Karthik Calling Karthik opens with a shot stolen from Ridley Scott's Gladiator, and then devolves into a standard bad dream scenario on our eponymous lead. That is the first sign that first time director Vijay Lalwani was desperately clawing for inspiration. This is proven further along, as the film tries desperately to hold our interest for a good part of 2 hours, and succeeds marginally.
It would be a disservice to Karthik Calling Karthik if we called it unoriginal - it isn't that by any yardstick. It is, however, largely uninspired, and relies heavily on a leap it asks you to take. Well into its first running hour, the languorously paced film asks you not to think of any pop culture you can relate to. Do not think of what the plot holds in store for you, simply enjoy the ride, and I'll give you a great surprise, it seems to say.
If you take that leap, if you let yourself forget all references coming to your mind, you're golden. For the rest of us who have seen this a lot of times, and better done, the film starts devolving into a bizarrely smug joke. Vijay Lalwani so completely believes that the plot he has laboured on will completely throw you off, he does not resort to any theatrics, rather throws in red-herrings just to show how smart the plot is.
It's like watching a magic trick where you know how it is done, and yet have the magician smile smugly at you as he prepares to amaze you. The best you can muster is a polite smile and an uncomfortable shuffle in the seat. Where his entire narrative hinges on something you can see coming a mile off, is spelled out for you, and then hidden behind thin and meaningless red-herrings, the director really needs to keep us entertained by other means.
The problem here is that the geek wish fulfillment that Lalwani constructs is only real till Farhan Akhtar starts off in his thick South Mumbai accent. If there was one dude who is cool, itâ€™s him, and it's hard to believe the fantasy where he isn't. Not to say that Akhtar does not do well. His affectations, his nervousness, and his completely naive and vulnerable charisma are indeed what carry the whole film through.
What compounds the problems is that despite the charm of the leads, and some nice use of colours by Sanu Varghese, the first half of the film is utterly boring. It spends way too much time setting up the yuppy modern world that Karthik acquires for himself, and the relationship he shares with Shonali (Deepika Padukone). I was shocked to learn much later on in the film that the film simply takes place in the space of one year. The passage of time montage that Lalwani insists on showing us must have been a shot for every day.
Speaking of excruciating, I got a lot of people loudly exclaiming that Deepika Padukone was quite talentless. I'm afraid I don't see that - she was exactly as listless and air headed as the next urban pretty face, and nothing more. I don't share that animosity, though she didn't exactly blow away any expectations.
Performing well under par though, were Shankar Ehsaan Loy with completely uninteresting music and Midival Punditz with a background score that was even more boring than the film got to be. This is usually not a problem, but with the film itself lacking any cohesive theme (other than "Woo! Mystery!"), it would have been a little less boring if we knew at least the music was going somewhere.
Lalwani seems like a sure hand, and really unlike the utterly untalented hacks that come along every year. But to prove he is a major talent, he needs to run more than just his friends through the script, and get tighter on his pacing. It would have helped greatly if he didn't think the world of his â€œtwistâ€ and the currency that film-goers pay for Akhtar's urban chic.