Road, Movie (2009)
Dev Benegal


Road, MovieRoad, 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]


Saroja: From Class to Crass...

Riding on the huge success of Chennai 600028 and on huge expectations from the young crowd, Venkat Prabhu has set out on his new flick Saroja. Much has been spoken about the closely knit team and the boundless enthusiasm that they share. That is a good thing for with a good team comes a great working atmosphere. Unfortunately, Saroja seems to be caught between the choices of being so fascinatingly funny as in Chennai 600028 and the “need” to be different from its predecessor.

The plot spans one day in the lives of four laymen visibly heading towards their thirties, Ajay (Shiva), Ganesh (Premji) and the Babu Brothers (Charan and Vaibhav), who have planned to see a cricket match in Hyderabad. They set out on their bizarre vehicle on to the Hyderabad highway carrying along with them booze in hand and songs on lips. All is fresh and fun at this point and one can be hasty to label it the Indian reply to Easy Rider (1969) or more recently Little Miss Sunshine (2006). The group comes to a scene of accident and is forced to go through a different route. Thanks to the chutzpah of the lead, they take a wrong turn and so does the story.

There is also a parallel thread involving troubled businessman Viswanathan (Prakashraj) whose daughter, the nocturnal titular character, gets kidnapped and solicits the help of police officer Ravichandran (Jayaram) to save her. As events go from bad to worse, the four try to save their skin and return home, in the process meeting the hostage Saroja (Vega), at a pirate factory run by the hoodlum Sampath (Sampath). Additionally, there is a sub-plot involving Sampath and his lover Kalyani (Nikita) using which the filmmakers perhaps intended to portray the character’s depth. And that don’t work man! He is nothing but a textbook stereotype and a photocopy of himself from Polladhavan (2008) and Velli Thirai (2008).

After this point the film goes on. And goes on. And goes on. And goes on…And by the time the supposed-to-be all important scene nears, nobody cares. If you repeat a bad joke over and over, it eventually becomes hilarious. And if you repeat a good one over and over, it becomes sickening. Premji’s typically Kodambakkam attitude and surreal visions are amusing to begin with but as the film meanders, his lines are totally out of place and one feels that he should have had a “I’m just the token jackass required for comic relief” T-shirt on. The Dil Chahta Hai-esque magic that the friends shared in the first half hour is completely lost and one craves for those moments again.

I get the idea that a hand held camera enhances the restlessness and the thrill of a scene, but come on. Almost whole of the hour long showdown is presented in the headache inducing format and the clichéd rapid cuts are nothing but nauseating. And the editor’s scissors seem to be jammed at the most important places. On the positives, everything that takes place in daylight seems so close to heart and has the power to charm any audience. Only the end credits offer any consolation for the unwarranted kidnapping of those moments.

It is saddening to see a film that sets out as a fresh concept and ends up in the gutter of the bandwagon. In some ways, I am reminded of Chimbudevan’s decline after his charming debut in Pulikesi (2007). Venkat Prabhu looked consistent with his couple of films before this one and has ended up, fortunately, marginally better than the former. Let’s hope his penchant for depicting effortless ease among friends remains unmitigated and we get to see a real stunner next time around.