Karwaan parks Dulquer Salmaan in a safe spot. It is a movie that's neither too ambitious nor too facile. It places him as an average person — not with the burden of society thrust on a hero’s shoulder. It shows him as a lonely and frustrated man who’s even socially awkward with women. A road trip movie, as a genre, gives its protagonists time to discover themselves and Karwaan does the same. It tries to explore the actor in Dulquer Salmaan.
But, as an actor, there's hardly anything challenging in Dulquer Salmaan’s Avinash in Karwaan. It's not a character or a movie that ‘establishes’ Dulquer Salmaan in the traditional sense of how movies have worked in the past as launch vehicles for star-kids. Though Avinash is the glue that holds the loose plot, he's not the star in the movie.
However, as far as debuts of south Indian actors in Bollywood go, Karwaan is a safe bet. It's not a movie which portrays the alpha male or the angry young man or the lover boy — stereotypes used to launch kids of the industry. Think about Zanjeer (2013) and how Ram Charan was 'launched'.
One could ask why would Dulquer Salmaan, one of the most promising actors in Malayalam, want to try his luck at Bollywood. It could be to work in a different culture and expand the canvas for options. This, despite the fact that there is an ingrained snootiness that mainstream Hindi cinema reeks of. How else can one explain the fact that Karwaan ‘introduces’ Dulquer Salmaan who has done 25 movies in three languages?
It's a natural thing to do though. After all, for decades now, it has been a dream for male actors south of the Vindhyas to look at Hindi cinema with (often misplaced) awe. The dream of making it big in Bollywood has attracted a handful of accomplished male actors — from Rajinikanth to Nagarjuna to Mammootty — with varying degrees of failure. None of these actors were able to match up to the success they were enjoying from home audiences. Dulquer Salmaan makes his Hindi debut almost three decades after his father Mammootty made his in Hindi — but Karwaan for Dulquer Salmaan will not be what Triyatri or Dhartiputra was for Mammootty.
Also, the movie business which was once restricted to single screens and 100 days has given way for bumper openings and overseas and satellite rights. And with the advent of online streaming services, the business has further moved into an ambiguous space. Karwaan floats in this grey area that is not too Bollywood nor too offbeat. It is suitably made with one foot in the growing, billion-dollar mobile streaming platform industry.
With the doors to Hindi cinema no longer restricted to the Andheri-based production house monopoly, Dulquer Salmaan could be opening the doors for other actors from the south — who need not fit the mould of the Hindi film hero but has a considerable fan following and is economically viable — to make their presence known, if not in mainstream Hindi cinema, through web-based cinema and web series.
All said, Karwaan is not a bad start for Dulquer Salmaan in Hindi cinema. As Avinash says towards the end of the movie, these days "not bad badi baat hai (Not bad, it’s a big deal).”
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