Thelma: You awake?
Louise: Guess you could call it that; my eyes are open.
Thelma: I’m awake too. I feel awake.
Thelma: I feel really awake. I don’t recall ever feeling this awake. You know? Everything looks different now. You feel like that? You feel like you got something to live for now?
Two women trapped in pointless and intellectually stifling lives escape into a world of possibilities as they take to the road in Ridley Scott’s genre-defining 1991 film Thelma & Louise . Feisty and now free, the road for them throws up endless opportunities and numerous dangers for them. It’s hard to forget that last scene as they ‘fly’ over the Grand Canyon in a Ford Thunderbird convertible, their final act of liberation, a decision taken with eyes wide open.
ROAD MOVIES IN HOLLYWOOD
Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
The Blues Brothers
Natural Born Killers (1994)
Easy Rider (1969)
Going all the way back to Homer’s Odyssey, taking in Miguel De Cervantes’s Don Quixote and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road along the way, the journey has long been a metaphor in literature, pop culture and cinema. Over the years, the road movie has become a stand-alone genre – a screenwriting vehicle to represent the coming of age (psychological, mental, personal and emotional) of a character or characters.
Think of road movies and the names that immediately spring to mind are Bonnie and Clyde, Easy Rider, It Happened One Night, Duel – there are too many to name.
Over the years, the road movie has spawned sub-genres – the Western, horror, thriller, comedy, romance, action-adventure, gangster and crime, among others. But all the films have common characteristics – the open road, a quest, an escape, a discovery or rediscovery, inner strength or redemption.
For all its success in the West, the exploration of this genre has been relatively limited in Hindi cinema. Bombay To Goa, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara and Highway have immediate recall.
But Adajania is loathe to describe the experiences of five dysfunctional characters in a Dodge automobile searching for Stephanie, which is the story of Finding Fanny, as a road movie.
That’s a feeling most people can identify with. The open road symbolises a number of things: promise, threats, freedom, fear, change, challenges and space in which to think, to enjoy silences and reflect. As you set out on the road, you put distance between your past and your future. The road offers perspective.
“The road movie narrative gives characters time to peel off layers,” says filmmaker Sanjay Gupta who frequently takes to the road in a car or on a motorcycle. “It’s a process of self-discovery as you knock off the miles and head towards your destination.”
A road movie’s characters have endless possibilities of encounters – with places and people – that may change them forever. These possibilities have been harnessed by filmmakers such as Navdeep Singh, Zoya Akhtar, Imtiaz Ali (Jab We Met, Highway), Dev Benegal (Road, Movie) and Hemant Madhukar (Mumbai 125 KM).
“There’s poetry and passion in the genre,” says Dev Benegal. “A man and a woman. A vehicle. Nature. For me, these raw elements are the essence of cinema.”
Three of Imtiaz Ali’s films (Jab We Met, Rockstar and Highway) have captured journeys and explorations of people and places. His fascination with expeditions began with train journeys between Delhi and Jamshedpur as a student. “I would look out of the window and it was both exhilarating and confusing,” he had said earlier this year, talking about Highway. “Those journeys gave me a lot of time to know the people around me. Your imagination starts opening up, and those things find themselves in my stories.”
Apart from the human characters, the mode of transport itself often plays a character in the road movie. It was a convertible in ZNMD, a truck in Road, Movie, a Volkswagen microbus in Little Miss Sunshine, a bus in Almost Famous and an SUV in NH10.
“There must be a reason the vehicle is often retro, classic. Maybe it’s nostalgia? But it is a tool that takes on a character,” says Abhay Deol who acted in both ZNMD and Road, Movie. “An Ambassador is like a friendly old man. A Porsche 911 a beautiful female sprinter. A truck is a struggling veteran while the convertible is cool and laidback.”
Though you couldn’t say Hindi cinema had road movies in the ’50s and ’60s, songs sung in cars became a conduit for conveying romance, angst and absolution.
“In Bollywood, love stories have often used this device of self-exploration. The road also lends itself to a great soundtrack. Like Thelma & Louise, characters who were dying a little every day, but who got out and lived,” says Gupta.
Author Sam North wrote: “The irony of the road movie is that the weak leave, but only the strong survive.” Another point of view suggests that while on a journey, characters undergo such a transformation, they never really reach the destination, because along the way they’ve become different people. As Dev Benegal says, “The characters in a road movie are not just on a trip of the mind, but also of the soul."
Road Trips Are Elevating, Enriching: Saeed Mirza
I've always had a wanderlust. I would make up stories of my travels to Tibet, the Sahara, and Machu Picchu. When I was very young my cousins would come to Bombay on their way abroad and I would discreetly put a pencil into their suitcase so that it would travel.
All my work has been about keeping my ear to the ground and being linked to the ordinary citizen, whether it was Arvind Desai Ki Ajeeb Dastaan, Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyoon Aata Hai or Nukkad. But suddenly I had no idea of a nation. That’s when I started to travel, for the sake of travelling, without any other agenda.
From HT Brunch, August 17
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