wogma rating: Add to 'must watch' list (?)
As hard as it probably will be, the biggest favour you can do yourself is to watch Gyan Correa’s The Good Road with a completely clean slate, not worrying about Oscars and The Lunchbox and anything of the sort. Whether the film stacks up to its expectations is a different story altogether. But watch it with a blank mind, and you might just take something away from it.Read more
Everyone in Gyan Correa’s The Good Road is lost. But spend a second introspecting about your own life and you might just ask yourself, “Do even I really know where I am?” The harsh highway in Gujarat, then, that forms the setting for the stories in The Good Road is quite likely a metaphor for life itself. And, as a character quite rightly says in the film, there are so many highways in India - so many lives and so many stories just waiting to be told.
David, Kiran and their 7-year-old son Aditya are a young family from Mumbai on a vacation to Gujarat. A twist of circumstance leads Aditya to be separated from his parents, and he ends up traveling with Pappu and Shaukat - a pair of truckers who are on a bit of a mission of their own, so to speak. Then there’s Poonam, a little girl on her way to meet her grandmother in Athangasa, who unfortunately ends up exactly where a little 11-year-old girl by herself must not go.
The three stories wind around each other to form the film’s narrative – simple, sparse tales that, bit by bit, reveal a little about the characters as they voice their thoughts and apprehensions. Pappu, Shaukat and Aditya, for instance, develop a strange relationship as they spend time with each other. Aditya, in particular, makes you see that divisions and a sense of ‘us and them’ is something that you truly develop only as you grow older. The innocence of a child is always a great leveler – it almost never distinguishes between two people based on exterior factors that us adults are most likely to spot.
There is no attempt at a graph, no attempt at infusing any drama into the film. Quite like life itself, the film just trudges along based on what a particular characters believes or wants to do at a particular moment. This approach lends a mature tone to The Good Road, though I can completely imagine people finding the narrative too slow for its own good. We in India aren’t too used to films that don’t attempt to create a graph, which don’t try to creep up on the audience with a twist or two, and just go where the characters take them. In that sense, The Good Road is a good example of storytelling for the sake of the story, and not for the sake of the audience.
That being said, one can’t but help feel that if you are relying so heavily on characters and their relationships to drive a story, it becomes absolutely imperative for every character to actually stay in character and behave in character. Many a time there are instances where you notice the characters avoid the most obvious logical steps to take in a situation, instead they do something completely counter-intuitive. The screenplay of the film, then, ends up striking too many false notes – strange, considering that it was developed at one of Film Bazaar Screenwriters’ Lab of 2008.
The film also suffers from some unimpressive key performances. Ajay Gehi has always been a bit too overenthusiastic in front of the camera. Here, as David, he does pretty much the same thing. Sonali Kulkarni, who always manages to convey just the right amount of emotion, does well, despite her small role. Little Keval Katrodia as Aditya charms you with his naivety. The real letdown is Shamji Dhana Kesaria as Pappu. The relationship Pappu develops with Aditya is heartwarming, but doesn’t quite have the intended effect because Kesaria is plain expressionless. Priyank Upadhyay, who plays his sidekick Shaukat, is an absolute natural, though. Some of the other minor characters who appear through the film are supposedly locals who were made to act, and the rawness shows often.
The film, however, benefits immensely from the sun-bathed landscape of Gujarat, which lends itself to many a poignant frame in the film. In fact, the stark, bare-minimum movement of the camera works really well for the tone of the film, Rather than impressing you outright with gorgeous cinematography, the film lets the composition of frames and the subjects do the talking. A special mention must also be made of the sound design. The film actually relies a lot on the sounds to create a sense of place and time, often even more than the visuals.
There aren’t many who pause to think about this, but a film is almost always only as good as what each member of the audience takes with them before experiencing the film. If you don’t usually watch a film for the second time within a few days of your first viewing, then try it once. I can guarantee that the same film will look different based on your state of mind. Keeping this in mind, it becomes extremely difficult to view The Good Road with an objective mindset, considering the furore over its selection as India’s official entry for the Academy Awards’ best Foreign Language Film category after the widespread support, even internationally, for The Lunchbox.
Still, I’d urge you to keep all of it out of your mind before catching The Good Road on DVD. While the DVD itself holds nothing more than the film, if you love cinema and like giving different kinds of cinema a shot, then try this one too. Is the film better than The Lunchbox? Debatable, because such questions don’t have a yes-no answer. Is the film good enough to represent India internationally? Probably not. Will it make it to the final Academy Awards shortlist? Almost certainly not. But is the film worth a watch for some gorgeous visuals and sounds, and a rare maturity in its storytelling that rises above the issues in its writing? The honest answer is, “Yes”.
This review is by guest reviewer Pradeep Menon. Pradeep is a filmmaker and a dreamer. He loves books, rain, winters, tea and his parents. Cinema, however, is the only truth he believes in. He breathes and bleeds film, mostly in hues of saffron, white, green and blue. You can watch his short films at www.youtube.com/cyberpradeep.
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