Sunday, February 28, 2010

Karthik Calling Karthik: Why it worked

In the groundbreaking Karthik Calling Karthik - or as I like to call the movie "Just star-69 his ass!" - there is a moment early on in which Karthik's life has fallen apart. He has no friends. The girl he loves doesn't know he exists. His coworkers have no respect for him. His boss chews him out constantly. He's been humiliated and fired in front of his entire office. He's collected his things in a box and boarded an elevator. And the blinking down arrows on the elevator panel unrelentingly mirror his state.

Debutant director Vijay Lalwani's movie is full of these storytelling markers. Sometimes they are bit heavy handed, for example the completeness of a Rubik's Cube is used to communicate Karthik's State of Life. But more often than not, they serve the story well.


Since the story of KCK has been documented in numerous places, we'll skip the pleasantries. What is Lalwani's style like? I suspect he's a better writer than a director - although he's pretty darn good with the latter job too. His story holds well together - it misses a few tricks in the parts that he's deliberately tweaked to be cinematic. Wouldn't it have been cool, for example, if he had tied things back to the reason the phone was the instrument of Karthik's salvation and later affliction?

Lalwani's scenes are well written - they seem crisp enough. His dialogs are direct and real. When he is directing though I felt his scenes weren't calibrated fully. Often they seemed to be missing a beat or two. Some were held for too long. Because Lalwani stages his scenes with a slow steady hand, he feels compelled to punch them up with a non-stop background score. With time Lalwani will develop enough confidence in his ability to tell a story that he doesn't need to resort to that.

What really brings the movie alive is its production. Farhan Akhtar and Ritesh Sidhwani produced the movie under their Excel Entertainment banner and they seem to have assembled a crack team for Lalwani. The songs composed by Shankar Ehsaan Loy work really well all through the movie. The background music - although overused - by Midival Punditz and Karsh Kale underscores the scenes. The production design (Rachna Rastogi) is gorgeous, the sets zing with character. Farhan and Deepika Padukone's styling (Niharika Khan) is wonderful. In the more suspenseful sequences, there is some nifty editing (Aarti Bajaj) that ratchets up the drama. Against all penny-pinching Bollywood tactics, Lalwani gets to insert a sweeping CGI shot in the movie that is used to depict the hurtling nature of a journey into the scary unknown.

But enough about the visual style of the movie: the subject matter really scored with me. The movies I enjoy the most are the ones that open themselves up for debate afterwards. And I'm not just talking about debates around costumes and dance steps. Lately in Indian cinema bold directors have been making provocative movies that ask questions about religion, moral values, community and country. But KCK is a film that asks questions about the self. In fact, KCK is one of the most introspective mainstream Bollywood movie I've seen - one in which its acceptable for the main character to leave everything behind (lover, family, earthly possessions) to heal himself without a specific timetable.

Farhan Akhtar plays Karthik with a crestfallen body language. He is an honest grunt crippled with a lack of confidence brought on by childhood trauma. The script and dialogs are tuned to him a lot - so he works from an advantage here. There is a brief scene in the movie where you get to see a very different Karthik and I wish that we had seen more of Farhan doing that. His costar Deepika Padukone looks like a dream in this movie. Freed from the long, over-curled tresses that seemed to weigh her down in Love Aaj Kal, she develops a twinkle-eyed zing in her acting. She still needs to shape her characters better - someone called Shonali Mukherjee (Deepika's character) doesn't often speak English with a distinct Marathi lilt.

KCK has a payoff in the movie that might be deemed a disappointment. Its certainly not cinematic enough for a traditional multiplex hit. But when you do something truly groundbreaking (and not just because you are the FIRST to release the movie on YOUTUBE on a WEDNESDAY type of groundbreaking), you have to introduce it to new audiences gradually. KCK does well here despite ending up perhaps too neatly wrapped up.

Yet KCK forces you to look at an area of health that Indians have stunningly avoided dealing with for years. And it tells you that in this case, the issues aren't happening to other people who you can feel sorry about and do kind things for. In these cases, the issues may be calling you.

24 comments:

musical said...

Nice review, Aspi! The promos seem very good and Mr. Akhtar is looking HOT! And Deepika too really shines!

Hmm,as for someone with a Bengali last name talking in a Marathi accent-why not, if they are born/brought up/living in a Marathi speaking city? I know several people whose Hindi and English accents are more like where they have lived while growing up rather than the city/state of their parents' origins :).

Mind Rush said...

