Film Review: Karwaan

Dulquer Salmaan and Irrfan help navigate this amiable road trip movie

A road trip is a useful tool to convey growth, change, catharsis, coming of age, acceptance and resolution. It’s something like this for a trio of disparate individuals brought together by one life-changing event in Akarsh Khurana’s Karwaan. But the diversions along the way need to be meaningful and should add to the growth of the characters. Some of the pit stops in Khurana and Adhir Bhat’s script (based on a story by Bejoy Nambiar) feel gratuitous and the characters never reach out and touch us.

Avinash Rajpurohit (Dulquer Salmaan) is bored in his IT job in Bangalore. News of his father’s sudden death shakes him out of his reverie for a brief moment before he returns to his practical, resigned self. A body-swap by incompetent authorities is in tune with the nameless customer services executive who perfunctorily informs Avinash of his father’s death.

Avinash resents papa Rajpurohit (Akash Khurana) for pushing him away from his passion into a dead-end job. The duo has been estranged for years and Avinash is simply going through the motions to complete his duty as the next of kin. Things get complicated when the wrong coffin is delivered to Avinash and he must journey to Kochi to get his dad back. He enlists the help of car repair shop owner Shaukat (Irrfan), who has a mini-van that can double up as the hearse.

Avinash’s reticence is offset by Shaukat’s cynicism. Their comfortable rhythm as driving companions is interrupted by the addition of Tanya (Mithila Palkar), a fast-talking teenager whose grandmother they are transporting to Kerala. Tanya’s attitude to life awakens Avinash’s comatose soul, while her wardrobe agitates the conservative Shaukat.

Beautiful frames (cinematography by Avinash Arun), lovely southern locations and the easy-on-the-eyes Dulquer Salmaan are highlights. Every road trip needs a soundtrack and Prateek Kuhad’s songs are tonally appropriate. A favourite moment is when the three co-passengers are standing on a bridge discussing their damaged pasts. It’s the one time the film came together for me – at the right emotional pitch. Then, almost at the end, there is this tender moment between Shaukat and Avinash, which conveys so much through a small gesture, because grief cannot always be cloaked by humour.

Tanya is the least developed character; Palkar is passable in the role, considering she has little to sink her teeth into. There’s also a brief appearance by Amala Akkinen as Tanya’s mother, Tahira. The star of a number of Malayalam and Tamil films, Salmaan is making his Hindi film debut. His Avinash is disarming; it helps that he philosophises about photography, art and imagery with the flair of a passionate artist. Irrfan precisely spits out the acerbic dialogue written by Hussain Dalal. He’s a delight, whether in the foreground or background – wooing a veiled woman in a hospital ward or cajoling an ageing musician. Thanks to these two talents, Karwaan manages to navigate the pot-holed script.

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