There is a little Tamil film that released in the late 80s called Katha Nayagan and starred Pandiyarajan and S.Ve Sekar (one of your very own Censor Board of Film Certification members currently). It had this subplot of two unemployed youths (staple characterization in pre-liberalization 80s India) trying to make their way outside India – Dubai to be precise – for better lives in the most frugal way possible. They take the services of a local fisherman who promises them no-return no passport/visa hassle trip to Dubai. They take the trip. Where they do end up is not Dubai but Cochin, Kerala. The reason I took all this effort to describe a forgotten not so great Tamil film of the 80s is that Welcome 2 Karachi, directed by Ashish R Mohan (he was Rohit Shetty’s assistant, can you tell?) has two similar clowns washed away in Karachi after their party boat gets caught in a raging cyclone. The problem is Welcome 2 Karachi is neither imaginative nor loaded with inner meaning like the central conceit of Katha Nayagan. If only it wasn’t as simplistic. And like the Tamil film, this too after a few laughs degenerates into a nothing affair.
It’s not difficult to realize that everything in Welcome 2 Karachi is pretty much parody but awfully staged. There is a sequence where every past, recent and continuing war in the world is staged on the roads of Clifton, Karachi where Shammi (Arshad Warsi) and Kedar Patel (Jackky Bhagnani) come looking for the Indian consulate. You get helpful name boards flashed across the screen in case there are doubts who is fighting whom. A more half-hearted approach you might not have seen in Indian cinema this year. To writer Vrajesh Hirjee’s (theatre personality you may best remember as Tony from Kaho Naa Pyaar Hai) credit some jokes land well and no surprises they belong to Arshad Warsi. Sometimes they are not even jokes. It is just the way he says his lines and reacts to others. Vashu Bhagnani is inching close to double digits in his attempts to kickstart his son’s film career and poor Jackky gets stale Gujarati jokes that were more tasteful in Kal Ho Na Ho and only make you frown here. Thankfully he gets one good line involving 3G and banned websites in Pakistan.
There are several problems with Welcome 2 Karachi but two of them kill the film. One, it is at least 30 minutes too long and like the characters it goes around in circles. The other one is that after a point the film takes itself too seriously. A parody or a satire has no business becoming something more over the course. Suddenly we have a Paralympic Games team, a terrorist plot and the most maniacal shootout. But at least the shootout is unintentionally hilarious what with the main terrorist being a no show throughout. The Bhagnani family either has to go big or go home.
(An edited version of this was published in The New Indian Express)