The road movie isn’t an established film genre in India. But then New Delhi-born, Mumbai-based, forty-something filmmaker Dev Benegal has never felt the need to travel down the familiar Mumbai showbiz path.
His third feature film, Road, Movie, based on a screenplay that made it to L’Atelier du Festival in Cannes this year, promises to mark yet another exciting detour in Benegal’s career.
Road, Movie will be shot on locations in Gujarat and Rajasthan later this year and is likely to be wrapped up in six weeks. The film will be Benegal’s first in the Hindi language.
Benegal’s previous two features, the critically acclaimed English, August and Split Wide Open, were as far apart in tone and texture from each other as two films can ever be. While the first was an adaptation of Upamanyu Chatterjee’s humour-laced novel about a young IAS officer’s brush with small-town India, the latter homed in on the water mafia in Mumbai.
His new film will see him veering off in a new direction – it journeys into the little known world of touring cinemas.
Road, Movie follows the road trip of a restless young man, Vishnu, whose father’s hair oil business has hit the skids. The son rustles up a revival plan and undertakes a journey on a battered, old lorry across a harsh landscape.
But it is not just a rundown vehicle that he has at his disposal: it carries a touring cinema. On this remarkable voyage of discovery, Vishnu encounters an array of characters who teach him a thing or two about life and love – a young runaway, a wandering entertaining with a bear, a beautiful gypsy woman, corrupt cops and a notorious water lord.
Benegal wrote the screenplay of Road, Movie as a bit of a personal creative adventure between projects and dashed it off to Cannes. It hit home and made the Atelier cut along with 17 other projects. It is now close to fruition.
In a note published in the Atelier 2006 catalogue, Benegal elucidates exactly why he is fascinating by the touring cinema. “I stood before a sea of 400,000 people, all thronging to watch movies, to sit on the hard but smooth stones of the riverbed for three hours as an epic unfolded up on the gigantic screen…
“In the morning, the riverbed had an eerie calm. It was bare, with no sign of people. And then they started coming, almost magically out of nowhere… At dawn it would be all over.”
Benegal further writes: “For me it has been a personal journey. Travelling with a touring cinema has taken me to a world where past, present and future freely coexist. A carnivalesque journey where man, nature, animals and film all came together for one fleeting moment underneath the starlit sky… Road, Movie grew from this journey.”
It clearly has the makings of one hell of a ride no matter which end of the Bollywood spectrum is your kind of filmed entertainment.