IN AN attempt to think out of the box, Rajat Mukherjee presents his directorial venture, "Road". In all fairness, in the script stage, it may have seemed terribly exciting and new to an audience, which is used to the usual grind of commercial plots. Besides, other than Hollywood (which has inspired it in the first place), who else in India has made a film focusing on a road journey with so much attention? But then there is a vast difference in thought and translation onto a visual medium like cinema. In this case, the concept takes a beating simply because somewhere irreverence creeps into a serious theme of cat-and-mouse games.

Not a bad thing in itself, if it is able to sustain audience interest. But then the twists and turns that are supposed to keep audiences glued to their seats, become boring after a point.

The best part of the film is the road itself — in its isolation and in its rough ebb and flow. The camera (Sudeep Chatterjee) captures a difficult-to-believe isolation in the interiors of Rajasthan — the landscape is bare and shorn of all hospitality. There are neither animals on the road nor human beings. The background score (Amar Mohile) conspires and creates a sense of doom. But that's all. Because all along one gets a feeling that both the scriptwriter (Rajnish Thakur) and the director, are playing out a spoof — maybe not obvious even to them— in the dialogue, situations and in the climax.

College-going Arvind (Vivek Oberoi) and Lakshmi (Antara Mali) are in love. Well, they want to get married. The father of the girl says a big no, so they decide to elope in a Tata Safari. Arvind wants to take Lakshmi to Jodhpur to his haveli, which he swears will sweep her off her feet! So far so good.

So they are on the `road' speeding happily. They meet a crazy looking man (Vijay Raaz ) who insists Arvind has stolen his water. They get away from him, laughing at their escape from a madman. Then guess who is now waiting to get them? Another crazy but smooth-talking man, Babu (Manoj Bajpai). He begs them to give him a ride, since his car has broken down. Predictably, he turns out to be more than obnoxious. Arvind has had enough, especially when the man makes a pass at Lakshmi. He refuses to take him further. Babu points a gun at him and takes Lakshmi as hostage in the Safari. Arvind is left running behind the speeding vehicle on the deserted `road' till he meets Inderpal (Makarand Deshpande) a truck driver, who helps him outwit Babu and get Lakshmi back. After the couple spends the night at a five star hotel and a song showcasing Lakshmi's curves, they find Babu emerging out of the car. He drives off again gun and Lakshmi for company. Arvind is once again on the `road'. Then begins the true rescue mission, with the police first not believing him and then coming to his assistance.

If only Rajat had continued in this vein it would have been a very different kind of film — one that could be a sort of a breakthrough. But he decided to play it safe towards the second half by making his protagonist chase the persistent man, who by now is fast falling in love with Lakshmi. Thankfully just when he gets nauseatingly predictable (man with a heart of gold, but forced into crime by circumstances) and she starts showing mild signs of being attracted to him, there is a twist.

The film has the Ram Gopal stamp firmly all over it — just as in "Kaun?" where a seemingly simple scenario is made out to be full of twists and turns. It is all very well to copy a master's style — but when do assistants get to be individualistic and give their product their own character? And just as with the master, the pupil also makes digs at other filmmakers in an attempt at droll wit. Only it does not make you laugh. Neither do the dialogues.

It's a pity filmmakers are unable to do without songs (Sandesh Shandilya, Nitin Raikwar) even when they are not warranted. Particularly, in this film. Neither are they necessary nor are they particularly good. They serve to show Antara Mali's physical assets more — maybe because she has nothing else to reveal here. If she made a mark in "Company", in "Road" she seems like a glorious appendage.

Vivek Oberoi, who can be stunning ("Company"), seems under utilised. Other than gritting his teeth and running amuck on the road he displays none of that vulnerability and dynamism, he is capable of. As for Manoj, its time he gave up this predictably, unpredictable negativity. He is beginning to be absolutely boring.


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