Riding on `The good road`: A joyful ride indeed

By Bobby Wahengbam
`The Good Road` (2012) directed by Gyan Correa, was officially selected to represent India for the Oscars last year. It was a proud moment for the Indian Regional film industry and particularly the Gujarati Film Industry. Luckily, I could grab a copy of the film from the local market. The film was shown at the TC Foundation monthly screening (not commercial in any sense) and everybody likes the film. Actually, the regional film industries excepting the Marathi industry are in the midst of trouble for want of good cinema, good critic and good support. The history of Gujarati film industry- Dhollywood/ Gollywood is simply the history of erosion of its talent pool to the mainstream Bollywood film.
There are the likes of the Bhatts (Mukesh, Mahesh, Alia), Kumars (Sanjeev, Rajendra, Mehul), Banshalis (Sanjay Leela), Patels, Mehboob Khn, Manmohan Desai, Abas Mastan, Vipul Shah and the likes who had ruled Bollywood but hardly contribute to the developmentof Gujarati film. Artistic recognition to Gujarati film is hard to achieve though it has the credit of producing film as early as 1932 with the release of its first full length feature film, `Narasinh Mehta` directed by Nanubhai Vakil. Few films like Bhavani Bhavai (1980, Ketan Mehta,), `Little Zizou` (20009, Sooni Taraporevala) could make a mark in the world cinema. Luckily, after a long hiatus, a Gujarati film shines in the elitist film circle. But it is shocking to learn that the film is criticised to the core by the Gujarati film critics and public alike. It is to wonder, whether the countering is personal as Gyan belongs to Mumbai with a South Mumbai upbringing and who is not familiar in Gujarat. But he has done something the great Gujarati film makers had been shying off through years so long considering Gujarati films far inferior. But many critics became vocal in criticising the film for lack of local flavour and real Gujaratinees.
They claim that child prostitution shown in the film is not a reality in their highways. But to us the debate in this plane is immaterial since the film can move us intellectually. Our readings and impression on the film might be very different from all other critique so far. But our free flow understanding may be a worth gaze on the film and film sensitivity. The film comes in a time where the world of Indian Art film is suffering without remarkable progress for want of universally appealing intellectual films. Sadly, our good films hardly become good in the annals of world cinema. Indeed, there have been very few films that brought laurels for the highest number of film producing country.
On the other hand, Commercial films are gaining momentum with more territory, viewership, popularity and profit. Luckily, Indian cinema is blessed with this amazing film which has the capacity to be a game changer as far as good sensitive offbeat films produced with a stream of consciousness are concerned. The film deserves more than just an Indian entry to the Oscars. Thankfully, an elegant and sensitive film is finally recognized, though late, and prevails over ordinary and conventional films. It is at least a film that can shed away the pretended aesthetically paddling impression on Indian cinema so formed. It is a different Indian film in terms of content, form, treatment and style. Though underplay, the film explicitly speaks volumes of the complexities of the characters and the story.
The story unfolds calmly and naturally where three different groups are introduced, interlaced by the road. Though the film is about three stories around a road journey on a Gujarat Highway in a time frame of 24 hours, the film can`™t be exclusively bracketed under `road movie`™ genre in the sense that the characters carry their own agendas though the three groups are dexterously weaved. And the stories are told with lyrical delicacy connoting more by denoting less. So, in this minimalist expression `less is more`. With few dialogues, appearances and gestures of the characters, the film could convey lots with insightful sensitivity. The film addresses about parental ego where children have to face the brunt, the menace of child trafficking and the organized highway sting operations among others.
Pappu, a truck driver, is occupied with the thought of his family particularly his niece who keeps asking about him. He is expressionless but experienced and human. He even loves and emotionally attached with his truck. That is why the Pimp for whom he is ferrying illegal consignment and staging accident to claim insurance told him that `it is only a truck, not your wife `.His helper, Sauket, acted by Priyank with ease, provides hidden background information to the viewers through casual confrontation with Aditya (Keval), the missing kid. He says that the shopkeeper who directed Pappu to stage accident is actually a pimp who also kidnaps children of rich parents for ransom. Pappu, the driver, is difficult to be understood. He is shown close to his niece and he wants Aditya to be hand over to his parents personally. But he doesn`™t submit the kid to the police who are making publicity on mike about it.
We wonder, whether he doesn`™t trust thepolice on highway duty or planning other things around. Or the child trafficking is so organized and professional that the traffickers could easily brainwash children emotionally to be part with them. Aditya trusts Pappu and Saukat more than the police on the road.
