[18 December 2013]
Gyan Correa’s film The Good Road was the closing night screening for this year’s 10th Anniversary South Asian International Film Festival (SAIFF). It has been selected as India’s entry into the 2014 Academy Award race for Best Foreign Language film. The movie explores three different stories that intersect on a rural road on the edge of a desert in Gujarat, moving somewhat slowly as the tension builds in each narrative. By the end, each of the three main characters lives are affected by the others, even if they might not meet face to face.
First there is Pappu (Shamji Dhana Kerasia), a lorry driver, and his assistant Shaukat who are tied to a criminal enterprise. Next we have the young boy Aditya (Keval Katrodia) who is road tripping to Athangasa with his middle-class parents David (Ajay Gehi) and Kiran (Sonali Kulkarni) for their holiday. Finally, there is nine-year old Poonam (Poonam Kesar Singh) who is dropped at the side of the road and finds herself drawn to the sounds of girls on the hill above.
The weakest characters have supporting roles fortunately. Adi’s parents seemed incompetent though their worries about losing their son feel real. One could be convinced David is idiotic when Kiran berates him for driving somewhat recklessly (though the scene doesn’t seem like it’s a stretch for India). And discerning the machinations behind Kiran’s wandering off into the desert, ignoring the police’s request, would likely reveal madness if her distraught was not the true excuse. Her excursion does alone the director to use some wide shots of the desert, adding to the loneliness Kiran must be feeling.
But, back to the main trio and their situations. The boy Adi is curious and unafraid, even as he ends up in a strange truck with Pappu after getting left behind at a pit stop. While he is pulled further and further from reuniting with his parents, Adi is fortunately under Pappu’s watchful eye.
Pappu’s nurturing spirit is suggested right at the beginning when he is having a conversation about the status of his parents and of Pinky, a young girl. Though we never know for certain what his criminal endeavors are, Pappu doesn’t turn out to be the unsavory character you would expect especially once Adi becomes his charge. His bond with Adi, and also with his assistant, grows as they set out to deliver the illegal goods (with his lorry four tons over its limit) and hopefully find Adi’s parents.
Poonam, in opposite of Adi, is wise for her age and thus has her strength tested. Mature enough to understand her situation but too young to get herself away from the brothel she was unwillingly placed at, Poonam has to depend on the kindness of strangers though she does befriend a girl named Rinkle.
It is fair to say that you may not quite know how Correa will resolve the stories—I wondered how they would intersect for a long time. He assembled a talented cast to express exactly what makes each character a unique, dynamic person. But as a potential Oscar nominee, The Good Road will have an uphill struggle to even make the shortlist in a particularly strong year for foreign films though this movie should definitely interest viewers who want to see a unique piece of cinema, that just happens to be from India.