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Working with the skimpiest of premises, director-screenwriter Akarsh Khurana fashions Karwaan as a realistic, non-dramatic road trip movie that banks on Irrfan Khan’s signature acting style — even though the story itself has almost nothing to do with the actor or his character.

Irrfan — credited without his last name in the titles (like Madonna, he is simply Irrfan now) — is a man of unique charisma. He commandeers the movie even though there isn’t really much variety or subtlety in his performance. In most of his projects (all of them good of late), people expect him to be himself, whether he is flying choppers over dinosaurs in Jurassic World, battling the absurd school system and class consciousness in Hindi Medium or embarking on road trips in Piku and Qarib, Qarib Singlle.

With exception to Singlle, every other movie — Karwaan included — doesn’t feature the actor as the focal point of the story. The movies do try their best to have him in every other scene, letting him score off on his co-star’s one-liners with intense, aloof deadpans. The moment Irrfan goes “Ammamiyaan” [listen, brother] followed by a snappy quip, the audience know it’s a cue to laugh out loud and then just as quickly settle down to the continuing scene.

This particular set of automatic preconditions are in each of Irrfan’s scenes in Karwaan.

In the story he plays Shaukat, a mechanic whose friend, Avinash (Dulquer Salman) has to travel from Bangalore to Kochi to pick up his dad’s dead body after a courier mix-up sends him an old woman’s corpse instead. Shaukat, who owns a van, takes Avinash and the woman’s body in a cross-country trip, picking up a rebellious girl (Mithila Palker) on the way.

By the end of the trip the girl wises up, Avinash (who had a falling out with his father) realises that he is more like his dearly-departed dad than he cares to admit and Shaukat (a staunch, if somewhat hypocritical Muslim, by the way) falls in love with a burqa-clad woman.

A few intelligently visual quips here and there (the characters stay in a Lodge titled Veronica, for example), and Irrfan’s throwaway character keep one’s interest engaged in a somewhat mature, frivolous yet ho-hum movie that doesn’t blow anyone away.

Karwaan is a mature yet ho-hum movie that doesn’t blow anyone away while Fanney Khan is periodically engaging while being riddled with absurdities

Fanney Khan

Fanney Khan, a remake of the Belgian-Dutch Oscar-nominated film Everybody’s Famous, doesn’t want to waste time. In a matter of minutes, the tightly-woven screenplay by debuting director Atul Manjrekar and co-writers Hussain and Abbas Dalal, grounds the characters in sharply written, emotionally engaging scenarios. Then the story wheezes, dragging itself into absurdity.

Everybody’s Famous is now a high priority on my must-watch list, just to see if its loose, parodic nature and lack of common sense is directly ported over in Fanney Khan.

Anil Kapoor is awe-inspiring as Prashant Kumar aka ‘Fanney’, a wannabe singer whose dreams of stardom shift perspective when he has a newborn baby Lata. Just seconds after seeing Lata for the first time, he wants her to be as big as Lata Mangeshkar.

Lata grows up into a chubby but talented teenager (Pihu Sand), who loathes her dad but harbours his dreams of success. Like the majority of Indians who are brainwashed by the unattainable glamour of the entertainment industry, she too wants to be a star.

Lata, though, is motivated by peer pressure to be slim and beautiful. Instead of honing her talents and sympathising with her family’s hand-to-mouth status, she acts like a spoiled brat. Her mother (the always fantastic Divya Dutta) is worried about her daughter’s willingness to do whatever it takes to make her dream come true.

Fanney and his best buddy Adhir (Rajkumar Rao, engaging as always) end up kidnapping a superstar singer Baby Singh (Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan) — a diva who is sick and tired of the limelight. The plot then turns ludicrous, butchering whatever assurance of levelheadedness it had built in its first hour.

By the climax, one doesn’t know if they should blame Everybody’s Famous which came out in 2000 or Fanney Khan for the slip-ups. Even if Manjrekar and co-writers were adapting a film 18 years later, it doesn’t give them the excuse to not create a more sensible narrative.

Kapoor, Dutta, Rai and Rao are fine, and even if the story is riddled with ridiculousness, the movie is, at least, engaging and moving at times.

Published in Dawn, ICON, August 12th, 2018