‘Karwaan’ review: Journey to the Center of Mirth

Life is a Cinema Hall rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5) (This rating is only a snapshot. The details are in the words.)

Most of us get through life’s journey without pausing to look at what’s passing us by or at the blur of sideview that takes a backseat to all its rowelling. There’s something to be said about pausing and relooking at how much we’ve lost because our blinkered viewmasters; but even more to take stock of how much we’ve gained and for how much more we’ve to be grateful for. In his directorial debut, Akarsh Khurana weighs in all these thoughts but with a touch that’s not too heavy and at times infuriatingly meandering.

And yet, Karwaan (Caravan)—the title a hat-tip to lyricist Majrooh’s evocative poetry, the headliner line which is also painted on the vehicle of choice (or not) in this venture—ironically works just because it’s laced with humor—god knows we need more of that these days—and the performances that are undeniably topnotch. There’s Avinash (Dulquer Salmaan) who’s life is spent in spades and shovels in Bangalore, listening to a boss blow off his top and mouth textbook versions of customer service. Avinash is reticent, masking his own pain and compromises behind thoughtful drags of cigarettes, having instanoodles at his dining table, the only source of light behind him, as if to say, “If life and food’s such a drab, why would you need well-lit surroundings?”

Dulquer and Irrfan contemplate about life and death.
Dulquer Salmaan and Irrfan Khan contemplate about life, death, and road trips.

If life’s about the unexpected, Avinash’s hits one such curve that doesn’t throw him off as much it does you, as writers Khurana and Adhir Bhat announce it in such deadpan fashion over the phone that you don’t even realize that it’s the injecting of a vial of dark humor that runs intermittently throughout the movie. It also introduces Shaukat (Irrfan Khan), Avinash’s friend, philosopher, and soon-to-be travel companion to Kochi. It is in Shaukat’s van that the duo begin their road trip, punctuated by calls from Tahira (Amala Akkineni in a polished, dignified cameo) that make them take a detour despite Shaukat’s protestations. And it is here that they onboard their third travel companion, Tanya (Mithila Palkar). It is Tanya who also shatters the comfortable and familiar bonhomie that’s thus far hung in the van, despite the presence of a coffin in it.

Dulquer Salmaan, Irrfan Khan peep into themselves.
Dulquer Salmaan, Irrfan Khan peep into themselves.

Based on a story by Bejoy Nambiar, Karwaan is a scenic, soak-in-the-sight journey. How else could you ever enjoy the lush, chlorophyllic journey via some aerial breathtaking captures by cinematographer Avinash Arun (who also divines some beautiful shots with editor Ajay Sharma from the rear-view mirror of Dulquer Salmaan driving the van, his face in the mirror, and the surroundings segueing magically from dusk to night to dawn)? It is also in this journey that the trio begins to reassess their lives, their take on it, and what life and love means to them. There are some digressions in the journey—a wedding that’s postponed and a gang that’s on their heels—and this where the story goes for a stroll up the garden path to sneak a smoke. But by now, Avinash, Shaukat, and Tanya have become somewhat of your pals, and you’d give anything to watch them for a little more. So the wedding becomes an excuse for another character from the music band to detour right into a hospital and for Shaukat to fall in love to the catchy, melodic, fun-filled Heartquake number (composed by Anurag Saikia and written with tongue-in-cheek feeling by director Khurana).

Dulquer Salmaan lends his cigarette set to a beautiful carnatic-based score
Dulquer Salmaan lends his cigarette in a scene set to a beautiful Carnatic-based score on the electric guitar.

The trio of actors are an absolute delight. Mithila Palkar is superbly natural as the millennial who knows her mind—and maybe even of the other two. Her ‘whatever’ attitude hides a clarity of thought that’s as startling as it is infuriating, and Palkar gets it onscreen with a clean sweep. Dulquer Salmaan is an absolute winner (after his roiling turn as Gemini Ganesan in the sweepingly good Nadigaiyar Thilagam/Mahanati) in his Hindi movie debut. Understated, subdued, and yet eminently likeable, he carries off his role with such ease, you wonder if he’s even bothered to act at all. He can be disarmingly funny without being overtly so, as in when Palkar hugs Rumana (Kriti Kharbanda in a cameo); or, even when he’s being a reprimanding version of his own father to Tanya—watch him admonishing her as she’s smoking next to a coffin—and you realize just how good he is.

Irrfan Khan, as is his wont, chews at the scenery with such intelligence and understated force that you simply can’t take your eyes off him. He takes every one of Hussain Dalal‘s lines and delivers them with such a whiplash of sarcasm and knowing philosophy, you simply wait for him to turn up and begin talking. Even when he’s behind in the frame, it is he who fascinates and rivets you—be it him posing at the wedding venue while Dulquer’s at the front (in all likelihood a manipulative ploy to make you look at Irrfan, but why would you fall for it unless he was so good?), or him sitting at a dhaba, waiting for the food; or, in the end, when he’s a silent spectator, all attention from his perch and yet reflecting your emotions with his expressions while Amala and Salmaan speak their heart out. It is his humane ability to intuitively connect to the scene and to you that makes you want to reach out to him—as does his character to Dulquer’s Avinash and pats him—wishing him years of such connectedness, both on and offscreen.

Underneath all the mirth, there’s fleeting glimpses of what lies at Karwaan’s center. That’s also when the movie works best: when it takes time to ruminate and introspect. In a scene on a bridge, as the trio look around them, they also look inside themselves. It is then that they—and we—realize that our strongest bonds in life aren’t with people who have the same things that we do. It’s what’s missing in our lives that brings us closer.

Life is a Cinema Hall ratings chart
1 out of 5 stars (1 / 5): Don’t bother
2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5): Not too great
3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5): Worth a watch
4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5): Very good
5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5): Drop everything else NOW

Karwaan (2018) on IMDb


Movie data powered by IMDb

Director Akarsh Khurana Running Time 1h 54min
Writers Akarsh Khurana, Adhir Bhat
Stars Irrfan Khan, Dulquer Salmaan, Mithila Palkar
Genres  Comedy, Drama

Watch the trailer of Karwaan here: