Watre is central to this director’s understanding of the country he lives in. Split Wide Open was largely about how the management, packaging and distribution of water is political. Earlier, in English August, Dev Benegal set the last scenes of his adaptation in a village with no drinking water and poignantly described how the protagonist, an IAS officer called Agastya Sen, found singular purpose in the digging of a well.
In an unusual scene in Road, Movie, Vishnu (Abhay Deol) is in a desert and has to crap. There is no water, so he uses desert shrubs to clean himself afterwards. You follow him in the frame mesmerised, waiting to see whose hand he is going to shake next. Like in Slumdog Millionaire, ‘shit’ and the absence of running water and commodes to dispose of the same become metaphors for the other India, an India the filmmaker feels we pretend doesn’t exist.
It is a valid point, but when Benegal makes a Hindi movie, he is after all interacting on some level with popular culture. He seems completely oblivious to this, and you have, in Road, Movie, an art house film about a state of mind that the Europeans vaguely call ‘alienation’.
For 90 minutes we travel with Vishnu in his movie-projector van across a parched countryside, while he picks up a mechanic, a little boy and a simple local girl looking for water. Though we know he is connected to the hair oil business, we cannot fathom him. One moment he is screening movies to villagers, the next dying of thirst, and the third he’s in a passionate lip lock with the girl who, apparently, is no longer simple. The real and the imaginary are blurred, the journey has no purpose and the story is a parable on the road, the magic of the movies and the problems of the ‘other’ India. Though the landscape and people are beautifully shot, the emotional connection with characters and situations is missing. The maker of this weird movie actually seems ill at ease in his chosen subject and location.