Director: Gyan Correa
Gujarati cinema. What’s that? For most, Gujarati cinema begins and ends with Ketan Mehta’s Bhavni Bhavai. Otherwise, it’s a black hole for those who do not speak the language. So when a Gujarati film comes out of left field to become India’s official entry at the Oscars beating the hot favorite The Lunchbox, its bound to attract some curiosity. Now I haven’t yet seen The Lunchbox; so this is not going to be a comparison between the two films to adjudge a personal winner. Rather it’s a stand alone review of the film on individual merit.
As a kid I remember watching films starring Naresh Kanodia which were embarrassing even then. The men mostly wore a kediyu and the women a chaniya choli. They spoke in exaggerated Kathiwari accents and the film was replete with stock characters. Of late, things have changed and we have seen films like Kevi Rite Jaish and Saptapadii which are huge improvements over the kediyu-chaniya cholis but yet far from Bollywood standards (if at all there is one).
To add to this list comes Gyan Correa’s The Good Road. Which is Iranian in its ambition but, sadly, Gujarati in its execution. An urban couple and their seven year old son are on the road amidst the sparse landscape of Kutch. They stop at a road side dhaba and the father gets off for a cigarette. Unseen by the parents, the son too gets off from the vehicle and goes yonder chasing a stray pup. The father must be really stupid for he returns and drives off without realizing his son isn’t there on the back seat. But there’s more stupidity to come. The dhaba owner is cutting a deal with a truck driver for delivering some illegal goods. And he asks the driver to drop the lost child with his parents who are likely to be at the next post. Surely they haven’t heard of excess baggage while committing a crime. Want more stupidity? You have it. While the father goes looking for his son with a policeman, the mother takes the car into the desert on a random tip where even the horizon isn’t visible. That’s just lazy scripting.
There’s another track in the movie. An orphan gets involved with a road-side brothel that peddles under-age girls who nevertheless use colourful language. They feed her, dress her and almost trade her before she manages to escape. The two tracks never meaningfully collide and I was left wondering whether there is some metaphor, some larger meaning that I am missing.
Correa’s direction reduces what could have been an absorbing road movie into an experiment that aims to be high-art but does not quite cut it. He has mostly used non-professional actors and amateurs and that’s painfully obvious. Shamji Kerasia, who plays the key role of the truck driver, mouths most of his dialogue with a face like a blank slate and eyes rooted to the ground. In another scene, when the camera on a dolly is picking up the close ups of a crowd, most people look at the camera rather than where the subject of their gaze is. Considering these gaffes, Sonali Kulkarni and Ajay Gehi as the parents, fare much better than the rest.
But it’s not all downhill for the movie. It’s a crack technical team consisting of the Oscar-winning Resul Pookutty on sound design, Rajat Dholakia (Mirch Masala) providing the music and Amitabha Singh (Khosla Ka Ghosla) manning the camera. You can appreciate their work but the film isn’t good enough for their efforts to bear fruit.
Coming back to the Oscar controversy. Unmindful of the other contenders in the race, The Good Road is an overwhelming bad choice to represent India internationally. It has no hope in hell of bagging a nomination. For the Oscars, films have to fall over each other to grab eyeballs of the voting members. If we keep sending these turkeys, it’s only a matter of time before the “Indian entry” starts getting passed over. Hope the short-sighted Indian Oscar jury realizes this soon.