After receiving a standing ovation at international festivals, Dev Benegal's Road, Movie releases in the country on March 5.
For Dev Benegal a recurrent nightmare is about making the worst film possible. “I feel that whenever a film is completed. Every time I go to bed, I get this feeling that I will be the only person watching the film in the theatre,” he says in all seriousness, obviously not wanting to rest on his 1995 National Award winning film English, August and the critically-acclaimed 1999 film Split Wide Open. After a decade-long gap, the nephew of acclaimed director Shyam Benegal is now ready with his third film Road, Movie starring Abhay Deol, Tannishtha Chatterjee and Satish Kaushik.
Thankfully contrary to his fears, Road, Movie about a young, restless boy, a travelling cinema and escapism has wowed audiences across the world at various film festivals (the Berlinale, Doha Tribeca Film Festival, Tokyo International Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival and the Cannes). It will be theatrically released in India on March 5. “It was amazing when audiences gave it a standing ovation. I had never really expected that kind of response. In Toronto, an old lady started dancing to the music of a special version we have done of the classic Hindi song ‘Sar Jo Tera Chakraye'! There is not one bit of Bollywood in the film nor does it have any masala to draw the global audience. But people even from Japan and North America have identified with it.”
Abhay Deol plays Vishnu, son of a businessman dealing with hair oil, who hates the prospect of joining his dad's venture. An opportunity to drive an old, battered truck across the desert where it has to be sold to a museum comes his way and there starts his wonderful road journey. The antique Chevy is also carrying a travelling cinema and Vishnu picks up another runaway, an ageing entertainer and a beautiful gypsy woman on the way. They move from village to village opening up the dusty reels of film to the people and discovering life and laughter.
The idea of a touring cinema seems outdated to most of us in the cities and more so to global audiences. What made Dev pick this concept? “I had heard of the travelling cinema but was honestly not sure of its popularity. I spoke to a distributor friend, Shravan Shroff, who told me that a large part of rural India still hangs on to this form of entertainment and I knew I wanted to tell this story,” he reveals.
The film has been shot in various parts of Kutch and Dev says it was his dream to shoot in this area of India. “At heart we are escapists. During the vacations, our parents would take us on these long drives. I knew one day I would make a film in Kutch driving on the sand. I was invited to go there in August since the rains would have gone and so would have the tourists. What I wasn't told was that the temperature would be in the range of 49° C to 50° C! There were electrical thunderstorms and the heat, besides melting the crew, also melted some of our equipment,” he says.
Dev admits he did not have anyone particularly visualised for the roles in his film. “I had seen Abhay's Manorama Six Feet Under almost alone in a theatre! I met him in New York and knew that he'd suit the role. As for Tannishtha, I knew her from her girl band days and later got to know she even acted. Satish Kaushik was someone I simply had to work with. I met Satish, when I was assisting Satyadev Dubey whom I have to thank a lot as I learnt about building characters from him. Satish had but a single line to say in the whole film, yet he did it with such conviction that I told him I would cast him in a film when I would make one! Twenty years later I called him for Road, Movie,” he laughs.
Dev is already working on his next project called Samurai but he does not wish to speak about it. He only promises he will not disappear for a decade from the horizon this time!
The 86-minute long film has the memorable song ‘Sar Jo Tera Chakraye' from Guru Dutt's 1957 film Pyaasa in a version sung by Sylvia Gordon.
It also features actor Tannishtha Chatterjee's soulful voice in a short number.