Tag Archives: Road Movie

Peepli Live Fails in Oscar Bid

On January 19, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced its shortlist of nine films vying to be the five nominees in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 83rd Academy Awards. India’s submission, Peepli Live, didn’t make the list and is out of the running for the Oscar.

The recent comedy Tees Maar Khan jokingly referenced the perception that movies about poor Indians are guaranteed Oscar winners. Considering the subject matter of awards show success Slumdog Millionaire and India’s most recent Best Foreign Language Film nominee, 2001’s Lagaan, there’s a degree of truth to that belief. Unfortunately, that belief seemed to guide the decision to submit Peepli Live, even though it’s nowhere near Lagaan in terms of quality.

Peepli Live suffers from the same structural flaw as Taare Zameen Par, the Film Federation of India‘s unsuccessful submission to the 81st Academy Awards. Both movies — creations of Aamir Khan Productions — feature a main character in the first half of the movie who’s pushed out of the spotlight in the second half of the film.

The lead character in both films is an underdog: a poor farmer in Peepli Live and a dyslexic child in Taare Zameen Par. The first half of each movie establishes the dire circumstances that surround the very likable hero.

In the second half of each movie, both heroes largely disappear. The farmer wanders around in the background while TV news outlets fight over a story and an aspiring journalist tries to get a break. The dyslexic child cries in his room while his art teacher fights on his student’s behalf.

In both cases, the hero’s story arc is not resolved through his own actions, but through the actions of others. The hero only retakes an active role in his destiny at the very end of the film.

What’s disappointing about the Film Federation of India’s selection of an “issue” picture like Peepli Live is that it prioritizes subject matter over craft. There were a number of other Hindi movies more worthy of submission. The pool widens considerably when Indian movies of all languages are considered.

Movies eligible for selection needed to be released between October 1, 2009 and September 30, 2010 and complete a seven-day run in theaters. The primary language spoken in the film must not be English. The language rule likely eliminated The Japanese Wife from consideration. The same rule may doom Dhobi Ghat‘s chance for submission to the 84th Academy Awards.

Better candidates for nomination would’ve been Raavan, Ishqiya or the 2011 Star Screen Best Film award winner: Udaan. My personal choice would’ve been Road, Movie, which was the best movie I saw last year — Indian or American.

Best Bollywood Movies of 2010

After reviewing my lists of the best Hindi movies for 2008 and 2009, I’m convinced that 2010 was Bollywood’s best year among the three. Of the approximately fifty Hindi movies I reviewed this year, here are my picks for the top films of the year. (Click on the title of each movie to read my original review.)

Some movies are worth seeing just for the stunning visuals, like the updated epic Raavan — which takes place primarily outdoors amid stunning natural beauty — and Guzaarish, which paints a personal struggle in super-saturated blues.

Politics set the stage for many of the strongest dramas, including the action-packed Aakrosh, the historical epic Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey and dynastic thriller Raajneeti.

Other, grittier dramas like Udaan and Striker featured smaller stories personal growth under the direst of circumstances.

2010’s best romantic comedies also had an earnest tone, featuring complex, realistic female leads in Anjaana Anjaani and Break Ke Baad.

Another romance, The Japanese Wife, deserves an honorable mention. It tells the story of two pen pals — one a Japanese woman and the other a man from Bengal — who fall in love through letters written in beginner’s English. Because it’s not in Hindi, it’s not in the running for best Bollywood movie, but I heartily recommend it.

The two best Hindi movies of 2010 defy easy classification. Part drama, part comedy, part romance and part adventure, they represent cinematic storytelling at its most complete. Both movies are less than two-hours long, emphasizing that it’s the quality of the story, not the length of its runtime, that makes a fulfilling cinematic experience.

Ishqiya features memorable performances by Vidya Balan, Arshad Warsi and Naseeruddin Shah as a widow and a pair of petty thieves trying to pull off a heist. The story is simple but compelling, and the performances make it shine. It’s a remarkable effort from debutant director Abhishek Chaubey.

