Tag Archives: Tannishtha Chatterjee

Movie Review: Beyond the Clouds (2017)

3 Stars (out of 4)

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A complex blend of heartbreak and hope, Beyond the Clouds examines the role family bonds play in making poverty survivable, while showing us that the concept of family needn’t be limited to blood relations.

Iranian filmmaker Majid Majidi’s first Hindi picture takes place in Mumbai. An arresting opening sequence filmed by cinematographer Anil Mehta follows Amir (Ishaan Khattar) as he receives a bag of drugs from a car on a highway overpass. The camera sweeps down as he crosses under the roadway, and then it turns to watch Amir and his friend Anil (Aakash Gopal) speed away on a motorbike.

Amir and Anil are small-time drug runners, young and brash enough to overestimate the amount of power they really have. The don they work for, Rahoul (Shashank Shende), decides to put them in their place after Amir shows up at Rahoul’s brothel unannounced. He sets them up to be nabbed in a police raid.

During the course of a thrilling police chase, Amir happens upon his estranged older sister, Tara (Malavika Mohanan), and then hides out at her house. The encounter gives them a chance to hash out the reasons for their estrangement, perhaps setting the stage for a healthier relationship going forward.

Their reunion is short-lived. Tara is arrested the next day for seriously injuring her employer Akshi (Goutam Ghose) during an attempted rape. It falls on Amir to nurse his sister’s assailant back to health so that Akshi can testify to his part in the assault, the only way to free Tara.

Perhaps the saddest aspect of Beyond the Clouds is its depiction of how tenuous even modest notions of comfort and security can be on the bottom rungs of society’s ladder, especially for women. Amir’s association with illegal drugs can bring his wild lifestyle to a halt at a moment’s notice. And his rising of the ranks of Rahoul’s organization comes at the expense of drug addicts and women forced into prostitution.

Then again, Amir is more morally flexible than the average Hindi-film hero, able to pivot from making silly faces at a child to threatening a paralyzed Akshi with a knife without blinking an eye. It’s less a factor of his youth than his having grown up reliant upon such flexibility to survive. Khattar does a creditable job in his debut film.

Mohanan is less successful in her depiction of Tara, who acts zombified in her conversations with Amir after she’s imprisoned. Yet, when Amir isn’t around, Tara seems well-adjusted to prison life, looking after Chotu (Shivan Pujan), the young son of an ill fellow inmate (played by Tannishtha Chatterjee). Tara’s relationship with Chotu embodies the movie’s theme that our “family” is made up not just of blood relatives, but also those we choose to care for.

Chotu is one of many examples in Beyond the Clouds of kids living in places distinctly not child-friendly because their mothers are poor and have no one who can help them. Dozens of little ones run underfoot in jail, an arrangement permitted in some Indian prisons for children under six years old. One worker at Rahoul’s brothel shoos her daughter out of their room when a client arrives. Amir himself becomes a reluctant babysitter when Akshi’s impoverished elderly mother and two daughters arrive from South India and mistake him for one of Akshi’s friends.

The surprising weak point in Beyond the Clouds is A.R. Rahman’s soundtrack. Though the tone of the film isn’t dour, Rahman’s score is still too upbeat for the circumstances. Nevertheless, Beyond the Clouds is a thought-provoking, heartfelt exploration of our shared humanity.

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Movie Review: Lion (2016)

lion3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Lion releases in theaters across North America on Christmas Day.

Lion‘s heart-wrenching international odyssey is carried on the tiny shoulders Sunny Pawar, the adorable star of this true story of a lost Indian boy’s attempt to find home.

5-year-old Saroo (Pawar) lives in a village in Madhya Pradesh with his preteen brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate), baby sister Shekila (Khushi Solanki), and their mother (played by Priyanka Bose). Guddu and tiny Saroo do a variety of odd jobs — legal and otherwise — to supplement their mom’s wages as a laborer.

One night, Guddu takes Saroo with him on the train to look for work in a neighboring town, leaving Saroo asleep on a bench on the train platform. After Saroo wakes up alone, he searches for Guddu on an empty passenger train before dozing off in one of the seats. When Saroo wakes again, the train is moving, and it doesn’t stop for two days.

Saroo ultimately winds up in Calcutta, more than 1,000 kilometers from home. He doesn’t speak the local language, and he couldn’t explain where he was from even if he did because he’s just a little kid. As far as he knows, his mother’s full name is “Mom.”

His cleverness and adaptability help him survive on the street for months, staying fed and avoiding child traffickers. He’s so competent that it’s easy to forget that homelessness is just as new to him as the city and the language.

What makes this sequence so effective is that little Sunny Pawar is the picture of childhood vulnerability, with skinny limbs, chubby cheeks, and giant, brown eyes. His very being calls out to evolutionary parental instincts: “Protect me!” Yet, as Saroo, he’s overlooked by most adults as just another street kid. (A note at the film’s end states that 80,000 children go missing in India every year.)

