Friday, March 05, 2010

Road, Movie

The much-touted, much-anticipated Indian answer to Cinema Paradiso never materialises in spite of a talented cast, stunning locales, and a vast and diverse country as the backdrop: Road, Movie never adopts a story, instead ending up with a confused one that wanted to tackle all the Paradiso themes of coming of age, journeys, and the magic of cinema, and yet ends up with only an abstract shimmy into the hot, arid desert landscape of Kutch-Rajasthan. Where it fails even more miserably is by giving the story the typical oft-seen Hollywood notion that young men have to come of age; on the other hand, in Paradiso, Toto came of age at every moment of his life: the childhood of learning from Alfredo, the youth of love and waiting for love, and the old age of the magic still alive and yet the realisations and the revelations never ending, a life thrilling to touch at each moment. A life to live with the gumption of Alfredo, whatever it may bring: there's always a story, romance.

Abhay Deol carries his Dev D mistargeted angsts to this film and set against the flimsy hairoil business of his father that he hates, the undecided nature of the film sets in. The film from there on does not manage to balance the several threads running right through: molière-sque farce and life-changing journeys. It does not explain how does the Rajasthani boy manage to pronounce Starbucks so correctly, and how does Yashpal Sharma, the water dacoit, manage to pronounce the English "~tion" as "shun" and "son" both. The sweet Rajasthani dialect or the salty Kutchi one, wherever the film is meant to be placed, is completely absent, and instead we have every character speaking khariboli Hindi; how? If a lonely truck roaming in the desert picks up a gypsy woman who speaks just like a woman you met in a real Starbucks cafe would have, and when this woman roaming in search of water even manages to have a full coat of lipstick on her lips, then how do you manage to feel the film? Especially when the whole point of the film is somehow to just get lost in the hotness, the ballooning white skies, the sheer struggle of finding oneself through travelling. And not just find places, not just peace for yourself, not get lost in wildernesses, but to find humanity, outside and within you.

There are times though because of the beautiful landscape that the film does work and shows travel to be what it is. Punctuated by a selfish Abhay, bright Mohammed Faizal (who seems to be simply the most effortless actor I have ever seen, and with a head on his shoulders; a good match-up for Ishqiya's Alok Kumar), a maverick and lovely Satish Kaushik, and a sultry gypsy Tannishtha, the film is essentially hardly cinema and its magic, but just the various colors of this world, and how each life, each voice, each background, each drop of water carries a story, a breath, a dream. This is what travel is and this is what Abhay realises, alongwith finding a bit of more humanity in him than he was wont to. Showing remote human settlements cinema is just the guise for Abhay, and the filmmaker.

For lovers of the beauty that India presents, the film is a gift: though not going outside the desert, there is enough to make the viewer curse that why did the director not make a full Hindi feature-length film, instead making some chopped-headed 2-hour-or-less film. Short length is a major weakness of the film: when you start with Lawrence of Arabia landscapes, and try to play some of the same tricks that Lean played masterfully, then you also have to let your films seep into the viewer's mind, into his consciousness. Lean was able to ignore the Hollywood commercial guidelines and still ended up a winner, since his films were good: and even if they had not worked, he wouldn't have shelved his grand sequences that got into the sun and wind of a shot.

It's still a wonderful film for a traveller: s/he will know the pleasure of being on the open roads and the not-roads. But a film is meant to be a story at some level, and Abhay's character didn't excite me to write a story about him - how to build a film without any empathy, or hate, for or with the hero?

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