Sanjay F Gupta´s "Karam" is a very un-Bollywood film. It is a ´gun opera´ where assassins enthusiastically kill people in a variety of ways while the sombre score blares in the background. The imposing visual style and outlandish look seems to be borrowed from Hollywood and Japanese films. The unfortunate thing is that this dazzling unconventional look is trapped within a staid and typical story.
As the plot unfolds, it makes for a rather impressive start to the film. Gupta uses a cartoon sequence to illustrate a flashback bringing back memories of Quentin Tarantino´s "Kill Bill" (which itself was a tribute to Japanese sword flicks). John (John Abraham) is an assassin who works for Captain (Bharat Dabholkar). During an assignment, he accidentally wipes out almost an entire family in a moment of panic. Disturbed by the unnecessary loss of innocent lives, John decides to leave his profession and escape with his wife, Shalini (Priyanka Chopra) to a new life.
The villainous Captain, who lives in a warehouse somewhere with an Alsatian and a treadmill, has other plans on mind. He wants to get rid of his major rival, Yunus (Vishwajeet Pradhan, sporting wavy locks) and all those who back him. When John refuses to carry out this task, Captain kidnaps Shalini. He will let her go but only on one condition - that John kills all his intended targets within the space of 36 hours. Following John´s trail is the token cop, Wagh (Shiney Ahuja), out to put him behind bars for the mass murder of nearly an entire family. Trapped in a cat and mouse game, John tries desperately to save his love.
After a memorable start, it goes downhill all the way. Sanjay F Gupta has gone overboard with the sepia-tinted lens and black and white scenes. Is there a purpose behind these visual techniques that Gupta has employed? I am still trying to figure that out. In "Moksha", Ashok Mehta alternated between the black and white and colour scenes to differentiate between the past and the present in the plot. In "Karam", scenes turn blue, brown or grey for no apparent reason. Gupta must have chosen to do this in order to heighten the impact of suspenseful or emotional scenes. Ironically, it is this very method of shooting that lessens the impact of crucial moments within the plot. The exaggerated visuals may look great but curiously, they leave the viewer feeling detached from what is happening. It is as if you are listening to a friend who is telling you about his bad dream last night. You´re curious but you are not particularly interested in the details of the dream. This is how it feels while watching "Karam". As a viewer, you find it difficult to get yourself involved in the details and twists of the story.
It is this detachment that begins to cultivate indifference and boredom in the viewing experience. If you don´t care about the characters, you cannot care for the next twist in the screenplay. On top of this, violence is used to shock. One example is Shalini´s finger, which decides to pay John a visit after being hacked off by the villains. Violence is fine as it can be used to bring us into the psyche of the characters´ minds. But, once again, this is a catch-22 situation. How can we be shocked by the violence when we are already removed from the characters? Will violence shake us into caring for them? No. All this adds up to zero tension, making "Karam" a tedious product. The choreography of the action scenes is just okay but registers no impact and lacks suspense. In trying to make a polished and slick movie, the makers should have paid more attention to making the actions of the characters believable. At one point, John and a pregnant Shalini jump from the first floor of a building and land without any physical repercussions whatsoever!
No particular performance stands out. Muted by the fatal overdose of style, the actors struggle to leave their mark. They may as well have walked around with bags on their faces and we wouldn´t notice. Sanjay F Gupta´s use of manga animation in one sequence is an interesting insight into what he may have possibly wanted. All the actors are no better than hand-drawn figures in a cartoon. Only Priyanka Chopra somehow manages to rise above the trite script. She puts her one hundred percent into her uninteresting character, which does nothing except get bandied around by the villains and occasionally sniffle into the phone. John Abraham has been typecast into the role of the weary lover with shades of grey and repeats his acts once again. Shiney Ahuja, Vishwajeet Pradhan and Bharat Dabholkar go through the motions.
In fact, the only thing that you ever notice about "Karam" is the technical flair. It has a story but Sanjay F Gupta does not mix it with the necessary ingredients and therefore makes it a forgettable experience.