Beautifully textured and constructed, Karthik calling Karthik takes us breath-close to the central character, whom his new boss calls `a strange fellow`.
Plagued by his brother's death as a child, an accident he holds himself responsible for, Karthik's (Farhan Akhtar) sleep is usually a disturbed one.
Years of counseling isn't helping either. Fired after being bullied at work; invisible to office crush Shonali (Deepika Padukone), Karthik contemplates ending it all.
Just then, he receives a phone call, with his own voice at the other end. This voice tells him how to dissolve all of his problems and regain his life.
Don't you wish you could subscribe to a daily phone service that could give step-by-step instructions on dealing with all your issues?
This glorious emotional spoon-feeding takes place morning-after-morning as Karthik’s phone rings at 5 am exactly. Things move on perfectly till he talks to Shonali about the calls, which he explains, has him on the other end.
Meanwhile this voice, that was guiding him on how to tackle the bullies of the world, becomes the biggest one.
What follows are suspenseful moments and twists that'll leave you shaken.
The first half follows a relaxed pace; rare for a thriller. It establishes how the underdog character, an IIM-topper and diligent worker, snatches back the respect he knows he deserves.
The second half is where the thrills come in.
Unfortunately the premise is built on flimsy foundation. We're not sure of Karthik's background in terms of his parents, childhood (hurriedly wrapped up), and growing up. The explanation of how the voice-on-the-other-end knows things about other people is implausible.
The doctor's dialogue, the part where it all comes together, is conceptualised passionlessly. This was supposed to be the big jolt; the part where the audience pieces together the puzzle, or solves the Rubik's cube in this case; but it leaves us unmoved. It's like a great joke where the punch line falls flat.
Characterisations are superb with nuances borrowed from young, urban India. Take Shonali for instance: a compulsive smoker, with a great career as an architect, and a tumultuous love life punctuated by too many bad relationships.
Karthik with his hunched back and eager-to-please demeanour is the typical pushover. He is what Shonali calls a 'safe boy', a term he's not sure he's thrilled about. But she means it as a compliment after all the "jerks" she's met.
Complex, fun, bright, this is a pair you absolutely love. It is to advertising professional-turned writer-director Vijay Lalwani's credit for making his character so likeable and real. Lalwani's storytelling is unconventional, fresh, and honest.
He draws you into the story gradually, pretty much building the premise and the character sketches through the first half; while making the second half taut and suspenseful.
The film has an accomplished technical crew. Cinematography by Sanu Varghese, Aarti Bajaj's editing, Baylon Fonseca's sound are all superlative. Music by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy is melodious with lovely words by Javed Akhtar.
Farhan Akhtar, jack and master of all trades, is as impressive an actor as he is a filmmaker. He essays his character, that the viewer is at once sympathetic to and wary of, with remarkable control.
Deepika is fab. She enacts her role earnestly making it real and identifiable. The lack of drop-dead gorgeousness is exactly what works; her casual, everyday prettiness is absolutely charming.
For those familiar with Hollywood, this concept is an idea too late; you might not find Karthik calling Karthik all that exciting, having watched several films along the same lines. For others, this story may seem a fresh incentive indeed.
Either way, the film is worth your time for the gripping storytelling and marvelous performances. Recommended!
Verdict: Three stars