Karthik Calling Karthik (2010) – The Psychology of Isolation with Mental Illness

This was really an isolation watch. I would not have probably never watched it otherwise, but the poster looked intriguing and it had Deepika in it and there is enough time to watch now. So why not?


Karthik is an office worker at a construction company who hates his ordinary life. He does menial office jobs and is berated by his boss for a mistake and fired. Isolated in his room for days (weeks?) he suddenly gets a call from someone who sounds like him and tells that he is Karthik. He gives advice and Karthik changes his attitude, his life and starts to become close to his co-worker Sholani who broke up with her former boyfriend. The voice tells him not to tell anyone about him, but he feels the pressure, even at the cost of the life he has now.

This film is by no means a masterpiece or a hidden gem. It doesn’t go beyond Ok on a certain level and the twist is easy to guess, but the film keeps you hooked by its atmosphere. The filmmaking doesn’t go beyond office, home and transport and whatever is needed in between that is informing of its low budget and fittingly private intimacy of isolation that this film shows. There is a crippling ordinariness to it all, nothing fancy or spectacular. Even sometimes the portions are so slow that for some it might seem boring and put them to sleep. Some aspects even make it seem as if it is a TV movie. But yet I kept watching. And I enjoyed it.

Farhan Akhtar was the producer and played the part of Karthik Arayan in way that I wouldn’t say was unpredictable, but it kept me guessing. At first, he is a low esteem every man with a menial job, but as he gets calls and becomes more involved with Sholani his bad side starts to appear and he almost seems like a “nice guy” and is described as such by Shonali one time. He doesn’t like it and tries to resist being the man he was before.

But in the end, he is surprisingly still a decent man who does an elaborate plan to make sure the phone calls to end and thus turning back to the man he was, the kind he is deep down. He really does border on the “nice guy” territory, with part of him actually being that guy, but who he is at the core is not that and one who does value Shonali, but knows as long as he has these calls he cannot move forward. It is an effective performance, not mind-blowing, but the ordinary kind with only flashes of flamboyance, but still steeped in all too familiar vulnerability.

Deepika Padukone’s Shonali Mukharjee is a revolutionary character in the most ordinary of ways. She has been dating many men in her life and has gone to the point of knowing what is best for her mental health if things turn sour. She even says to Karthik when they have a conversation “I know I cannot handle this” or something like it and walks out. She has sympathy for Karthik, wants to help, but her own logical mind and her own mental health being also needs to have its limelight to tell us that she has experienced enough breakups and bad relationships to have trust being a luxury to her and that all she wants is a stable relationship with someone who doesn’t see sex with her just the object and then discarding her.

She is as damaged as Karthik, only in a way that a woman can be. Her emphasis on trust might seem illogical at first (going to their office to see his e-mails with Karthik following to check if he has anything to hide), but considering her last relationship which we see this is one way to have her love strengthen and knowing that Karthik is all around a good guy and safe, the two priorities for her, even if he does have a hidden nasty side like we all have in the end, but one he would never use against the ones he loves willingly.

The movie never judges her actions as villainous, only logical, when she questions Karthik and all that he says. In a way, we know that she is right, that the movie is tipping its hand at the twist by not having her being looked on as villainous by both Karthik or the audience. Also, when Karthik goes A-wall and disappears she does care to wonder where he has gone, but she still stays at her job and continues with her life, worried, but not broken. She tries to help, she loves him, and in the end, support and love and gentle care for both of them are what makes the movie happy ending so heartwarming.

This movie, for all its cold offices and cliché story beats, is filled with empathy and warmth. When Karthik is fired and stays at home in isolation in the meantime, not knowing what to do with his life is relatable as anything now. He gets the calls to better him into the person he thinks he is supposed to be, not who he truly is. A wish fulfilment of sorts that some good advice will “fix us” when it is a long process to accept who we are, faults and all, and love who we are even with the mental illness we might have. To know we are worthy of love. And that our normal can be something someone can love, but not at the cost of their own mental health and life.

Shefali Shah as Dr Shweta Kapadia is Karthik’s therapist who has been with him since he was a child. She is smart, kind and thankfully is not stupid! Shah is both formal and empathetic and is part investigator as well. Collaborating with Shonali the two women work together to help the man that is important in their lives. She gives us the explanation to all of this, not in a condescending or “this is important stuff” way, but simply, straight forward and honest. A kind authority on the matters of mental illness this films shows.




As for the fact that our main character is schizophrenic, the film could have dived steeply into a bad representation of it, but thankfully it doesn’t. The fact that Karthik goes undiagnosed for so long has many factors to contribute to it, from the lack of knowledge by Karthik himself of reality and falsehood, his isolated life, the fact that his parents were not the richest and for the purpose of the plot, obviously.

I am just thankful the filmmakers didn’t go to the psychopath category with this and kept it very private and every day, because that is what it is living with mental illness of any kind, and it’s effects aren’t evil or murderous as shown in far too many movies. In that effect, the film is very sympathetic and caring. For a psychological thriller, this film has more heart to it than just a plain “who done it” and it is much appreciated. Even today when mental illness is still stigmatized in India and seeing a psychologist or a therapist is a thing to be hidden (as seen in Dear Zindagi for example) it is a heartwarming thing to see that in this movie it is not stigmatized in any way and in fact is treated with empathy, even if the plot does override it sometimes with the “who is the bad guy” antics that are in the end fruitless.

It should be said that the film ends with a shot of Shonali and Karthik in their own shared apartment, with their pictures on the walls. Karthik is still shaken from the experience, also from the suicide attempt, he tried before Shonali saved him and most likely on medication, but still fears the phone. Shonali calls him from the living room to talk to Dr Shweta Kapadia who is on the phone, his hands shake in fear and he is clearly afraid, but he manages the call. Then when the call ends Shonali and he hug; no fear, no kiss, no sex or stigma. A hug, a simple intimate hug.

Thank you for reading! 

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