Often Indian cinema is a barrage of visual ecstasy. This is usually related to the gorgeous color palate and mesmerizing landscapes of their country. However, what Indian film often lacks is a well-grounded narrative. Fortunately, Dev Benegal's Road, Movie is a fine combination of both. It is a film that studies the collective experiences of urban/rural, male/female, young/old simultaneously posting that harmony can come through escapism, and to Benegal that escape comes best through moving pictures. Road, Movie is arguably the Eastern envisioning of Cinema Paradiso, with the same sweeping cinematography, sentimental music and nostalgic narratives. It is a movie about the power of movies, and for being a lesser known film it certainly delivers a fair share of force.
Road, Movie begins with a young man named Vishnu (Abhay Deol) struggling with accepting control of his father's fleeting Hair Oil business. Vishnu, donning a wardrobe influenced by Western culture, refuses to adhere to tradition and desperately seeks escape from his father's demands. Fate allows Vishnu to take a worn down mobile cinema across the deserts of Indian to deliver to a museum by the sea. What Vishnu expects to be a simple task, and a chance at escape, turns into a far larger voyage of self-discovery and maturation. Vishnu while on the road meets three distinctly different faces of Indian culture. The first is a boy played by Mohammed Faisal, a reflection of Vishnu's youth, particularly given his ties to familial employment. Second is a large, aging man named Om (Satish Kaushik) whose name is indicative of his carefree and unconcerned demeanor. Vishnu also meets an enigmatic unnamed woman played by Tannishtha Chatterjee who teaches him the passion of love and the beauty of sacrifice. This union is juxtaposed with images of corrupt police officers and heartless bandits whose actions hinder large amounts of helpless people. Vishnu amidst this chaotic, and at times absurd journey, comes to realize that his own disdain is futile in relation to the real and physical pain of many Indian people. Ultimately, he chooses to not only share the simple pleasures of cinema with others, but to himself enjoy the relaxing escapes of things as insignificant as a hair oil massage...one which happens to imply a new life for the reborn Vishnu.
As I noted earlier, Road, Movie is very much a reflection of an ever-evolving India. Like the characters in the movie, the films chosen for viewing reflect various moments in Indian history. When choosing a film for a group of elderly Indians, Vishnu projects a classic Buster Keaton short. While obviously picked for its humor, the film also implies a time in India when imperialism ruled without fail. Keaton, a staple of American cinema is a Western icon, all be it, not of English descent. Similarly, when dealing with a belligerent cop, Vishnu plays a cheesy seventies Baliwood cop film that shows cops failing to apprehend criminals and win the hearts of young lovers. This reflects a moment of rebellion in India, against not only the remnants of imperialism, but also an unfair and illogical caste system which allowed people superiority by birth alone. Finally, the film itself serves as a projection of the new image of India as it relates to those viewing the piece. Benegal displays an India still full of issues, but offers visions of equality and advancement if people can simply learn to be approach issues "like a man," which may is, in the film, as simple as changing one's hairstyle.
Road, Movie is a hidden gem. Benegal offers a masterful piece of film that is as visually stunning as it is socially relevant. Make it a mission to obtain a copy of this film to show DVD companies that world cinema is relevant.