Friday, March 12, 2010

Karthik Calling Karthik: Wrong Number?

Yes, the time has come to discuss a new(ish) film: Karthik Calling Karthik. It wasn't bad and, this might come as a shock for those of you who are well acquainted with my tastes in actors, but Deepika Padukone actually put in an okay performance.

(I am going to save my discussion of the film's ending for another post because there is another film I want to compare/contrast it with, so you are SAFE to read this even if you haven't seen
Karthik Calling Karthik yet.)

Karthik Calling Karthik is the story of a mild-mannered office worker named Karthik (Farhan Akhtar) who is miserable due to his inability to ever stand up for himself. His life is almost completely empty. Human contact is limited to his psychiatrist (Shefali Shah), his bullying boss (Ram Kapoor, looking eerily like David Brent), and a pathetic crush on his pretty co-worker Shonali (Deepika Padukone) that mostly involves longing looks and thousands of unsent e-mails addressed to her.

Karthik's sad life is turned upside down one morning when he gets a phone call... from himself! This second Karthik gives the first Karthik instructions on how to improve his (their?) life and Karthik gamely follows them - winning a better job
and the girl. Of course things unravel but I will get into that later when I discuss the ending.

Karthik Calling Karthik seems to have taken its cues from Korean horror films rather than any Hindi films that have come before but - like when Americans borrow from the East Asians - the result falls mostly flat. Aside from some giggles brought on by a few particularly clunky scenes, my interest was held by the main mystery alone: "Who is the second Karthik?!"

While I do applaud the filmmakers for trying something different - and for getting a nice performance from Deepika Padukone, which couldn't have been easy - there are a few problems with
Karthik Calling Karthik.

I'll start with the big one: tone.
Karthik Calling Karthik starts off like a story about an office worker grounded firmly in Hollywood-realism, which is exactly how those Korean horror films begin but rather than amp up the weirdness and adrenaline as the narrative progresses until everything builds to a frenzy, the film keeps the same even-keeled 'realistic' approach to the story.

So, rather than making audiences squirm with fear and suspense,
Karthik Calling Karthik decides to focus its energies on the romance between Karthik and Shonali, including song montages and charming coffee dates.

This is a problem.

(90% of the promotional pictures are like this - not cool.)

Horror films require a certain over-exaggerated style of film making that
should mesh perfectly with classic masala film making. (Think the wonderful Raaz: The Mystery Continues.) But writer/director Vijay Lalwani doesn't play it that way. The outrageous plot elements are given the realistic touch onscreen, which leads to some unintentionally comic moments that totally kill any chance of taking the film seriously - even as a suspense film.

Even worse, instead of the frenzied magnificence of Kangana Ranaut in
Raaz: The Mystery Continues, Farhan underplays the character. This would be fine if the film had actually been an indie comic romp about a loser office worker and the girl he has a crush on (a la Wake Up Sid or something) but it's not and Farhan did not convince me - or my movie watching buddy - that Karthik was a character that matters.

I'll give you an example.

Karthik has been writing Shonali e-mails every single day at work but then he never sends them. He saves them in his draft folder like a big, creepy weirdo and he has thousands of these messages dating back years.

Now, speaking as a go-getting career woman, I would be disturbed and horrified if the guy that I thought I was casually dating turned out to have been obsessed with me for the last 3 years.

But that is not how
Karthik Calling Karthik sees it.

Shonali and Karthik share a flirtation that comes to a head one night in an aborted attempt at sex. Shonali stops Karthik, telling him that she is afraid that he is only using her for a one-night stand. Karthik is horrified at this and insists that she go into the office to look at his draft folder of
thousands of unsent e-mails addressed to her. She melts and they begin actually dating.

If this had been a better suspense film, Shonali would have been touched by Karthik's gesture but she would see the creepy undercurrent to it. Maybe she would have a friend point out how weird it was and Shonali would be forced to say that Karthik is perfectly normal but then Karthik gets instructions regarding Shonali's friend and... you see where I am going. And if this HAD been an over-the-top Shahrukh romance, the e-mail thing would have been fine. We don't expect those to be realistic; we except Shahrukh to stalk the heroines into submission. But
Karthik Calling Karthik tries to play for realism - and in real life, Shonali would get herself a restraining order against him.

Instead of creepy-sweet, the film goes for straight-sweet and it
doesn't work. I was holding back giggles through this entire scene.

(I'm sure the director thought there was some sort of 'deep' meaning to the fixing up of the house/Karthik's life that went along with the stupid Rubik's Cube theme but really... I just wanted to be scared and didn't care.)

Another major problem was Farhan's protrayal of Karthik. I like Farhan. I do. However, I don't think he is great at nuance. His underplaying in
Luck By Chance made him seem like a psychopath and here in Karthik Calling Karthik, he fluctuates between scraggly loser and Big Man on Campus with little in between.

Farhan is perfectly believable as the loser Karthik and he does a fine bombastic He-Man, the problem is that we are supposed to believe that these men are the same person. Loser!Karthik gets instructions and literally just minutes later he a smooth-talking operator? I don't buy it.

This could have gone in two acceptable ways - Karthik should either have taken
gradual steps toward bad-assery or the audience should have been led to believe that Karthik was being hypnotized or brainwashed or something. Maybe this was the director's fault but until Vijay Lalwani does a director's commentary, I'm putting the blame with Farhan.

And now, I'm going to climb up on my trusty old soap box to rail against a problem that has been cropping up with more and more frequency in Bollywood films: MONTAGES. I hate them. They are purposeless and insulting to the audience.

