Amongst the toughest kinds of films to make is the rambling road movie which turns out to be a journey of self-discovery. The trick is in the assembly of the right ensemble, and in the way it ambles and rambles, to fetch up at a milestone. Or a signpost.
Karwaan takes much too long to get to the point where the characters feel like they are together. Randomness of events are part and parcel of this kind of film, but the progression needs to feel inevitable. The execution is choppy and takes time to settle, and some of the road bumps the film comes up with, feel contrived.
It’s not as if the actors are not likeable. Any film with Irrfan in it is reason enough to watch it, and here it comes with a bittersweet realization that in real life, the man is putting up a brave fight against a terrible disease. His character, Shaukat, works in a garage, and has access to a van which Avinash (Dulquer) needs to carry a morbid burden from Point A to Point B, with an additional passenger in the shape of the impulsive teen Tanya (Palkar).
The good thing about the film is that it gives us enough time to observe Dulquer, who is a huge star in the south, and who seems quite at home in his Bollywood debut. Props to the filmmakers for not smoothening out his accented Hindi, which is quite thick in places: if we are to have films which crossover, we need to be able to be able to see good actors from all across the country in one frame.
But Karwaan doesn’t serve up the delights which should have been the natural outcome of the interactions between the seasoned Irrfan and the younger magnetic Dulquer: the characters are not filled in enough; they end up playing a type.
Avinash is in an IT job he hates only to get his nagging father (Khurana) off his back. There’s your regular Joe. Shaukat is a traditional, conventional middle-aged Muslim man, who goes into shock at women in shorts, and at their cavorting in pools. He’s an odd fit, but he seems to have been placed there to create comedy, which is questionable in bits.
This must have meant to come off funny, but in 2018, to have significant moments of a film being spent on expressing shock at ‘such behaviour’, is not really amusing. Especially when you have a female character in the film characterized by her ‘liberated’ spirit, who smokes and drinks and speaks airily of sex and pregnancy tests. There’s your rebellious ‘modern’ young woman.
Karwaan is aiming for an easy, offhand charm, and we get that only in bits and pieces, especially when Irrfan hits his stride on occasion, or when Dulquer proves just how good he can be by not doing much at all: even the perky Palkar, who is the most done against when it comes to detailing, has a couple of effective scenes.
The film started to grow on me only about two thirds of the way in, and there’s a moment when the trio is standing about, shooting the breeze, when it starts feeling lived in, when it all comes together. But that’s not enough. Not nearly.
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