Road to Os­cars

A lyri­cal Gu­jarati film up­sets much- touted favourites to be­come In­dia’s en­try at the Os­cars. Can its stark beauty win us an Academy Award?

India Today - - INSIDE - By Suhani Singh

A Gu­jarati film up­sets favourites to be­come In­dia’s Os­car en­try. Can it win us an Academy Award?

Atruck driver agrees to fake his own death to get much- needed money for his fam­ily. A seven- year- old boy is mis­tak­enly left be­hind by his par­ents, who bat­tle ar­du­ous con­di­tions to search for him. nine- year- old girl un­know­ingly seeks refuge in a brothel. Three lives in­ter­sect each other against the bar­ren land­scape of Kutch to form the core of the Gu­jarati film The Good Road, the un­der­dog which beat favourites like The Lunch­box, Ship of Th­e­seus, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and English Vinglish to be­come In­dia’s of­fi­cial en­try in the for­eign lan­guage film cat­e­gory at the Os­cars. Pro­duced by the Na­tional Film De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion ( NFDC), The Good Road, which won the best Gu­jarati film award at the Na­tional Film Awards this year, had lit­tle sup­port from prom­i­nent Bol­ly­wood celebri­ties or the back­ing of a ma­jor dis­trib­u­tor. Now the whole na­tion is pin­ning its hopes on the film to bring home the cov­eted for­eign lan­guage film Os­car.

Writ­ten and di­rected by debu­tant film­maker Gyan Cor­rea on a bud­get of Rs 2.5 crore, the film, set on a high­way in Kutch, has no A- list stars— its most fa­mil­iar faces are ac­tors Son­ali Kulkarni and Ajay Gehi. Its three main leads are from Gu­jarat and they are all mak­ing their de­but. There is Shamji Dhana Kera­sia, who es­says the role of a truck driver, also his real vo­ca­tion. He hadn’t vis­ited a cin­ema hall un­til he at­tended the film’s pre­miere in Ahmed­abad in July. There’s Poonam Singh, who plays the part of the girl who ends up at a brothel, and Ke­val Ka­tra­dia, as the city- bred boy who is sep­a­rated from his par­ents.

Cor­rea was struck by the “the sparse­ness of Kutch’s land­scape” and

si­mul­ta­ne­ously at how “the re­gion is so rich in cul­ture”. The lat­ter is ev­i­dent in Ra­jat Dho­lakia’s spare but ef­fec­tive back­ground score which makes use of folk songs and sounds of the desert. With the aid of cin­e­matog­ra­pher Amitabha Singh ( of Khosla Ka Ghosla fame), Cor­rea show­cases im­pos­ing vi­su­als of the re­gion, which mostly take prece­dence over a well- etched nar­ra­tive. Of the three jour­neys, the one in­volv­ing the truck driver keeps the view­ers en­grossed till the end. It’s largely due to Kera­sia, whose hard­ened ap­pear­ance and ret­i­cent at­ti­tude be­lies what he does best— which is em­bark on long drives through rough ter­rain. To find Kera­sia, Cor­rea hitched rides and hung out at dhabas in Gu­jarat. “It is re­mark­able that a per­son who is paid so lit­tle money— a few thou­sands a month— has such a great sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity of tak­ing some­one’s be­long­ings from one place to another,” says Cor­rea of the truck driv­ers.

The debu­tant di­rec­tor faced hard­ships of his own to make his dream project hap­pen. He con­ceived the story and started writ­ing the script seven years ago. Two- and- a- half- years later, he or­gan­ised the funds to shoot in the largest dis­trict of western Gu­jarat. The crew stayed in Bhi­randiya, a tiny vil­lage in Kutch, for two months. It took another year to edit the film as the team waited for the op­por­tune time to record dif­fer­ent sounds in the desert. The 92- minute film was re­leased in Gu­jarat on July 19 by PVR Di­rec­tor’s Rare, which gives a lim­ited re­lease to small, in­de­pen­dent films.

Born to Goan par­ents in Kolkata, Cor­rea wanted to be true to the story and in­sisted on the char­ac­ters speak­ing in Gu­jarati, a lan­guage he is not fa­mil­iar with. A team of Gu­jarati as­sis­tant di­rec­tors made the process eas­ier. Also help­ing Cor­rea, an es­tab­lished ad- film­maker with over 500 TV com­mer­cials to his name, was an ex­pe­ri­enced team of tech­ni­cians which in­cluded Academy Award- win­ning sound de­signer Re­sul Pookutty.

Cor­rea and the team at NFDC now face an up­hill task to catch the at­ten­tion of the Academy mem­bers, para­mount to en­sure that the movie makes it to the nine- film short­list due in

WHAT IS WORK­ING AGAINST THE GOOD ROAD IS THAT IT DOESN’T HAVE AUS DIS­TRIB­U­TOR, WHICH THE LUNCH­BOX HAD IN SONY PIC­TURES CLAS­SICS.

De­cem­ber. But what is work­ing against The Good Road is that it still doesn’t have a US dis­trib­u­tor, which The Lunch­box had in Sony Pic­tures Clas­sics. Ajay Bi­jli, chair­man and man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of PVR Lim­ited’s sub­sidiary, PVR Pic­tures, says that he plans to seek the help of “friends in the US” to get “a pos­si­ble dis­tri­bu­tion part­ner” for the film. Even though NFDC has al­ready re­leased DVDs of the film un­der the ban­ner of its Cine­mas of In­dia se­ries, PVR doesn’t rule out the pos­si­bil­ity of screen­ing it in a few se­lect met­ros.

While there is a con­tin­gent of movie lovers and even film­mak­ers such as Anurag Kashyap and Karan Jo­har who are not pleased with the Film Fed­er­a­tion of In­dia’s de­ci­sion to se­lect The Good Road over The Lunch­box as In­dia’s en­try at the Os­cars, Nina Lath Gupta, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of NFDC, is hope­ful of get­tingin­dus­try sup­port for the film. “It is not our film any longer. I am sure every­body in the in­dus­try will agree with me on this, this is In­dia’s film,” says Gupta.

For the team be­hind The Good Road, the se­lec­tion is only the be­gin­ning of an ar­dous jour­ney.

Fol­low the writer on Twit­ter@ suhani84

AC­TOR AJAY GEHI ( LEFT) WITH DI­REC­TOR

GYAN COR­REA

ASTILL FROM THE FILM ‘ THE GOOD ROAD’

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