This is a movie that works, when it does, because it is well mounted and has two reasonably charismatic performers. The lure of stardom has ruined his promising career as a director, a bad deal by any standard, but at least actor Farhan Akhtar is able to hold one end up in Karthik Calling Karthik.
As Karthik’s unlikely girlfriend, the once bitten, twice shy Shonali Mukherjee (Deepika Padukone) is hesitant, then cautious, then passionate. She plays her part in a quiet movie that starts off as a film about one person, then two, then three. The nice thing about the film is that it is uncluttered, focused and excludes the universe, even though the office space it is set in is crowded with builders, architects and designers.
The bad thing is that there is this schematic and compartmentalised tone to the film. Karthik starts off as a shy and introverted person. He is not successful at his job, bullied by his boss, and Shonali doesn’t even notice him. Then suddenly, he gets a miraculous phone call and turns extrovert. And lo, Boss respects him, girl wants to date him.
The phone is the primary mise-en-scene in the film, an inanimate object that, under certain circumstances, attains human signification. Clearly, time and effort have been spent on choosing the perfect phone, tuning into the right settings. The lines are very clear and the ring tone is nagging, shrill and persistent.
So Karthik Calling Karthik is a psychological thriller. The problem with the film is that the psychology is of a designer kind. There is so much mumbo jumbo about the unconscious and the conscious that you might think they exist in entirely separate and unconnected hemispheres in the brain, one looking at the other with bleary-eyed suspicion and planning sabotage.
The second problem is that the minute someone betrays the plot to you, the movie is over. There is little else to hold you anchored. The film lacks reflection, an argument on the nature of human anxiety that might have extended it beyond plot and turned this into a work of substance.