The telephone has left its indelible mark as a horror film element, thanks to many Japanese films and Hollywood remakes which dwell on mankind's fear of pervasive technology, and it is easy to mistake this Bollywood film, written and directed by debutant Vijay Lalwani as one of the run of the mill horror films which the protagonist get antagonized by strange phone calls made to him in the middle of the night. Thankfully though it steered clear of that formula, although it did become quite the stretch in its home run revelation, to achieve what's relatively short for an Indian film that clocks in just slightly over two hours.
Farhan Akhtar impresses and carries the film on his shoulders from start to end. Famous for being a prolific producer and director himself, he has no lack of acting chops and takes on the role as the mysterious Karthik Narayan, a meek man who is agonized by his childhood secret of having been involved in his brother's death. Carrying that kind of guilt while growing up does severe deficiencies as a child, and he becomes very much reserved, often failing to let his talent shine, and being trampled over in his office. He is infatuated with his beautiful colleague Shonali Murkhejee (Deepika Padukone) to the point of being a crazed stalker, accumulating thousands of emails he just had not the guts to send out, and it is this point about being obsessed that is truly scary in the film, especially when these emails were used to aid in the wooing process. Run, girl!
The only other film I watched Farhan star in, is the ensemble piece Luck By Chance, which gave a contemporary look at the Bollywood film industry. Here he cuts his Karthik in two different styles, the first of course which is the shy and gentle meticulous genius with a penchant for solving Rubik cube puzzle. The second develops when Karthik receives anonymous calls on his landline, from a chap to claim to be Karthik himself, dispensing advice on taking personal ownership and standing up for oneself. It's a confidence booster that Karthik's own psychiatrist (Shefali Shetty) seem unable to dispense, and with the prep talk every dawn at 5am, Karthik becomes the confident man as he struts around the office, succeeding in every aspect thanks to those calls, and eventually wooing the girl of his dreams.
The first half focused on the romance for the most parts after Karthik's professional life gets sorted, and here the usual musical montages form the backdrop of the courtship between Karthik and the outgoing Shonali. Deepika Padukone's career so far as been an interesting one, bursting onto the scene with Om Shanti Om and Chandni Chowk to China, both films where she would play two characters each. Thereafter the roles offered somehow didn't challenge the actress, from Bachna Ae Haseeno and Love Aaj Kal capitalizing on her good looks to become yet another romantic heroine. Karthik Calling Karthik again doesn't allow her to break new ground, other than being the clotheshorse in the film..
For a first timer, Vijay Lalwani doesn't become like Karthik in being the bundle of nerves, but pulls this film through with a story that discusses about how technology develops itself despite detrimental effects to health, and mental issues of guilt and intricate complexities of the mind. Through the narrative he challenges the usual norms that one would stereotype this film under, although for a teasing moment decided to let it go a little to offer what a horror film would do with ease. The cards get kept close to his chest with a satisfying revelation at the end of course, but somehow the second half, in which Karthik would be set to challenge the caller after a series of downfalls because of the breaking of promises (and if pushing it, the inevitable trusting of a woman!), seem to be dragging things out for a tad too long, and convenient to boot as well.
No cheap gimmicks were used, and by steering clear of the expected, Karthik versus Karthik manages ring through (pardon the bad pun) as an above average thriller.