Road, Movie

Road, Movie

***

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Vishnu (Abhey Deol) is a young man with a lot invested in his masculine identity. Specifically, he doesn't want to end up as a hair oil salesman like his father; he'd prefer the tougher-sounding job of driver, so he leaps at the chance to drive his uncle's trip across rural India to make a delivery. Unfortunately, Vishnu's idea of himself is somewhat at odds with reality. When the truck breaks down, he's helpless until the boy hitchhiking with him manages to locate a wandering mechanic. After the mechanic discovers that the truck retains its old fittings as a mobile cinema, the three embark on a haphazard journey that will lead to unexpected places and will ultimately help Vishnu understand - in a gloriously OTT way - what it really means to be a man.

Dev Benegal's playful yet ambitious film suffers, appropriately enough, from all the usual problems associated with road movies. It's episodic, its often brilliant vignettes awkwardly padded in between; its pacing stutters like the tired old van and there are long periods when nothing much seems to happen. Vishnu isn't always a very likeable lead, a self-centered city boy out of his depth and refusing to admit it, but as time wears on he gradually becomes more interesting.

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As his young companion, Mohammed Faisal gets few lines but easily charms the audience with his wide grin and easygoing approach. Satish Kaushik works well as the old mechanic, bringing depth and personality to a mentor character whom, let's face it, we've seen many times before. Perhaps the most interesting supporting performance comes from Tannishtha Chatterjee as the woman they meet along the way. She's as beautiful as any Bollywood starlet but that's always secondary to her toughness, which in turn comes to represent a way of life quite contrary to Vishnu's own. Their tentative romance plays with traditional tropes yet emerges as something much more character-specific. It's a strikingly modern element in a film set mostly in places where little has changed for centuries.

As a contrast between ancient and modern India, speculating on the gradual fusion of the two, Road, Movie doesn't miss opportunities to comment on political inequalities, corruption and economic injustice; but for the most part it's a feelgood film, enchantingly shot, steeped in the magic of the old movies projected from the truck. Good humour defuses many a tense situation as Vishnu gradually learns why other people make the effort to show each other kindness. There's a magical realist element in places, especially during a desert journey to the old man's promised funfair. Moments like this bring the film alive and will leave viewers delighted.

Road, Movie takes its audience on a long, slow journey to an uncertain destination. As so often with these things, it's what is glimpsed along the way that really makes it worthwhile.

Reviewed on: 29 Jan 2011
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A young man undertakes a long journey in a battered mobile cinema, learning about life along the way.
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