The Good Road: Moral Choices

By Wun Kuen Ng

The 10th Anniversary of the South Asian Film Festival (SAIFF) 2013 took place from December 3-8. This year the first feature film in Gujarati, The Good Road closed out the festival. It also won the award for Best Gujarati film at the 60th National Film Awards. It is selected by India to enter as Best Foreign Language Film in the 86th Academy Awards.

The film takes place mostly on State Highway 378, which borders the Rann desert. There are three storylines that intersect on the highway. Pappu, the truck driver has to support his parents and extended family. He is offered to smuggle goods to make ends meet. David and Karin, a middle class urban couple on a holiday trip to Athangansa loses their seven-year-old son, Aditya, during a short stop at Dhaba. He ends up placed in Pappu’s truck by the Dhaba owner to be dropped off at the Virdi Café. Pappu and his sidekick, Shaukat act as Adi’s temporary guardians. Despite Shaukat’s many pleas to leave Adi behind, Pappu drives on. Poonam, a 9-year-old girl, is determined to find her grandma by hitchhiking to Athangansa. But first she stops at Topaz, which seems like a fabric dying unit, and is befriended by Rinkle, one of the many girls living there. Feeling out of place in what turns out to be a brothel, Poonam has to make a choice is she wants to stay with the girls or continue to find her grandma.

There is a raw authenticity to place in the film. From the highway to the salt dessert, one gets a flavor of the regional culture. From the Dhaba on the road to Topaz, there is a strong sense of place.

The pacing of the film is slow. Like being on the road, people just popped up out of nowhere, stay for a brief period and then disappear with no continuing narrative. There are gaps and silences. For some moviegoers, it might not have been their kind of trip, but if one surrenders to the process, the journey unfolds with surprising characters.

During the Q&A, Director Gyan Correa mentioned that it took him seven years to write the script. Originally, he was not looking to make a film but eventually made the film because that is what he does. The film is based on his travels on the highway. He encountered prostitution in central India. The non-actors he chooses were prepped into the “acting” zone through hours of talking with them. The actor chosen to be the truck driver in the film was chosen from 250 truck drivers. Four were narrowed down. After spending three months with them, Shamji Dhana Kerasia was chosen and he had never seen a film. Kerasia was skeptical of the whole process. But his screen presence and emotional intelligence won him over to the director.

A member of the audience wondered why the urban middle class couple with the Christian husband gets a free pass in the film. Nothing bad happened to them in the end, they found their son. Correa mentions that it how life is sometimes, unfair, the rich gets richer, the poor gets poorer. Life on the highway is hard. There is tough love. The truck driver gets up to drive another truck. Correa had to end the film where the children are safe to give it hope. Children are resilient; they find their own home; sometimes not the ones parents place them in.

There were about 1,000 entries and only 15 were selected for the festival. Many were not seen and even those selected are still looking for distribution into the theaters. This year the SAIFF had to squeeze all the viewing time in 6 days instead of the usual 8 days. Logistically, SAIFF just had to make sure there was enough time in each of the venues to show the films. The SAIFF creates a community with people from Pakistan, India, North and South India, Sri Lank, and Bengal. Many volunteers come back every year to help out and be part of the community.

Director: Gyan Correa
Screenwriter: Gyan Arora
Cinematographer: Amitabha Singh
Editor: Paresh Kamdar
Music: Rajat Dholakia
In Gujarati (with English subtitles). 92 min.

Shamji Dhana Kerasia as Pappu
Sonali Kularni as Kiran
Ajay Gehi as David
Keval Katrodia as Aditya
Poonam Kesar Singh as Poonam
Priyank Upadhyay as Shaukat

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