Eventually, Saroo winds up in an orphanage that looks more like a prison. The staff do what they can to find the boy’s mom under the limitations of Saroo’s knowledge and communication technology circa 1986 (i.e. an ad in the local newspaper). When their efforts fail, kindly Mrs. Sood (Deepti Naval) shows Saroo a photo of John (David Wenham) and Sue (Nicole Kidman) Brierley: his new adoptive parents from Australia.

After a typical Tasmanian childhood, Saroo (played as adult by Dev Patel) moves to Melbourne for a course in hotel management, falling in with a group of international students that includes some Indians. Meeting them awakens buried memories of his birth family, inspiring a years-long quest to determine exactly where he’s from.

When Saroo starts his search in 2008, he has at his disposal the satellite images of Google Earth and tables of historic data on train speeds. Even if he’d wanted to look for his birth family at a younger age, the technology to do so wasn’t widely accessible.

Despite the cast’s star-power, most of the supporting roles feel peripheral to the story. That applies especially to Rooney Mara as Saroo’s American girlfriend, Lucy, who exists just to be pushed away by Saroo as he becomes obsessed with his research. Wenham is solid in his few scenes, and Kidman shines in a monologue about why she adopted Saroo.

An important character who could have used more screentime is Mantosh (Divian Ladwa), another orphan from India the Brierley’s adopted after Saroo. Young Mantosh (played by Keshav Jadhav) arrives in Australia with a load of emotional and behavioral problems, probably as a result of whatever accident left all the scars on his head. The boys share a fraught relationship that boils over when Saroo’s search reminds him of the kind older brother he had before Mantosh.

Bollywood fans will recognize a number of actors like Bose, Naval, and Pallavi Sharda. Stars Tannishtha Chatterjee and Nawazuddin Siddiqui have small but memorable parts as well.

Patel’s performance is compelling, as Saroo’s life crumbles under the weight of trying to appease two mothers: one who’s still searching for him and another who’s afraid of losing him herself. The cocky young man who starts the program in Melbourne is gradually replaced by a shaggy haired, wild-eyed loner who hallucinates his long-lost family.

But Lion ultimately belongs to Sunny Pawar, who is quite skilled for such a young actor. It’s impossible not to fall in love with him.

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Movie Review: Parched (2015)

parched4 Stars (out of 4)

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Parched is also available for streaming on Netflix in the US.

Writer-director Leena Yadav’s Parched thoughtfully examines the sorry state of gender equality in rural India. Brave performances by a talented cast give context to a complex, entrenched culture that dehumanizes women.

The culture is explored through the experiences of four very different women: an infertile wife named Lajjo (Radhika Apte), a 15-year-old newlywed named Janaki (Lehar Khan), a dancer and prostitute named Bijli (Surveen Chawla), and a 32-year-old widow named Rani (Tannishtha Chatterjee). Rani is the link between the other women: a longtime friend to Bijli, a neighbor and buddy to Lajjo, and Janaki’s mother-in-law.

Rani is a difficult and unconventional lead, for sure. One is conditioned to expect a pivotal character like Rani to be an agent for change, especially when she’s being played by an immense talent like Chatterjee, but that’s not who she is. Rani is surprisingly ordinary.

Take her first scenes in the film. On a visit to a neighboring town to arrange a bride for her drunken waste of a son, Gulab (Riddhi Sen), Rani coos over young Janaki’s beauty, deliberately ignoring the terrified expression on the girl’s face and offering her no comfort.

When Rani returns from her trip, she and Lajjo sit passively through a disheartening town meeting. Another young bride, Champa (Sayani Gupta), fled to her parents’ home after enduring repeated rapes by her brother- and father-in-law, but the male heads of the village insist on sending her back to her husband, even if it means her death. The leader of the village women offers to pool the money they earn selling handicrafts to buy a communal TV, giving the women something to do while their husbands are away, working as long-haul truckers. The men laugh, jokingly wondering if the women will start wanting to wear jeans next. Rani and Lajjo laugh, too.

With each successive horrible thing that happens to a woman in Parched because of her gender, one wonders what will be the final straw. When will Rani and her friends finally make a stand? This isn’t that kind of movie.

Millions of women live in these kind of conditions, and Parched explores how they do that when there’s no one to appeal to, where there’s literally nowhere to run. Even Kishan (Sumeet Vyas) — the man who brokers sales of the women’s handicrafts — can only do so much when the rest of the men resent him. Among the women, Lajjo personifies resilience, her bright eyes shining at the prospect of a day of hooky, regardless of the hell it will cost her at the hands of her abusive husband, Manoj (Mahesh Balraj).