The movie that has stuck with me more than any other is Road, Movie. After playing at international festivals in 2009, it opened in limited release in the U.S. in May of 2010. I caught it during its short run on On Demand. It tells the story of a city guy who drives a dilapidated truck across the desert, meeting strange companions along the way and learning the secret history of the truck: it was once a mobile movie theater.

Road, Movie is so charming and engaging that it briefly made me believe that I could make a career of driving a truck though rural India, projecting old movies onto the sides of buildings for grateful villagers (never mind that there are few things in the world I’m less qualified to do, and the need for the service is shrinking). The film embodies the escapism that cinema provides and inspires us to dream improbable dreams.

Road, Movie isn’t the easiest film to find in the U.S. — it’s not yet available on Netflix or Amazon (though my local public library has three copies) — so seize the chance to watch it when you can. It’s one of the best movies I’ve ever seen.

Previous Best Movies Lists

Movie Review: Road, Movie (2010)

4 Stars (out of 4)

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Road, Movie is like a happy dream. You wake up, momentarily unsure if what you experienced was real, but left with a feeling of contentedness.

Vishnu (Abhay Deol) is desperate to avoid following his father into the hair tonic sales business (“A drop of Atma Hair Potion, your hair springs into motion. Everything else is an illusion.”). He convinces a family friend to let him drive a 1942 Chevy truck cross-country, where the truck will be sold for scrap.

Vishnu is scarcely more qualified to drive an ancient truck across an Indian desert than I am. He doesn’t know how to operate the truck and expects to be able to phone for help when it inevitably breaks down. But in the desert, there’s no cell phone reception and no one to ask for help.

His savior is a kid of about ten, known only as The Boy (Mohammed Faisal), whom he liberates from a job at a roadside tea stand. The kid is a smartass; when Vishnu frowns at the quality of the tea he’s served, The Boy asks if he’d mistaken the stall for a Starbucks.

But The Boy is also hard-working and resourceful. After the truck breaks, he leaves, returning the next morning with Om (Satish Kaushik), a hobo who fixes the truck. In exchange, Om asks for a ride to the fair, though he only has a vague idea of where the fair is.

Om is as enigmatic as his namesake. He’s got a knack for solving problems, both mechanical and interpersonal. His bizarre directions must be followed on faith.

This rankles Vishnu, who has no respect for Om. In fact, Vishnu doesn’t respect anyone he meets on the road. He disdains the lifestyle of the desert dwellers, as though they choose to live in poverty and constant thirst.

Vishnu’s opinion begins to change after a cop pulls him over for having an improper license. The tiny police station is the only building for miles, and the cop is clearly starved for entertainment. Om, noticing that the truck once doubled as a mobile movie theater, suggests that they show a movie that night in exchange for their freedom.

They position the truck to project an image onto a wall of the police station. No one bothers to move the bicycle propped against the wall. Word spreads, and soon there are dozens of people watching a grainy film from the ’70s with rapt attention. Om explains to Vishnu that this is often the only form of entertainment in this rural area, and a rare one at that.

Vishnu opens up even more when the group happens upon The Woman (Tannishtha Chatterjee), a young widow wandering the wasteland. He offers her a ride, though it’s hard to believe his motives are purely altruistic, given how pretty she is. The growing group continues on in search of Om’s fair.

The rest of the movie is equal parts fantasy and road trip. The characters acknowledge that some of the events seem magical to the point of impossibility. But everything serves to open Vishnu’s eyes to life outside of the city: harsh but not without its charms. It gives him plenty to think about, as a young man trying to find his place in the world.

The fantastical elements of the movie aren’t limited to plot points. The scenes of the nomads watching the old movies projected from the truck are enchanting. The nomads’ sense of wonder and joy is infectious, reminding the audience how great the escapism that films provide can really feel.

As unpleasant as Vishnu’s adventure is at times, Road, Movie inspires that same sense of wanderlust that all great road movies do. As the truck rolled across the Indian desert, I started thinking about the trip to the American Southwest I’ve been meaning to take for years. Eventually, I began to wonder if, perhaps, Mobile-Movie Theater Operator in Rural India was a job I should consider. Impractical, yes, but a happy dream nonetheless.

Runtime: 1 hour 35 minutes.