Monday, November 11, 2013

The Good Road (2013)

***NOTE: The following analysis/review may contain MILD SPOILERS regarding some detail in the film.***

First things first. Writer director Gyan Correa, with his Gujarati language film "The Good Road" (2013) does one thing right. He makes a sincere attempt to make an honest-to-goodness Indian film. This is as Indian as it gets when it comes to modern cinema. No pseudo western wannabe stuff here. No glamour. No big filthy rich kids all resembling Greek Gods and Goddesses, going out on foreign holidays, the kind an average Indian can never even dream of affording. No song and dance, no musical montages, no sugarcoating, no goofy nonsense.

It is rather, a long trip down the rustic landscapes of the countryside in the Indian state of Gujarat. The titular good road, is the seemingly endless highway on which our primary characters traverse their possibly life changing and lesson learning journeys.

A couple from Mumbai on a holiday to Gujarat lose their son on the highway during a brief halt. A strapped for cash trucker and his young apprentice are up to something illegal, possibly to pull off an insurance scam. A little girl who's set out alone to seek her grandmother finds herself in the midst of a sleazy world of child prostitution!

It is a great idea on paper, at least, to make for a fine road movie with multiple story threads. Alas, Gyan Correa squanders the potential and fails to make the best of an interesting idea, eventually delivering a script so half-baked and ludicrous, it is impossible to take any of the developments seriously. The couple played by familiar faces Ajay Gehi and Sonali Kulkarni seem so indifferent to their son's presence (or lack thereof), that they don't find out that their son has stepped out of the vehicle at a dhaba (a highway eatery), until they have traveled several hundred kilometers ahead, leaving their son behind! Gyan Correa probably wanted to portray the modern Indian couple's inherent neglect for their children, but this is a bit too far-fetched to digest. Wonder why a farcical premise such as that used in "Home Alone" (1990) has to make its way into a tale that is trying to be serious and realistic.

While this is just one of the instances of the mediocrity of the script, there are several others that stand out. This includes the most unconvincing character reactions to situations at hand. The lost son of the couple strikes a bond with the truckers and seems completely at ease. The calm and complete lack of any kind of panic on the child's visage is simply unforgivable! If such events will have you staring with disbelief, there are also some gaping inconsistencies in the proceedings. The local policeman asks one of the parents to stay at the police station while the son is found. The mother decides to stay back, while the father accompanies a constable on his bike to the original location of their halt which now suddenly seems to be way too far away, taking forever to reach! And the mother, while asked to stay back, decides to venture off on her own across the Rann of Kutch to find her son on the suggestion of some locals!

With such huge suspension of disbelief expected on part of the viewer, it is impossible to appreciate the script or connect with the characters and the film in general, apart from a few facets that manage to somewhat satisfy. It is the little girl Poonam and her story that shines brightest. Her endearing presence adds an extra charm to her tale and the mire she lands herself in makes us feel for this one character. She is just too sweet and innocent to even realize what she has gotten herself into, until in one disturbing as well as heartbreaking scene, it is spelled out to her in the coldest manner, amid foul-mouthed underage girls selling their skin! While this story piques our interest the most, Correa chooses to leave it on the backburner and doesn't do much with it, as much as he does with the other two stories. Poonam's story doesn't build in a way it should've, with a more substantial background. Nor does it have a particularly intriguing aftermath either.

The acting leaves a lot to be desired too. Shamji Dhana Kerasia as the poker-faced trucker Pappu recites lines of dialog like he is appearing for an oral examination! Keval Katrodia as Aditya, the son, just utters some dialog of annoyance and breaks into a patriotic song very old for any boy of his age to even know. Established Marathi film and Bollywood actress Sonali Kulkarni is underutilized and Ajay Gehi doesn't really do anything to make things any better. It is only the discombobulated face of little Poonam Kesar Singh that haunts you. That innocence and sweetness defines her performance. Although an ordinary face in the crowd, it is Poonam that stays with you the most. Another ordinary face that breathes some good life into his performance is Priyank Upadhyay as Pappu's assistant.

"The Good Road" has a good heart. It also has some fine cinematography by Amitabha Singh that captures rural Gujarat in a very appealing manner, despite giving it the look of a documentary shot on location in the state of Gujarat. The long, calm and empty road underneath the brightly shining sun gives you a feel of relaxation akin to a siesta on a hot summer afternoon under a tree in a swinging hammock. The score sometimes switches from the diegetic sounds to lilting Gujarati folk music. Unfortunately, the pluses aren't enough to salvage the film as a whole. The film could've, however, majorly benefited from a stronger script devoid of the holes and contrivances, and able, convincing performances. Earth-shattering events that give way to contrivances aren't always a necessity in a script. Sometimes, there is a greater advantage in keeping it simple. Gyan Correa misses a golden opportunity of making a genuine Indian road movie of sorts, with an aptly earthy feel as well as earthy, real characters. Too bad for that.

Score: 5/10

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