Cast: Irrfan Khan, Dulquer Salmaan, Mithila Palkar, Kriti Kharbanda, Akash Khurana, Amala Akkineni
Director: Akarsh Khurana
When two dead bodies are accidentally delivered to opposite addresses, it triggers the road trip that’s at the center of Karwaan. So technically death sets this journey into motion, but, like every other road-movie ever made, the focus is on the bittersweet unpredictability of life… the forging of new friendships, the repairing of old ones, and, inevitably, ‘discovering oneself’ along the way.
Avinash, an inherently decent fellow stuck in an IT job that he hates, is nursing unresolved anger towards his father for making him give up on his dream of becoming a professional photographer. Malayalam star Dulquer Salmaan invests Avinash with an Everyman quality, nicely conveying his lack of fulfillment without the crutch of big, explosive moments.
When Avinash’s father dies in a road accident, a mix-up results in him receiving the body of an old woman, whose family has been sent his father’s corpse.
Irrfan Khan is Shaukat, a local garage owner and Avinash’s former neighbor, who offers his van and himself, when Avinash must make the journey from Bangalore to Kochi to exchange the bodies. The third traveler on this road trip is a flighty college student named Tanya (Mithila Palkar), the granddaughter of the dead woman who’s in the coffin in the back of their van.
Director and co-writer Akarsh Khurana sticks to familiar beats, and the film takes a while to find its tone. The first thirty minutes or so feel especially contrived as the ‘black comedy’ aspect of the script strains to hit the mark. It’s also true that the characters aren’t adequately fleshed out, and as a result each of them feels like a personality type more than a living, breathing person.
If Avinash is the ‘silent, uptight type’, then Tanya is the ‘free-spirited, rebellious type’. Only Shaukat is something of a riddle; conservative, always ready with a quip, but hiding something perhaps deeper. Thankfully each of the three principal actors is in good form, and they make up for the wishy-washy writing. A scene, not long after intermission, in which the three of them, while on a brief stop for coconut water, talk about their lives only to discover that they have more in common than they thought, is especially moving.
The film really hits its stride post intermission when a detour puts Avinash in contact with an old friend, and Shaukat becomes romantically invested in a woman he meets. It must be said that even the smallest characters serve a very specific purpose in the story, and the film benefits from fresh, original casting.
There’s also something refreshing about watching a road-trip through South India. Too many Bollywood films (yes Imtiaz Ali, I’m looking at you!) have traversed the North Indian landscape, so the sights and sounds of Kerala are a welcome relief, especially when you consider that cinematographer Avinash Arun gives us tourism brochure images of God’s Own Country.
Nothing in Karwaan will grab you by the gut, but despite its shortcomings it’s a perfectly enjoyable film elevated considerably by its charming cast. Into Tanya, the young girl who’s clearly still a work in progress, Mithila Palkar imbues a messiness and imperfection that makes the character relatable and endearing. Dulquer Salmaan has a nice, easygoing presence that serves Avinash well. He switches without any trouble when more is required. A scene in the film’s final act where he delivers an emotional speech at a gathering will likely tear you up. Another scene, much earlier in the film, in his building elevator, is evidence of how effortlessly he can turn on the charm.
But it’s Irrfan Khan who truly makes the acting invisible. His Shaukat is a man who unravels slowly, and Irrfan plays him with just the right touch of humor and closely guarded pain.
Karwaan isn’t perfect, but I enjoyed the film’s laidback, unhurried vibe, and it’s terrific music. Some of it – like a pit-stop at a called-off wedding, and run-ins between the protagonists and a bunch of goondas – feels silly and gratuitous. But for the most part, these are characters you’ll be happy to stay with. I recommend that you give it a chance. I’m going with three out of five.
Rating: 3 / 5
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