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?
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.
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ACTOR AJAY GEHI ( LEFT) WITH DIRECTOR
ASTILL FROM THE FILM ‘ THE GOOD ROAD’