Excerpt: In, what seems to be, yet another attempt to sell ”Indian Exotica” to western audiences, ”Road, Movie” becomes a largely contrived and entirely self-indulgent cinematic exercise. If you really must go on a journey today, take some other road.
Spoiler Alert: Since the film is more about a collage of instances than a story, the review mentions a few scenes in their entirety. If you wish to not know anything except the verdict, you may leave this page now.
Review: It has become almost fashionable to have logos of many international film festivals on Indian movie posters these days. One thread, however, that binds them together is that irrespective of the cinematic quality of the ”festival appreciated” (often with “5-minute long standing ovations”), most of these films exhibit an unsaid lack of confidence with regards the box office.
In the case of ”Road, Movie”, the fear is quite understandable – for neither the ”Road” (read “the journey”) looks for real, nor the ”Movie”.
”Road, Movie” presents most things, which the western audience (only at the festival circuit at that; rest still doesn”t care), look forward to seeing in an Indian fare – vibrant colours; poverty; a distinctly distant life and way of life et al. It even has a widow of rural Rajasthan (played by Tannishtha Chatterjee) break into an impromptu, possessed rendition of a folk song on the first night of her journey with three strangers in truck. “Oh, such an exquisite piece of Indian folk music” – someone in Berlin might have uttered. But Dev Benegal (the writer-director) would have been shattered beyond redemption, if he had witnessed the audience reaction to that portion, here in one of the major cities of India.
Maybe, the reaction was exaggerated because the film had already lost the audience by then!
Or was the audience ”exaggeration” was quite in sync with the film”s exaggerated definition of ”chic”. Sample this: Abhay Deol, driving a truck, is stopped by a dhaba kid (played by Mohammed Faizal Usmani), in the middle of nowhere. He then gives Abhay tea and biscuits. When Abhay makes a face after tasting the tea, the kid remarks – “Toh yeh STARBUCKS hai kya”!
Maybe when uneducated kids, who work at tea stalls by rural India highways, know their CCD from Starbucks, they become worthy enough to earn appreciation at film festivals! “Oh look, the kid is so poor and uneducated, but he is so intelligent and knows so much”, did we hear a western lady say that?
The above two are only a couple of an entire ”road” of contrived situations.
The biggest of them all is a sequence about a ”Mela” – right in the middle of absolute nowhere. Maybe this author is intellectually challenged, by can anyone please inform him (and the entire audience, with which he watched this film) whether the ”Mela” was for real or a dream sequence! Ideally, when one reads a statement like that, the instinct is to give up on the person who utters that. You may do so for this review. Unfortunately, however, for the makers of ”Road, Movie”, the audience too decisively gives up after that sequence.
This is not a vindictive rant, but one must add one more of illustration of how the film meanders in and out of nothingness: A ferocious leader of the water mafia (played by Yashpal Sharma), who is also mentioned to have killed the husband of the film”s heroine, hunts the ”road team” down, captures them, takes them to his work site, beats them and then lets them off in exchange of a few bottles of hair oil! Yes, you read that right. Apparently, after Abhay Deol massaged his head with the oil, combed his hair and told him of the oil adding to male virility, the water mafia don “becomes a man”. “Maine aapko mard banaya hai”, Abhay Deol tells the goon – if you must know exact dialogue!
A rural Rajasthan widow walking away with some stranger kid after traveling and making love to a truck driver, as if nothing ever happened; a water mafia man talking of corporate philosophy …
The only saving grace of the film is Satish Kaushik. Though hindered by abstracts, he delivers a seasoned performance as a mechanic-cum-showbiz passionate old man. He looks the part; talks, walks and acts the part with the ease of a master.
What however his performance does is that it tells the audience the inadequacies of others. Tannishtha Chatterjee looks and acts more like a hottie doing the ”ethnic round” on ramp than a Rajasthani widow. Mohammed Faizal Usmani does better than her, but still does not manage to convince.
That brings us to Abhay Deol. How many more movies would he do in which he plays the cool dude – irrespective of the socio-cultural roots of his character? He looks and acts precisely like the Abhay Deol that the audience came expecting. Never mind if an actor is loud or subtle, if he or she knows just one way of delivering, he would end up being predictable. We are sure that Abhay Deol is way too good to end up becoming that. Or lets say, we hope so.
Dev Benegal should take a call on the kind of films that he wants to make. Because both Split Wide Open and Road, Movie belong to the “neither here, nor there” category. He looks confused at the moment. Maybe he should just make it for festivals and not worry about box office release. Or maybe he should move around the country a little more and meet some real people.
Verdict: Wait for the DVD to come out in the market, if you must.