by Erik Sean McGiven on Apr 25, 2010
Road Movie is a journey of a young man
traveling from indifference to compassion, from confusion to purpose, and
argues that there is more to life than money and materialism.
The film begins with Vishnu (Abhay Deol) being encouraged by
his father to join his hair oil business as a salesman. The coddled young man wants no part of this
boring job and instead volunteers to drive a 1942 Chevy truck to a distant
city. Along the way he reluctantly picks
up a young vagrant (Mohammed Faizal) running away in hopes of finding work in a
big city. Before long the old truck
breaks down and the boy disappears, then returns hours later with a wise old
man (Satish Kaushik) who barters to fix the truck in return for giving him a
ride to an elusive desert fair.
Vishnu resents his two passengers yet, to deliver the truck,
they become a necessity. Later he is
pulled over by the desert police for not having the proper papers. It's more a case of extortion than justice
and Vishnu has nothing with which to barter.
That is until the cop discovers the truck is a traveling cinema complete
with a projector and cans of film. The
cop wants to see a film and Vishnu, with the help of his passengers, screens an
assortment of unrelated film reels.
Suddenly, the projector breaks down and the old man finds a bottle of
scented oil to fix it.
The next morning, after Vishnu drives off without his
passengers, his truck breaks down again.
Now walking, the old man and the young boy pass by and want no part of
Vishnu's trickery. He prevails, the
truck is fixed and they continue on together again.
There are two stories in this film. One is the poetic journey of these travelers
and the other relates to the inhabitants of this stark but beautiful desert. In this lifeless landscape women continually
search for water as a Mafia leader controls all the wells. One lone searcher is a beautiful widow played
by Tannishtha Chatterjee and she becomes another passenger on this
journey. The Mafia water lord executed
her husband, a casualty of lawlessness, for stealing water. It is she who relates and symbolizes the
plight of these forgotten desert people.
There are numerous encounters that test their resilience and
compassion. These travelers bond at first
out of necessity, yet later they develop a true caring for each other. "Road, Movie" is a memorable
odyssey that reminds us how truly wondrous life can be; and that magic can be
found in the most unexpected places. One
magical moment is when these rural folks watch cinema for the first time. It is a joyous event filled with laughter and
makes the trip and the film truly worthwhile.
While entertaining, a minor weakness of this road film is
that it goes in too many directions at the same time. It lacks the cohesiveness of a compelling
story line, one that builds and connects emotionally to all the facets
presented. The social and political
issues, the confusion among the young, and the plight of those living in this
wilderness requires a more integrated story.
There is also the ambiguity between what's reality and what's fantasy,
and maybe the director purposefully allows the audience to determine which is
which. The acting is truly believable
and polarizes the adversarial behavior as well as its gradual progression to
caring and trusting.
Visually stunning, this film captures the beauty of a vast,
barren open landscape. The cinematography is exquisite and the music
emotionally stirring. One must also
mention the Chevy truck, a battered old vehicle that is a character in itself
traveling to its final destination, a museum.
It is a treasure in production design as it visually shows its age and
its benevolent history. And as to the film, some may wonder what it is, a
poetic fable, a road adventure, or a social commentary? Maybe it's all three.
CREDITS: Stars Abhay Deol, Satich Kaushik, Tannishtha
Chatterjee and Mohammed Faizal. Directed
& Written by: Dev Benegal; Producers: Ross Tatz, Susan Landau;
Cinematographer: Michel Amathieu; Editor: Yaniv Dabach; Composer: Michael
Brook; Running Time: 95 minutes. In
Hindu and English with English subtitles.
Reviewed at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles.