By Subhash K. Jha, IANS
Film: "Karam"; Starring John Abraham, Priyanka Chopra, Shiney Ahuja, Bharat Dabholkar; Directed by Sanjay F. Gupta.
While some films have their finger on the pulse, this one has its pulse on the finger. In one heart-stopping sequence, a ruthless mobster, mysteriously named Captain, chops off the ethereal Shalini's (Priyanka Chopra) finger and sends it in a gift box to her tormented husband John.
Remember Brad Pitt being similarly 'gifted' in "Seven"? Don't expect the immense intensity of "Seven" to hit you in "Karam". But music-video maverick and cinematographer Sanjay F. Gupta does wallop a punch or two in the solar plexus with his unusually violent, skilfully narrated story of an assassin's brutal efforts to come clean.
It's a neat story, written with panache and passion by the talented Suparn Varma who last week, succeeded in creating a freshness in the romantic comedy genre with "Socha Na Tha".
This week he does a bit of the air spray act with the gangster movie. "Karam" is at heart a love story detailing internecine intrigue and violence of the underworld. From its delineation of hit man John's initiation into a world of crime (done in cartoon-strip animation a la Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill") debutant director Gupta moves with a skill-will through a series of cohesively choreographed scenes of violence.
The squeamish are advised to set aside their reservations. For, countermanding the abject savagery of a world governed by greed and ambition is the beauty tenderness and fragility of Shalini.
In many ways, Priyanka's Shalini holds the key to the plot. She's like an orchid blooming in a relentless desert. The love, tenderness and passion that John feels for her irrigates the dry land of bloodied violence.
In many sequences, such as the one where she makes the long run in the rain to escape her kidnappers, we the audience are overwhelmed by Shalini's vulnerability.
Tautly scripted and anointed with a virile candour that slices open the wounded lives of the two protagonists, "Karam" has great visual strength. Gupta uses images, music and colours from music videos to accentuate the anxious desolation of the couple, struggling to come together in a world ripped apart by violence.
The violence undercutting the main love story is intolerably harsh. Scenes of villains smashing heads and pumping bullets into unsuspecting victims cut across the narrative creating an unsettling pyramid of passion and perversion. The life-changing shoot-out in which John and his accomplices (Murali Sharma and Rajesh Khera) accidentally gun down a little girl shimmers and seethes in the lurking shadows of discontent.
Throughout, the director creates a sense of self-destructive foreboding, punctuated by unexpected passages of tenderness.
By and large the narrative avoids getting unnecessarily cheesy even if the characters are forever mired in murk. The narrative never sprawls and spirals out of control. Except for theatre actor Bharat Dabholkar whose act of villainy is hammy and incongruous (his voice seems specially disembodied), the performances lift the narrative by many notches.
This isn't the first time that John Abraham has played an angst-ridden, socially castigated creature of torment. He gets a grip over the assassin's character and never lets go. Shiney Ajuja seen as the passionate priest in Vinod Pande's "Sins" dons the cop's clothes.
But it's Priyanka Chopra who moves mountains with her poised interpretation of high drama. Playing a pigeon among cats, she flies high creating a character whose vulnerability and beauty are endorsed by both the inner and outer worlds created for her character.
A triumph above what she achieved in the career-defining "Aitraaz" last year. And then there are Vishal-Shekhar's pain-lashed songs and Amar Mohile's intensely saturated background music, giving the film its tight texture of tension and torment.
The images in the songs go from the searing and staccato ("Tera hi karam") to the haunting and sensuous ("Tinka tinka").
Here's one actioner where the songs are not allowed to get in the way of the wallops. But then Karam isn't really an action film. It's a passion play staged in the blood-steeped world of crime. To that extent, it goes beyond the expected.