We already know the film is about a road trip with a travelling cinema projector and equipment. If you’re expecting a Cinema Paradiso, you’ll be disappointed. Apart from one dialogue about the magic of movies and another scene about a film transporting you into another world, there’s no moving perspective.
One gets the feeling that the film was never meant for an Indian audience anyway. It’s evident in the slow-mo shots of Rajasthani women singing their way to the source of water, the emphasis on rituals like tying the nimbu-mirchi and the mother doing the son’s aarti for well-being, and Tannistha’s character breaking into a local song.
You do get involved with the characters’ lives momentarily, especially that of the street-smart little boy who has already learnt how to survive in the world. Vishnu (Abhay Deol) doesn’t share his father’s passion for selling hair oil, and grabs an opportunity to escape on a road trip. He tells his uncle, who’s taking the beaten truck to Samudrapur (somewhere in Rajasthan, we’re told), that he’ll do the favour.
Along the way, he meets the boy who wants to escape working as a waiter at a roadside dhaba, and agrees to give him a lift. When the truck breaks down, a local mechanic (Saurabh Shukla) agrees to help, but only if he gets a lift to the mela.
So the trio sets out across the dry desert, battling extreme thirst and exhaustion. When Vishnu meets a banjaran woman hunting for water (it’s never explained why she’s alone, when the local women always move in groups), he decides to give her a lift, too. It’s an out-of-character act of kindness by Vishnu, who had gleefully abandoned his two road friends earlier, and had greedily gulped down the only remaining water.
Predictably, a love affair develops, and the team continues travelling to nowhere in particular. When they are unable to find a mela, they decide to stay put, show movies, and create one right there. It all comes together sooner than said (hinting at a dream sequence), and using one of the worst clichés, has a character die with a smile on the face.
Things get interesting when they meet the power-abusing local cop and the water mafia, whom we are told are ruthless, but disappointingly turn out to be a bunch of buffoons. (In one of the film’s more interesting dialogues, a character explains who the water goons are - saying that they are just like the police). In this case, showing the water-mafia as malleable, makes light of the concern of water scarcity itself. Perhaps with a realistic portrayal, we would have felt more evocatively about the issue.
Dev Benegal’s (English August, Split Wide Open) Road, Movie is a technically accomplished film with a lively background score and moody cinematography. The acting is pretty good: Abhay Deol performs the grey urban character yet again, Saurabh Shukla is endearing, Tanisstha Chatterjee looks the part, but fumbles with the accent, Mohammed Faisal (the little boy) proves to be the most effective actor.
Neither a full-blown road movie, nor a story that cleverly folds in the delights of touring cinema - Road, Movie doesn’t deliver what it promises. Ah, there’s that colourful promo again.
Verdict: Two stars