A new film about a road journey across Kutch boosts Gujarat's nascent film industry
A long road in Kutch that leads nowhere—it’s a Kutch insignia. It’s the beautiful setting of The Good Road, a Gujarati film by Gyan Correa which released in Gujarat on Friday.
The film won a National Award this year as Best Feature Film (Gujarati). The last Gujarati film to receive a national award was Upendra Patel’s Manvi ni Bhavai in 1994.
Financed and supported by the National Film Development Corp. (NFDC), this is the feature film debut of 42-year-old Correa. Filmed in a sparse and fluid documentary style without many cuts or transitions, the linear narrative of The Good Road is about three intersecting lives on a journey in the salt deserts of Kutch. Two children are lost in the desert and are looking for a way back home. The Good Road comes after Dev Benegal’s Road, Movie (2009), which was also a journey through the beauty and harshness of Kutch.
For one of the lead characters, a truck driver named Pappu, Correa and his team auditioned more than 200 drivers on the roads of Gujarat before casting Shamji Dhana Kerasia. He was given very few dialogues, allowing his face to do the talking. “Shamji had never seen a movie in his life. In that sense his role is about acting in its purest form," says Correa. “I wake up. I drive. I sleep. I drive. For 20 years I have been living the same life every day," goes one of Pappu’s dialogues in the film.
Pappu transforms when he meets Aditya (Keval Katrodia), the seven-year-old who has lost his way in the desert. Sonali Kulkarni and actor Ajay Gehi play the roles of Aditya’s parents, searching desperately for their son on the Kutch border. Meanwhile, Poonam Kesarsingh Rajput), another seven-year-old, is also lost on her way to a village in Kutch to meet her grandparents. She lands up at a highway brothel where young girls work as sex workers.
Cinematographer Amitabha Singh, who has shot films like Khosla Ka Ghosla! and Chillar Party, has captured some beautiful shots for a montage of this brothel against the expansive white canvas. Before filming began, sound designer Resul Pookutty had set up a temporary studio in the desert to record natural sounds. The music by Rajat Dholakia has local Kutchi folk songs, sung by local artistes using instruments such as the jodiyo pavo and morchang.
In Gujarat, film-making is an impoverished art. The Good Road, made with a budget of ₹ 2.25 crore, is almost a luxury —film budgets hardly exceed ₹ 20-25 lakh.
About three years ago, film-makers from the state had approached the chief minister’s office for increasing the subsidy for Gujarati films (it’s ₹ 5 lakh per film). “The chief minister turned down our request saying that he had not come across good Gujarati cinema in his tenure as head of the state. At a time when cinemas all across the world were transforming, why was a progressive state like Gujarat making substandard movies? he asked us. Nobody had an answer to this," says Sandeep Patel, a film-maker and television serial director who attended the meet.
According to Vijay K. Patel, who has recently finished shooting his Gujarati film, Canvas, the scenario has changed for the better after the success of Kevi Rite Jaish, directed by Abhishek Jain, last year. Kevi Rite Jaish ran to packed audiences in Ahmedabad, the first time a Gujarati film worked at multiplexes. It is about Patel families and their pursuit of the American dream. Followed by its success, ABCL Corp. Ltd produced a Gujarati film, Saptapadi, which got lukewarm box-office results.
Now, some Gujarati farmers have turned producers after selling their land, but big film production houses are scarce.
Amitabha Singh has set up a film production studio in Ahmedabad called Film Gujarat to promote regional films in the state. He is optimistic. “I think the Gujarati film industry is all set to undergo a major change," he says.
The Good Road released in Cinemax and PVR theatres across Gujarat on Friday.