Dulquer "Uncle"? Pooh!
Director Akarsh Khurana, in his sixth outing never mind the other films finally cracks it. Irrfan is sublime in his deadpan, comic delivery
It is thrilling to see a genuinely all-India film like Karwaan (Caravan, Hindi) made by Bollywood director Akarsh Khurana, with its openness to a cast, stories and varied locations beyond Bombay. This sets it apart from the other "all-India" Bollywood films like Dabangg, Dangal or PK, primarily playing in north and west India, plus additional revenue from the rest of India. Karwaan does not have standard Bollywood "stars", masala, or dancing. It is a delightful, sensitive and funny film, despite all its flaws. It is a road movie in a van, with a coffin tied to the top.
It is very tricky to make an 'all-India' cast work, if you consider Raavanan (Vikram, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan), Chokher Bali (Prosenjit Chatterjee-Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) or Aiyya (Rani Mukerji/Prithviraj Sukumaran). Karwaan has Irrfan Khan (Bollywood and international cinema), the gorgeous Dulquer Salmaan (Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu cinema), and Mithila Palkar (Marathi cinema, TV).
Like all good road movies, it is about three characters who go on a road journey that transforms their lives. The superb story by Bejoy Nambiar, with mixed-up coffins, is ripe with possibilities. Avinash (Dulquer), a frustrated young man, must pick up his estranged father's body, arriving in a coffin. But the coffin gets mixed up with a deceased woman's, so he travels from Bangalore to Kochi with his motor mechanic friend Shaukat (Irrfan Khan), who lends him his van, to exchange the bodies. On the way, they must pick up Tanya (Palkar), granddaughter of the deceased woman.
Director Khurana, in his sixth outing — never mind the other films — finally cracks it. Irrfan is sublime in his deadpan, comic delivery. Get well soon, Irrfan, your fans need you! Dulquer Salmaan, who has long left behind the 'Mammootty's son' tag with wonderful work, including in OK Kanmani, Ustad Hotel, Bangalore Days, Kammatti Padam and Mahanati, shows his class by underplaying his role. Palkar is sprightly, but her part is written as a teen stereotype. The cast includes the lovely Amala Akkineni.
The screenplay, by Akarsh Khurana and Adhir Bhat, takes a while to settle down, with many unconvincing twists and coincidences, but works by the end. There are many laugh-out loud moments, mostly because of Hussain Dalal's dialogues ("mayyat pe romance mat kar"/don't fall in love during a funeral). Shaukat's mean spiritedness about women enjoying themselves is a bit off. Tanya, who smokes, drinks and does a pregnancy test, is in your face. And, anyone who calls Dulquer "Uncle" is struck from my list, sorry. The happy ending is cellotaped together, but the unexpected aside from the Muslim woman, leaves you giggling on a high.
Avinash Arun's (Killa) cinematography is beautiful, but Ajay Sharma's editing could have been smoother. The music by Prateek Kuhad, Anurag Saikia and others, is pleasant. The film is produced by Ronnie Screwvala and Priti Rathi Gupta. Karwaan is a worthy addition to recent Indian road movies, including Imtiaz Ali's Jab We Met and Highway (Hindi), Umesh Kulkarni's Highway: Ek Selfie Aarpar (Marathi) and Rajesh Pillai's superb Traffic (Malayalam). But it is not a patch on the outstanding Sri Lankan film Prasanna Jayakody's 28, also a road movie with three characters in a van, with a coffin tied to the top. It shows you why Sri Lankan cinema is often streets ahead of Indian cinema. Karwaan is not perfect, but definitely recommended.
Meenakshi Shedde is South Asia Consultant to the Berlin Film Festival, award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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