Monday, March 8, 2010

Road Movie : A Poetic Attempt

Are you a wanderlust?

Have you ever travelled in a bus buying a ticket upto the last destination, got down in between, had a cup of tea in a tavern, roamed in a village fare, got to know that the winter of your life is going to end very shortly from a parakeet-astrologer, returned home safely and slept inside your quilt with a vague smile on your lips?

If so, you would love this movie.

Dev Benegal, the nephew of Shyam Benegal, brought in a whiff of fresh air in the mid-90s with his path-breaking experimental cinema English August, based on Upamanyu Chatterjee's Kafkaesque take on Indian bureaucracy. It steered a different kind of experimental cinema by independant film makers starting from the late 90s and carrying it forward into this decade, resulting in brilliant films like Hyderabad Blues, Rockford, Fire, Life In a Metro, Bend It Like Beckham, Being Cyrus, Namesake, A Wednesday, Dev-D, Firaaq, et al. This is much more pragmatic than the parallel cinema movement which began with beautiful notes during the mid-1950s and ended way far too pretentiously during the late 1980s.

Dev Benegal's Road Movie is a creative blend of cinema reflecting upon aimless wandering on one side and a nostalgic hankering on the era of touring talkies on the other. It is an Indianised version of a dreamy fusion between two of the remarkably greatest films of 20th Century : Paris Texas by Wim Wenders (1984) and Nuovo Cinema Paradiso by Giuseppe Tornatore (1988). Does Dev succeed in this venture?

The long, never-ending roads of the bleak and deserted Texan landscape is as important a character in the film Paris Texas as that of Travis, who personifies the predicament of rootlessness of contemporary man, trying to comprehend the meaning of his relationship with his wife and his kid. It is an eternally haunting movie of Wim Wenders. In Nuovo Cinema Paradiso, the magic of friendship cutting across ages between the projectionist Alfredo and the young Salvatore both of whom passionately adore the world of cinema in a small Sicilian village, the sustained pursuit of one's dreams during childhood and youth and the mesmerising beauty of cinema itself are the recurring themes. They were enchantingly captured in the classic of Giuseppe Tornatore.

In Road Movie, the young protagonist Vishnu is disillusioned with his father's business of selling hair oil and gets a chance to travel to a distant unknown town in a 1940-s model Chevrolet truck. The god forsaken truck also has a dilapidated film projector along with rolls of old films. While travelling in the deserts of Jaisalmer and Kutch, he encounters a dhaba boy who is on the run for a better life, an interesting old mechanic who is in the eternal look out for a mela and a dusky gypsy girl in search of water - all of whom happen to travel together in the truck for sometime in their lives. The desert landscape, the search for water, the rustic cop, the ruffian chance upon their travel in their own ways. The fellow-travellers depart from each other and the memories of the journey lingers in the mind of Vishnu as he gets back home.

Abhay is my all time favourite apart from Rahul Bose and Irrfan Khan. In this movie, he has done pretty well in his role as Vishnu - as casual and as usual as he always does. But the performance of Satish Kaushik as the ageing mechanic who is in search of a mela is splendid. One great find is Tannishtha Chatterjee. With her dusky face and speaking eyes, Tannishtha has the calibre to become another Nandita Das. Watch out! The most beautiful moment of the movie is the dreamy surreal village mela that suddenly blooms in the middle of the desert with wandering gypsies, villagers, dwarfs, masks, tel maalish, Charlie Chaplin and Guru Dutt - a phantasmagoria of cinematic excellence. Kudos and hats off to the director and cinematographer for that aesthetically elevating sequence.

Overall, it is not a masterpiece. But it is definitely a bold and poetic attempt with flashes of brillance scattered all across, found wanting for a more cohesive and powerful script. Hope much better Indian Road Movies will be directed in the future.

Movie Rating : 7 out of 10.


  1. Yes! I'm a wanderlust. I like travelling in the bus,sitting by the windowside,admiring the nature and people passing by the road side..

    Cinema is one of the most fascinating entertainment media. After going through your musing about the "Roadmovie", I was inspired to watch such kind of movies. The way you've expressed it, was awesome and impressive. It shows your passion for cinema..

    Iam eagerly waiting to know more and more about such unique movies..

  2. Today I watched this movie and liked it.
    Your comparision with other movies is interesting.