When I see a montage, what I see is a director who wants to do something 'good, like Hollywood' but who also knows that Bollywood audiences like songs and thinks that the montage is a perfectly fine way to split the difference.

Those directors are wrong.

Proper song picturizations are an art that has been refined and polished over the last 70-odd years in Bollywood. Can you imagine a montage of Raj Kapoor and Nargis acting cutesy while "Pyaar Hua" played? No. It would be stupid. Then
why am I forced to suffer through these montages now? Either do the songs properly or use them like Hollywood does in the background. Montages break up the narrative flow and make me wish for a fast forward button. They contribute absolutely nothing to a film and I cannot wait for the day when directors get tired of them.

The montages in
Karthik Calling Karthik do double duty of dragging the narrative and helping to solidify the wrong narrative tone - i.e. cutesy.

I'm just going to go out there and say it: Thrillers should not spend 75% of their screentime with a cutesy couple doing cute things.

And I'm not even going to get into the final ending. I'm saving it for another day.

What was enjoyable?

Shonali. Deepika Padukone is perfectly fine as the 'girlfriend' character, although she still seems more awkward than even Kristen Stewart when she is on the dancefloor or doing anything that involves moving her limbs (walking, etc.)

(Although I
hated that as soon as she starts dating Karthik, he starts bossing her around. Seriously, girl, you are too good for him.)

The songs were good.

The central mystery is fun if you don't know what is going to happen.

And where does that leave me (and you)?

Bollywood can do thrills and chills. Did you see
Ek Haseena Thi? Thrilling! Raaz: The Mystery Continues? Chilling! Bhool Bhuliya? Ghosts!

The reason
Karthik Calling Karthik didn't work is the same reason 8 x 10 Tasveer didn't work - masala style plots filmed in a realistic style.

Nobody can make that work.

A plot like
Karthik Calling Karthik had needed the full David Lynch treatment but instead it was filmed like somebody gave the wrong script to Gerard Butler and Katherine Heigl.

Unintentionally hilarious: yes. Thrilling: no.


jun6lee said...

I didn't expect the Korean Thriller that I feel you began to hope for once it kicked off like one.

I think the her getting creeped out.. restraining order et al would make an interesting departure from what it was, however expecting it from 'mainstream' Bollywood is a tad premature. Give it another 5-10 years. (after I move there) :) This is catering for a larger audience, it's trying to also get those SRK film fans roped in & I'm fine with that.

The office losers are often the obsessive types, him having the draft e-mails seemed actually quite realistic to me, yea' realistically it would creep her out, but I don't think they are playing for realism when it comes to the romance, they rarely do.

In a nutshell, I think the kind of film you wanted out of this is a fair alternative, but just wasn't their intent here.

Just by the first look of this film I figured the intent to be a Wake Up Sid meets Pyaar Impossible with a twist & I feel that was the intent here & achieved.

I only expected 2 things from this film.. Maintaining the "Who is the second Karthik?!" arc keeping me guessing & in the end the resolution not feeling like a cop-out. I felt it delivered that too. So, overall, I was pleased.

Filmi Girl said...

@jun6lee See... I think it failed at both being a 'rom-com with a twist' AND at being a thriller due to the placid and 'realistic' nature of the film.

Films can't play at being 'realistic' and then NOT have realistic reactions from the characters - it doesn't work. If the film had been done like a melodramatic Shahrukh movie, then I totally would have bought the e-mail thing but they didn't go that way so it seems creepy and obsessive.

In a nutshell, I think the kind of film you wanted out of this is a fair alternative, but just wasn't their intent here.

See, I disagree. I think there was intent to provide some thrills and chills but the execution was muddled by a) a desire for 'realism' and b) the love story that was shoehorned in.

They tried for both thrills and romance and didn't really provide either.

And I don't think we have to wait 5-10 years to see creepy romance on screen - Karz did it in 1980, not to mention Ek Haseena Thi in 2006.

Bolly Bloggers said...

I was waitiing for your take on this. From the promos you certainly get the impression that there's some deep dark mysterious secret, but it's completely overshadowed by the "cutsie" moments you talk about, though to be honest, that probably was the intial main draw for me (syrupy SRK diet that I've been on for you know!)
Anyway, I'm going to take this movie in and am intrigued to see if it can offer me more than I was initially expecting.
Oh, and I think I'll have to add Karz and Ek Haseena Thi to my list. I need some variation bad!

Bolly Bloggers said...

Oops, that last comment was from Shell's bollyworld (but from the network site I'm working on for us all). Just FYI. Apparently I need to figure out how to manage two blog addresses. Argh!

Bombay Talkies said...

I actually like montages, when they're done well. I thought the Jaane Kyun montage in Dostana was perfect--I don't see that song working as a choreographed number but I don't see the film without it. Then again I haven't seen KCK so maybe the montage you're talking about is just really really bad?

Christine Menefee said...

I liked Ek Haseena Thi a lot and was hoping for something like that, with this. Still, I'll watch it just because I enjoy both stars and you say the music is good :)
I don't mind those montages so much - I know what you mean about some of them but others I've thought were quite nicely done and original and more interesting than boring dance numbers when those are done poorly, and so many are. Of course I could make a stronger argument for montages if I could think of any examples of great ones... so maybe it's more a case of not hating them the way you do. Then again, I'm still being educated by you about the classic movies, so what do I know.

Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl
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