Drift saab, Your review had me in the first sentence: "Just star-69 his ass!" ROFL! (But maybe you should explain this to the non-US reader.)Love the "hot chick vs. phone" observation :-)

Enjoyed this film for the reasons you enumerate. But why was Airtel napping? There could be some serious product placement in this movie.

On a serious note, there are some major psychological flaws in the movie. They are too numerous to list here. (Please have the director call me at 1-800- MIND-RUSH!)

Aspi said...

musical, good point, fair enough. But is that something Deepika thought through or are you trying to explain her oversight off? :) In the latter case - character needs work. Former case - risky character choice.

Mind Rush, tell us more I'll send you an email.

Anonymous said...

What CGI shot, boss? There were none.

Mind Rush said...

Yes, would love to say more. Let me shoo off the other patients off my counch and get to my keyboard, umm, I mean my phone!

BTW, did anyone else think that Karthik and his girlfriend looked like they belonged to different generations?

Anonymous said...

wot is CGI--explain????
and 69, huh??

Deep said...

CGI is computer generated imagery, basically all animation you see in films that is done by a computer.

anon, aspi is right there is a shot of a train on a bridge that looked CGI to me. aspi in India you might be better off calling this VFX. but that whole shot looked reused to me from some other flick. Its way too generic. so bollywood penny-pinching may have been involved after all :)

*69 is a service on your phone in the US which will automatically dial the last number that called you.

whew i feel like i just earned all the entertainment i get on this blog. :D

Aspi said...

Deep, thanks! Correct on both counts.

Anonymous said...

Very good review. Such a movie needs guts to make coz its different. Will be interested to know if it makes money.
Deepika looks hot! This guy Farhan is really getting into acting seriously. Thank god film had a mature ending!

musical said...

No, no, not trying to explain anything :). Haven't seen the movie, yet. Which city is the movie set in?

Aspi said...

It's set in Mumbai. A bit in Cochin.

Anonymous said...

I was thoroughly disappointed with the movie. Too many screenplay flaws and too many situations where people are made to look stupid... especially the psychiatrist.

Pedantry storytelling. The scene where Farhan buys the same phone in some remote store in Cochin...was hilariously ridiculous. It highlighted the lack of imaginative narration... I went in with a lot of expectation and came away utterly disappointed...

Aspi said...

Sorry you didn't like the movie Anon.

BTW that scene you mention: everyone in the theater gasped when Farhan bought home the same phone. I see US audiences opening up in theaters these days instead of just watching silently.

Sam said...

Hey Aspi, Did you ever get down to watching Dev D and reviewing it. For all that awards are worth,,it got 6..as many as 3 Idiots...and for me, ws the movie of the decade.

Confused Sardar said...

Liked the movie. Halfway through the movie I started wondering how they were going to resolve the mystery ... and whatever I could think of did not seem right. Eventually, I was not sure if there was any better way to do it.

Mind Rush said...

ALTERNATE ENDING (Spoiler alert!)...
Scary stalker from outer space calls hero frequently. Stalker has special powers and is actually a past-birth ghost of hero. After a saahdu-baba explains everything to hero, the stalker becomes an angel and goes back to heaven!
All izz well...

Aspi said...

Sam, not seen yet - still lying around in my collection. But I need to pull together the motivation :) Maybe you should review it for us.

Confused & Mind Rush, many alternative endings can be possible. But they go different routes. If you want the Touched by an Angel ending you might be able to pull a few more heartland, single screen type of audiences into the movie but it would be too hokey.

On the other hand while the ending worked, if they had let us figure a few things out ourselves, it would have kicked ass. Baby steps though - I'm with the writer on how it was handled at this stage.

Bolly boy said...

Great points you made! Liked that your review was different from TOI and others etc. Other reviews are a recap of the film story. You add your own opinions. And you make it funny!!Nice!

Aspi said...

Bb, thanks. Old media reviews always get bogged down by templates. But those templates are required, to be fair.

Confused Sardar said...

No, I did not expect the movie to turn into a heartland, single screen type. I was worried about it being St Elsewhere, and good that it wasn't.

Aspi said...

Amen to that!

Amrita said...

Yup, this pretty much sums up what I thought of it too. I think Farhan's movies, more than any other person's in Bollywood today, look like they were made in the present day.

Arjun said...

Love the production design by Rachna Rastogi and Murali. Simply amazing. What they did in Dhoom 2 was stunning and now they have taken it up to a newer height. Simply great!!

Aspi said...

Amrita, what is it that makes you feel so? The dialogs? The body language? The theme? The absence of family and the usual drama? All of the above?

Arjun, hopefully Rachna will talk to me about you some time. Fingers crossed.