationship with his father, who thwarted his ambition of wanting to become a photographer. Hailing from a very middle-class family, it wasn’t really fashionable to be a rebel, so he decided to pursue a career in IT and landed a boring 9-5 job that his father’s friend offered. And when his father passed away, the two were not on talking terms.

It’s on this trip, when talking to Tanya, that Avinash realizes that he himself is as judgmental and unreasonable as his father was. Some of us are so critical of our parents and their decisions that we don’t realize that one fine day, we have just become like them. At the end of this heartwarming journey, we realize that not all relationships are perfect but we should learn to make our peace with them before it is too late and hopefully, make life choices that make us happy. A favorite moment is when the three co-passengers are standing on a bridge discussing their damaged pasts. It’s the one time the film came together for me – at the right emotional pitch.

Then, almost at the end, there is this tender moment between Shaukat and Avinash, which conveys so much through a small gesture, because grief cannot always be cloaked by humor. The film makes you laugh, it leaves you moist-eyed at times. The film works, not only because it is hilarious, but also due to the fact that it is based on the relationships these days, wherein people are drifting away from their families and there is an emotional and communication disconnect. And this film shows that in a matter of factual way; choosing neither to sugarcoat it nor exaggerate it a lot (though some exaggeration is there). Props to the writers Bejoy Nambiar and Hussain Dalal for painting each character as distinct as possible, yet keeping humanity and goodness as the binding force which takes them through the journey.

The film offers a nuance not often seen in Hindi cinema or Indian cinema at large, when it speaks of a generation gap between youngsters separated in age by perhaps a decade. It also does not see a romance as essential in every relationship between two attractive people of the opposite sex, though it acknowledges that such sparks are a possibility. And it takes a brave stand on domestic violence. The humor in the film is a culmination of one-liners and sequences. While death seems to be the common thread, the characters still find mirth in their respective tribulations. Director Akarsh Khurana knows how to keep the audience engaged. As a story, it does not have much layers but it does not need to. The film is a simple character driven film about self-realization and camaraderie which may not have a climax, but is rich with substance. The film meanders in parts when it touches upon Avinash’s college romance or Shaukat’s issues with a local goon. But they never divert much.

Every South Indian will be delighted with the way the cities have been depicted as we are taken on a wanderlust journey from Bangalore to Cochin. Kudos to cinematographer Avinash Arun, for making the filmgoers familiar with the by lanes of South India. Talking about the performances, it’s like the roles in the film were tailor-made for the three of them, as all three fit into their characters perfectly. I can’t imagine this film sans Irrfan, as he brings in a fresh whiff of humor with his terrific comic timing that leave you asking for more. The one liners, the dialogue delivery, the straight faced humor, everything would’ve fallen flat without him.

If Irrfan is the heart of the film, then Dulquer Salmaan is the soul. Dulquer, is a well-known and loved star of Malayalam cinema, and has an incredibly likable personality which reflects on screen. Here, he is very effective as the mellow, practical and brooding Avinash, an introvert and a shy character that is your common man who has sacrificed his interests for parental choices in youth and would most probably live for his family later. Your heart goes out to his infectious performance that grows on you. Mithila Palkar is a great discovery – expressive, lively and ebullient. Over the years, she has been making a mark for herself through some charming web series, and does a fine job here and wins over the audience with her endearing screen presence. Here, she stirs up a debate on semi-generation gap with Dulquer Salman that’s utterly entertaining. Akash Khurana and the graceful Amala Akkineni have relatively smaller roles but provide great support. A special mention to Kriti Kharbanda, who has a cameo in the film, yet manages to leave an impact. On the whole, ‘Karwaan’ is a refreshing and heartwarming tale filled with relatable characters.

Directed – Akarsh Khurana

Starring – Irrfan Khan, Dulquer Salmaan, Mithila Palkar

Rated – PG13

Run Time – 114 minutes

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