“Road, Movie” is the journey of a young man who travels 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 embraced young man wants no part of this boring job and instead volunteers to drive a 1942 Chevy pickup to a faraway city. Along the way, he reluctantly picks up a young drifter (Mohammed Faizal) who is 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 to a wise old man (Satish Kaushik) who barters to fix the truck in exchange for taking it to an elusive desert fair.
Vishnu resents his two passengers, however, in order to deliver the truck, they become a necessity. He is later arrested by the desert police for not having his papers in order. It is more a case of extortion than justice and Vishnu has nothing to bargain with. That is until the cop discovers that the truck is a traveling movie theater complete with a projector and cans of film. The policeman wants to see a movie and Vishnu, with the help of his passengers, projects a variety of unrelated movie reels. Suddenly the projector breaks down and the old man finds a bottle of scented oil to fix it.
The next morning, after Vishnu leaves without his passengers, his truck breaks down again. Now walking, the old man and the young man pass by and want nothing to do with Vishnu’s deceptions. He prevails, the truck is fixed, and they continue together again.
There are two stories in this movie. One is the poetic journey of these travelers and the other relates to the inhabitants of this desolate but beautiful desert. In this lifeless landscape, women continually search for water while a mob leader controls all the wells. A lonely seeker is a beautiful widow played by Tannishtha Chatterjee and she becomes another passenger on this journey. The mafia water lord executed her husband, a victim of lawlessness, for stealing water. She recounts and symbolizes the plight of these forgotten people of the desert.
Numerous encounters test his resilience and compassion. These travelers come together at first out of necessity, but later develop a real fondness for each other. “Road, Movie” is a memorable odyssey that reminds us how truly wonderful life can be; and that magic can be found in the most unexpected places. A magical moment is when these country people see movies for the first time. It’s a joyous event full of laughs and makes the trip and the movie really worth it.
While entertaining, one minor weakness of this road movie is that it goes in too many directions at once. It lacks the cohesion of a compelling story, which emotionally builds and connects with all the facets presented. The social and political problems, the confusion among the young and the plight of those who live in this desert require a more integrated story. There is also the ambiguity between what is fact and what is fantasy, and perhaps the director purposely allows the audience to determine which is which. The performance is truly believable and polarizes adversarial behavior as well as their gradual progression towards caring and trust.
Visually stunning, this film captures the beauty of a vast, open, barren landscape. The cinematography is exquisite and the music emotionally moving. Also worth mentioning is the Chevy truck, a battered old vehicle that is a character in itself as it travels to his final destination, a museum. It is a treasure in production design as it visually shows his age and his benevolent history. As for 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 and written by: Dev Benegal; Producers: Ross Tatz, Susan Landau; Director of photography: Michel Amathieu; Editor: Yaniv Dabach; Composer: Michael Brook.. In Hindi and English with English subtitles. Reviewed at the Los Angeles Indian Film Festival. Not Rated. 95 minutes Available on DVD.