Director: Vijay Lalwani
The single-most important challenge while attempting a thriller is to keep it engaging till the end. On that count, Karthik Calling Karthik most definitely succeeds. It makes for edge-of-the-seat entertainment and the suspense is maintained throughout. This itself should be as a triumph of sorts for debutant director Vijay Lalwani, considering that we haven't had a decent thriller from Bollywood in ages.
In terms of template and treatment, the film is recogonisable as a Farhan Akhtar venture. And yet, KCK feels like a slight departure from Farhan's other films because he is required to deliver a real performance here. And he does not disappoint!
Karthik (Farhan Akhtar) is a geeky, shy guy who gets shabbily treated from people around him, especially his boss (Ram Kapoor) who loads him with work. He is secretly in love with co-worker, Shonali (Deepika Padukone) to whom he regularly writes emails but saves them as drafts. Like in Rocket Singh, here too, Karthik gets bullied by his boss and is ultimately fired from his job. Tired of his hopeless situation, he is about to consume sleeping pills when the phone rings and the caller identifies himself as 'Karthik' . He calls everyday at a set time, giving the other Karthik forceful advice on how he can transform his life. It works, and for a while everything seems perfectly on track for him. Until it all starts to go awry again.
The concept is intriguing, even if some of its inspiration may have come from an episode in Twilight Zone called Shatterday, where the alter ego takes over the other person's life. The suspense and thrill is kept alive because the story is treated as a psychological drama, which on some levels explores the complexities of the human mind. Childhood guilt makes Karthik believe he deserves to be treated badly. When the guilt is gone, and he finds assurance and well-meaning advice from his 'caller', his whole demeanour changes.
The explanation to why Karthik gets these calls is fairly easy to surmise, but director Vijay Lalwani brings in a twist that ensures that the thrills and chills stay till the end. The drama that ensues is a fairly compelling one, but the revelation is flimsy and hangs on a mere technicality. It makes the film seem a bit trivial almost.
The epilogue is another downer. The Farhan-Deepika love story has its moments, but the romantic parts are more asserted by the srcipt, than genuinely felt. The only way Farhan seems to know how to court a woman is by keeping some PJs handy. This is a trick he's employed so many times in his celebrity shows that it appears altogether tiresome in the film. The music by Shankar Ehsaan Loy - though fabulous- has little use and acts more as a needless diversion.
Deepika looks ravishing, but there is nothing to differentiate her performance here from the one she gave in
Love Aaj Kal or Bachchna Ae Haseeno. The actress shows very little variation in her expression or voice, and there is an iciness and lack of empathy about her act that makes her appear too distant. Which is why, the emotional ending does not ring true.
On the other hand, Farhan Akhtar is extremely effective in his role, especially as the nervous and vulnerable Karthik. This is a role that is far from his comfort zone and he convincingly pulls it off.
The direction by Vijay Lalwani is understated, fluid and fairly assured, with very few rough edges. He knows how to create realistic drama in a seamless manner. Importantly, he can keep the audience glued to their seat.