Of Cinema and Hair Oil

Road, Movie is a celebration of cinema’s unfailing power to bring people together

01 April 2010

IN MOST ROAD MOVIES, stories revolve around aimless journeys of frustrated people not quite sure of what they are seeking. Instead of a tightly constructed plot that arouses anticipation, the road movie gives us the possibility of being witness to unfamiliar experiences, seeing exceptional people in strange circumstances. These movies are usually pessimistic because the protagonists try to escape a given reality—and the escape is difficult. Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider (1969) and Ridley Scott’s Thelma & Louise (1991) are two of the most celebrated road movies of all-time, and it is no coincidence that the lives of the protagonists in these two Hollywood films end tragically.

Dev Benegal’s Road, Movie is about a young man from a business family in Jodhpur who dreads joining his father in the family’s hair oil business and sets out on a journey across a desert.

Benegal first received acclaim with the adaptation of Upamanyu Chatterjee’s novel English, August (1994). That film, about the experiences of a young IAS probationer posted in a small town in Andhra Pradesh, adopted an unpleasant, sneering attitude towards the milieu it was depicting—a sense of urban sophistication lost among the uncultivated. Like Agastya in English, August, Vishnu (Abhay Deol) of Road, Movie is too sensitive for his environment and it is in a peeved state that he embarks on his journey. He volunteers to drive his uncle’s truck, a battered 1942 Chevrolet (which he later finds out is a travelling cinema) that has to be sold to a distant museum in a seaside town across the Kutch desert. The truck carries projection equipment and reels of film, from old kitschy Indian films to silent comedies of Hollywood.

MK Raghavendra is the author of Seduced by the Familiar: Narration and Meaning in Indian Popular Cinema50 Indian Film Classics and, recently, Bipolar Identity: Region, Nation and the Kannada Language Film.

Keywords: Upamanyu CHatterjee M K Raghavendra Abhay Deol Hema Malini Dev Benegal Michel Amathieu Road Movie