Subhash K. Jha on 'Karthik Calling Karthik'

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By Subhash K. Jha

Film: "Karthik Calling Karthik"; Cast: Farhan Akhtar, Deepika Padukone; Director: Vijay Lalvani; Rating: ***

Desolation is a distant cousin to suburban seclusion. And "Karthik Calling Karthik" is an interesting if flawed fable of the damned.

The protagonist is Karthik (Farhan Akhtar), so timid he could merge into the woodwork of his office if only the decor was not so much glass.

Karthik is bullied by his boss (Ram Kumar), sniggered at by his smarter colleagues and absent-mindedly ignored by the beauty in the workplace whom Karthik gazes at sideways and writes scores of unsent e-mailS to. She's the unattainable beauty.

This is the world of 'Rocket Singh' without the turban and the placidity. While Shimit Amin's "Rocket Singh - Salesman Of The Year" was about an office-goer who craved for acceptance, Karthik just wants to be less unhappy in his space. It's not too much to ask for. But who's listening? Except a voice on the phone that sounds suspiciously like Karthik's to his own ear.

The build-up of Karthik's dreary world captures the claustrophobia of suburban existence without forgetting to add humour to the proceedings. The moments between Karthik and the gregarious Shonali (Deepika) have that touch of lively realism taken from lives we've known, lived and somewhere tried to reject. However, the dialogues between the couple try too hard to be 'cool'.

The relationship that Karthik develops with Shonali is far outdistanced in intensity by the one that he develops with the Chinese phone set. And after a while the 'extended monologues' begin to lose their credibility.

But hold on. Debutant director Vijay Lalwani, self-assured and apparently fully conscious of where he's taking his story, gives us a second-half that is gut-wrenching in its portrayal of the individual as an island.

To escape the dictatorial and tyrannical voice on the phone, Karthik buys a ticket to an unknown city which to our visual delight, turns out to be Kochi. Karthik rents a modest near-dingy room and begins life anew as a battered man seeking supreme anonymity with no telephone lines to break his self-imposed deathly stillness of existence.

The second movement of the quietly simmering plot comes to a poignant if faltering halt in a city whose tranquility the cinematographer Sanu Verghese embraces by a rejection of the urban chaos. However, the revelation on Karthik's psychological condition surprises no one except Karthik himself, and least of all his shrink Shefali Shah.

"Karthik Calling Karthik" is a gripping jigsaw, piecing together a mind that plays games with itself. The winner is destiny. The pace is consciously sluggish suggesting the deep-rooted association of a vigour-less existence with the quality of life that cities offer you in exchange for a comfortable flat in a techno-suffused surrounding.

Farhan, the life and breath of the proceedings, epitomizes urban anonymity in his body language, speech and hesitant attempts to reach out to a world that has no patience with the over-sensitive.

Farhan's is indeed a super-confident performance as a man lacking self-confidence. The film itself doesn't lack self-assurance. But the absence of what one may call an energetic exterior could well be mistaken by some viewers as ingrained inertia, a malaise that the film's protagonist suffers from.

Do not mistake the man for the plot.

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