Early in Karwaan, weâ€™re introduced to Dulquer Salmaan, in his Bollywood debut, as Avinash Rajpurohit. Avinash is handsome, genial and ever so bored of the rut of the beaten path, but is not quite sure what to do about it. So, in the grand tradition of road movies everywhere, fate pushes him off on a picturesque journey through the backroads of Ooty and Kerala.
On the face of it, thereâ€™s so much material to work from: tired of his IT job and life in Bengaluru, Avinash one day receives a call telling him that his father, who pushed him into this middle-class humdrum has died in an accident near Gangotri. Unfortunately, when he goes to receive his fatherâ€™s body, he finds out thereâ€™s been a mistake. His fatherâ€™s been sent to Kochi, and heâ€™s received the body of the mother of a woman named Tahira (Amala Akkineni in a short but pleasant cameo).
So Avinash reluctantly sets off, in his cynical, conservative friend Shaukatâ€™s (Irrfan Khan) beat-up van to exchange bodies. Along the way, they get Tahiraâ€™s daughter Taniya (Mithila Palkar) on board for their journey, and make a series of detours that open their eyes to new worlds and new perspectives.
Unfortunately, though, what the trio discover along the way is never quite very clear or dramatically interesting. One could always argue that Karwaan directed by Akarsh Khurana isnâ€™t interested in big, dramatic moments, that its laconic pace tries to pay tribute to the small quirks and moments of small, everyday lives. But then, the plotâ€™s brushstrokes are too rough and broad for such beauty of everyday life to emerge.
So, in a clichĂ© that should be banned from all future film scripts, Avinashâ€™s great anger in life is that his father crushed his dream of becoming a photographer and turned him into an IT drone instead. And within hours of meeting her, Avinash is bitterly critical of Taniyaâ€™s drinking, and gives her lectures about angst and youthful rebellion that sound more awkward than meaningful.
Whatâ€™s more, heâ€™s quick to lambast her life choices when she picks up a pregnancy test at a chemist, despite having known her for little more than a day. All of this is quickly explained away with a latter exchange about how children turn into their parents after all.
Shaukat, as the affable third, has his moments playing the fool to Avinashâ€™s self-important avatar. But, there are too many moments that swing the wrong way for one to unabashedly enjoy Irrfanâ€™s performance. His bizarre anger against white folks, who look thoroughly out of place in the film, for instance, leaves one with a bad taste in the mouth.
There are flashes when the Dulquer that Malayalam audiences have come to love shows through, particularly when his character is forced by circumstances into being a helplessly nice guy. At these times that loveable, boyish charm is on display.
You could compare this character to the one in Ustaad Hotel. There he makes a genuine transition from self-centred frustration to a love of the communal world he falls into. Here, though no such shifts in character are visible.
Itâ€™s not the actorsâ€™ fault that their characters come off as flat or, at times, irritating. Irrfan works hard to bear up as the fount of the filmâ€™s wit and froth. But there are too many lines that veer off target. And Dulquer tries hard to inject a sense of subtle self-seriousness to the meandering tale. But his character, and the situations heâ€™s thrown into are too flat for subtlety. Mithila, for her part, often looks out of place in the narrative. So, moments that should have gently tugged at heart strings feel forced instead.
Still, there are some things that make Karwaan go down easy at times. The lush cinematography by Avinash Arun gives the film a warmth missing in the story itself. So too do some of the lilting songs in the film.
Despite all of their encumbrances, there are moments when you can watch Karwaan for Dulquer and Irrfan. But I left the theatre wishing theyâ€™d gone off on a more fun or illuminating ride.
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any sort of business relationship with the filmâ€™s producers or any other members of its cast and crew.