by David Elliott
...You can nibble at "Karma Local" but better to taste its one hour and 24 minutes. It is a raffish and richly sited story, alive to the streets and suburbs of the big city. Director Darshan Bhagat (writing with Vijay Balakrishnan) has an eye for casting, an eye for a good shot, and an ear for solid dialogue.
The story is a "naked city" anecdote expanded. Bali (played by Bhagat) works rather lazily at his uncle's newsstand and candy counter at the Fulton Street subway stop, not far from the fish market.It's boring and he is bored, but then a furtive man gives him a smelly bag that includes some fish and a fishier $7,000.
The man (Josh Pais, a triumph of hunched posture who seems to combine Ratso Rizzo with Ben Stiller) is being persued by huge goons. Bali is supposed to return the bag, but things go wrong. Soon he is confronting the fishmarket crime king, played by Don Creech with some pattern-book Scorsese touches, but an unexpected familiarity with the Bhagavad Gita.
Bhagat is a new talent who seems to be a real arrival. As an actor, he doesn't overdo boyish winsomeness(his vulnerability shows grit). As a writer, he strings along an airy plot without letting float away. And as a director, he grabs real juices of humor, fear, greed and panic --- some shots of Pais cornered in the subway are darn close to the sweat-box charms of "Sweet Smell of Success."
What is especially pleasing here, aside from actors who know how to not only hit their marks but land on them expertly, is Bhagat's feeling for New York as a strange, wonderful, unsettling blast of humanity. For these characters are types but still people, and Darshan Bhagat doesn't puch his own ethnicity as blinding "local color."
To experience "darshan" in Hinduism is to feel the blessed proximity of a saint or master. I wouldn't push the idea here, but I will be looking for Bhagat's next film. May it not be slick.
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