India’s official entry to the Academy Awards 2014 has been announced: National Award winner for the Best Gujarati Film ‘The Good Road’ has been bestowed with the honors. The film is the first Gujarati film ever selected to represent India at the Oscars.
According to a press release issued by the Film Federation of India, whose selection committee is headed by Bengali director Goutam Ghose, “The jury saw a wide range of films that had entered from many Indian languages before deliberating long and hard to reach a decision by consensus”. The names of the jury members are not shared with the media.
Other films in the running included Rakesh Omprakash Mehra’s biopic ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag‘, Kamal Hasan’s sci-fi thriller ‘Vishwaroopam’, the highly acclaimed ‘The Lunchbox’ and Malayalam film ‘Celluloid’,among others. 22 films were screened every day for a panel of 16 members assigned by the Film Federation of India and after 4 hours of discussions, they decided to choose The Good Road beating Lunchbox which was touted as a fix as India’s entry this year.
This decision received a lot of flak and disappointment from all corners; with Karan Johar and Abhinav Kashyap, producers of Lunchbox venting their disappointment over Twitter. Many critics felt India’s lost their chance at the Oscars. Many Gujarati critics and filmmakers too showed their disappointment over the selection. With questions raised over the selection process and the credibility of the panel and inquisitiveness over the reason of ‘The Good Road’ being chosen as ‘THE’ film for the Oscars, I decided to watch this one and make my own judgement.
A few facts
Director: Gyan Correa
Produced by: National Film Development Corporation (NFDC)
Written by: Gyan Correa
Starring: Ajay Gehi, Sonali Kulkarni
Music by: Rajat Dholakia
Cinematography: Amitabha Singh
Editing by: Paresh Kamdar
Gyan Correa’s Gujarati movie is one of the most assured debuts to come off the National Film Development Corporation’s production line in a while. Some viewers might consider The Good Road to be slow moving and minimalist by Indian standards, but others will recognise Correa’s confidence in letting ideas develop organically. The film is told in a hyperlink format, where several stories are intertwined, with the center of the action being a highway in the rural lands of Gujarat near the town of Kachch. The film deals with 3 story-lines which cross each other on the film’s titular highway.
The Three Plots
Pappu is a truck driver who is unable to support his ailing parents and extended family. He is presented with a solution by means of a fake accident where he crashes his truck on a highway and pretends to die. The insurance payments his family will receive will be enough for them to live off of.
David and Kiran, a middle class urban couple with a son named Aditya, are on a holiday. Aditya is accidentally separated from his parents during a brief halt at a dhaba on the side of the highway.
Poonam is an 11-year old child from the city who is searching for her grandmother, who lives in a house at the end of the highway. She stops at a small clothes dying unit on the side of the highway to rest and find food.
I would like to start my review with mentioning one thing- this review is not about comparing The Lunchbox with The Good Road. Both are good in their own departments; on the contrary I feel ecstatic as it’s a welcome change in Indian Cinema. With films like Devdas and Jeans being selected as India’s official entry; I am happy with the improvement in quality of films made today.
The Good Road is made in a budget of 2 Crores and 50 Lakhs; which is much more than what Gujarati films are usually made in. However this doesn’t transform to celluloid as the production values are low.
The cinematography is one of the highlights of the film; the details of Kutch, also known as the Heart of Gujarat are shown beautifully; a sequence where the prostitute is kept on display in the brothel also ethically shot. The pace of the film is extremely slow for a feature film of just 93 minutes. The director loses command over the plot and the screenplay going haywire many a times. If the Selection Panel chose the film as a representation of Indian culture and ethos; I wonder what prompted them considering it showcases a prostitution mela, literally, somewhere on highways of the Kutch in the most deplorable way. Though I wonder what unnatural substance was the Director smoking when he made parts of the film; some of the sequences are beyond my sensibilities. For instance, Sonali Kulkarni lying down in the scorching heat of Kutch when she can sit in an air conditioned car; the logic of the director amazes me.
In the acting department, most of the actors are dismal. The true star of the film, however, is Shamjibhai Kerasia, who plays Pappu and is a truck driver in real life. He’s initially a little awkward, but every movement of his, whether at the wheel or climbing into the truck or paying for his chai, is so fluid and familiar that it’s difficult to imagine an actor replicating him. Kerasia doesn’t say much but eventually his weathered face and darting eyes prove to be sharply expressive.
The storytelling is weak and the uninspiring acting of professionals like Sonali Kulkarni and Ajay Gehl doesn’t help matters either. The film relies on the cuteness of the child actors to make us feel for them, rather than establishing their distinctive personalities. The minor characters are hastily-etched and performed awkwardly by the non-actors who comprise the bulk of the cast. The actors speak poor Gujarati and the ones who speak well are as straight-faced actors as you can get.
The Good Road struggles to hold a viewer’s attention. It lacks tension and the flatness in the writing emasculates the dangers and threats faced by the characters so that you never feel like time is running out for anyone. Aside from Pappu, everyone fail to impress.
The Good Road is a valiant effort by a first time director. Though it has its moments of brilliance, is it worthy of India’s selection for the Oscars: that answer I leave to the American critics.
By Ish Chandok