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?
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.
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.