The episode of Poonam, the little girl, who is on the run to make her way to her grandmother in Lathanga, the destination of almost all the characters, has been dropped by a truck driver midway where one can find only a cluster where many young girls house in. At the beginning, it seems to be an oasis and a wonderful place for children. But it happened to be a highway brothel where minor girls are displayed at night for prostitution. The truck driver might have dropped her there intentionally as part of the organized crime. The caretaker stages and acts in such a way that it is only Poonam that approaches him for want of food and other necessities. Though forced, it is never obvious but impressed that he is actually helping the girls including Poonam.
The whole situation is come to light to the mind of the viewer`™s when Rinkle, another girl in the cluster, tells Poonam that everyone, in the beginning, have said that she was leaving in the evening and staying only for the day. And we come to know about the well planned trafficking network. When Poonam is put to gaudy make up and eventually chosen by a customer, she runs away in front of the public. So, the care taker has to deport her to avoid controversy. And the character of Rinkle talks more than she appears. She carries an aristocratic look, polished mannerism all that is required to indicate a girl from a decent urban family back ground. More than that, she carries mini short so well like any metro girl does. Make-up for the night actually destroys her sophisticated look.
But to the sock of all she says she is happy here and doesn`™t want to company Poonam when the later requested her so that they can study and lead a normal life. It connotes the bad world Rinkle had grown up and we are asked to imagine how bad the family members and the relatives of Rinkle must be. It talks about our bad selfish society at large. My view may be different from others but a close look and research on child trafficking will bring you to the same view as mine. The business of Child trafficking is very lucrative and well organized where highway is an important theatre. And that is, probably, one layer the director wants to address.
Today, particularly in the city life, parents are too tight with their respective professions where male/ female alter ego exists in the style of equal status and freedom. Couples normally don`™t have time for children which make the children feel neglected. And it is a common choice of couple to restrict child birth to one or two. David and Kiran, a couple on a holiday tour with their only son, is indexical for the urban couples. Kiran (Sonali Kulkarni) is modern, brave, self-centered, intelligent, independent, dominating, egoistical and probably, a working woman. She wants to relax during the journey and doesn`™t want distraction even by her only son. She is not giving time to her son during the journey. The ego war between husband and wife comes to prominence when they talk about safe driving after escaping a possible accident. Kiran argues, `That was your fault. I`™m always tense whenever you drive`. David, angrily answers, `Have I ever faced an incident? Even a small one!` This type of conversation is very common for urban couples. On top of that she gives a defensive gesture teasing male ego when David asks her to wake up Aditya.
Kiran is intelligent that she doesn`™t drink tea offered by two male strangers. And she has the guts to drive vehicle alone across the desert. She is dominating and self-centered as she only speaks, without giving room for David to talk, during the filling of FIR. But the ego, alteration, self-absorption have a back seat when their only child gets missing as a result of negligence and they have to cry, literary, for the unbearable pangs when hope of finding the child exhausts. And finally, the parents learn a lesson in life. And it is a lesson of life for every urban parent.
The director basically talks about poor parenting in our urban society where children are facing the brunt of the misdeed of the parents. If the home environment were healthy, young Poonam would never run away alone to find her grandmother; Rinkle would never smile if landed in a whore house. The film ends in a positive note by hinting that the road we are travelling our journey of life is good that every one finds his desired destination though face hardships around. Pappu doesn`™t need to stage accident, Poonam will reach her grandmother soon and the family of David reunites at the end. And it is dawn once again.
The idea of the film seems to have been constructed before the advent of mobile culture. For people in the move, mobile plays an important role. In the film only the Pimp/shopkeeper uses the mobile only twice. Police, the modern couple, the truck driver, the helper, the brothel caretaker- no one in the film except the pimp ever use mobile phone. That is something illogical in today`™s world. It would have been far better if mobile is not introduced at all to indicate an earlier time frame. All said and done, In totality, the film is a text book of intelligent film making inspiring regional low budget film makers to think big in spite of limitations.
Manipuri film makers can queue from Gyan`™s success, the notion `Small is Big`. As a matter of fact, highways in Manipur are more complex, challenging, dangerous and associated with lots of drama. Good films could be made around here including the existential predicaments of the people. Oken Amakcham, an award winning Manipuri film maker, who has been a jury member for the national award several times, praises the film in the same rank of Gautam Ghose`™s `Paar` and Di Sica`™s `Bicycle Thieves`. He opines that the film has the capacity to become a Masterpiece and would have recommended for more awards if he were in the National Award jury that year
The selection of the film for the Indian entry to the Oscars for the Foreign Film category rejuvenates the pedestal of high art. Because, in a consumerist world, the intellectual is under pressure to accept this criterion letting mediocrity at the forefront. It is a triumph for the road less travelled that used the universal language of cinema. The film will remain as one of the most influential films for the lovers of good and intelligent cinema. I can`™t help but to praise Gyan.