Road, Movie (2009)
Road, Movie (2009), written and directed by Dev Benegal, follows Vishnu (played by middle cinema darling Abhay Deol), the son of a small time hair oil seller, who borrows an ancient Chevrolet truck from his neighbour and hits the road on the pretext of selling his father’s stock and delivering the truck to its proper destination. Little does he care that the truck doubles as mobile cinema. On his way, he encounters a village in dire need of water where a dacoit group has been terrorizing the villagers, appropriating the available water, bottling it and selling it back to them. A paean to popular cinema of yesteryear, specifically to those times when films used to be a collective social experience that transcended class, race, gender and other disparities, Road, Movie views (and literalizes, as in the carnival segment) cinema, in the Bazinian sense, as a collective dream that acts as a fulfillment ground for our real life desires. Consequently, it laments the death of that collective experience due to corporatization of film production and segmentation of potential markets*. Through plot details, bizarrely enough, it equates cinema to both water (suggesting that both are essentially public commodities unjustly being appropriated for the benefit of a few) and oil (in that both are ultimate stress-busters and great social levelers, as is pointed out in the recurring song borrowed from Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa (1957)). Road, Movie is also self-consciously generic, as its title points out, likening the journey on a road to the trajectory and experience of a movie. True to the conventions of its genre, the individualistic, petit bourgeois protagonist realizes the meaning and importance of living in a community and, among other bromides, that the journey is more important than destination. But then, Benegal also keeps deviating from the genre in that he avoids conjuring up a revolutionary hero out of Vishnu. He may mean good, he might have learned a few important lessons, but he’s as helpless in front of these social forces as he was at the beginning. He can do nothing but go back to his dreary middle class existence. Oh well, at least there’s Tel Malish.
[*See Jonathan Rosenbaum’s review of Sleepless in Seattle (1993) for a detailed examination of the phenomenon]