Yadav emphasizes that there is more to lives of her characters than just suffering. There is room for joy and friendship, along with unmet sexual desires. All four female leads have suffered sexual abuse, yet the desire for sexual gratification remains, even if hope for an attentive, caring partner is dim. When Bijli vividly describes an encounter with a man exclusively concerned with satisfying her needs, Rani and Lajjo dismiss her story as fantasy.

One of the courageous choices Yadav and Chatterjee make with Rani is using her to show how women in an oppressive patriarchy can help perpetuate it. Janaki’s marriage to Gulab awakens a cruel side of Rani, the role of mother-in-law giving her license to haze her new daughter-in-law in the same way she once was. The morning after Gulab violently consummates his marriage with Janaki, Rani shows no sympathy toward the girl, who shuffles about in obvious pain. Rani scolds her for sleeping late: “Get to work! This isn’t your mother’s house.”

Yet Rani struggles with the fact that she raised an awful misogynist for a son. With time, her acceptance of culpability in creating a monster softens her stance toward Janaki. As grim as their lives are, the film ends on a hopeful note for all four of the women. Great writing and mesmerizing performances make Parched extraordinary.

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Movie Review: Angry Indian Goddesses (2015)

AngryIndianGoddesses3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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A great opening sequence, compelling characters, and an unexpected climax make Angry Indian Goddesses a treat from start to finish.

Director Pan Nalin finds an inventive way to introduce the film’s six main characters, showing each woman encountering some form of sexism. Lakshmi (Rajshri Deshpande), a maid, is catcalled on her way to work. Housewife Pammy (Pavleen Gujral) overhears men commenting about her physique at the gym. Singer Mad (Anushka Manchanda) gets heckled during a performance. Jo (Amrit Maghera), an actress, is chided by her male director for not acting sexy enough as a damsel in distress.

Some of the sexism the characters experience has to do with traditional concepts of femininity rather than sexual harassment. A client mansplains how to shoot an ad for fairness cream to experienced photographer Frieda (Sarah-Jane Dias). CEO Su’s (Sandhya Mridul) employees expect her to show more compassion to her opponents in a land dispute.

As the background music builds to a crescendo, the women reach their boiling points, the camera cutting from woman to woman as each explodes in rage. It’s fun and satisfying, calling out to the desires of women to get really angry in a society that often demands that we repress those urges, lest we be viewed as unladylike.

Particularly satisfying are the responses of the women who are sexually harassed. Pammy tells off the muscly bro ogling her and drops a weight on his foot. Mad leaps off the stage to attack her heckler. Lakshmi grabs her harasser’s testicles and squeezes. The catharsis of the opening sequence alone makes Angry Indian Goddesses a worthwhile watch.

The characters are a group of old friends who gather at Frieda’s house in Goa, where Lakshmi works as a maid. Frieda is getting married, though she won’t say to whom. Her refusal to disclose the identity of her betrothed and the group’s patience with her deflections are the only unbelievable parts of the film.

As the pals reconnect, it becomes clear that their friendships aren’t as close as they once were. Frieda’s relocation to Goa is itself a surprise, as is Mad’s depression over her stagnant music career. Lakshmi’s legal troubles also affect the dynamic in the house.

After several days, the group is joined by Nargis (Tannishtha Chatterjee), a friend of Frieda’s who also happens to be the source of the land dispute troubling Su. Nargis’ integration into the group is awkward, though perhaps that’s to be expected given her enmity with Su and lack of connection to the other women.

If Angry Indian Goddesses were to just be a movie about a group of women reevaluating their lives and relationships while on vacation, that would be enough. The performances are that good. But that’s not where the story goes. Nalin steers the narrative toward a thrilling climax, providing a novel payoff that enables the characters to fulfill a wish expressed by Nargis: that women be allowed to author their own stories.

Narrative focus is nicely balanced between the characters, giving opportunities for all of the performers to shine. There are no duds in the bunch, and it’s nice to discover actresses who — unlike Chatterjee — don’t have many lead roles to their credit.

The one who steals the show is Pavleen Gujral as Pammy. Pammy is the most traditional of the friends, wearing a sari to a beach vacation, and Gujral portrays her as funny, challenging, and relatable. Gujral doesn’t even have her own Wikipedia page yet, but I’m hoping that changes as offers flow her way following her winsome performance in Angry Indian Goddesses.

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Movie Review: Island City (2015)

IslandCity2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Island City was a part of the 2016 Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles.

Writer-director Ruchika Oberoi’s debut film Island City explores the pressures of life in modern Mumbai through three connected narratives, with varying degrees of success.

The movie opens with “Fun Committee,” a story about a middle-aged salaryman, Mr. Chaturvedi (Vinay Pathak). He files into his cubicle at Systematic Statistics along with the other drones, an interchangeable cog in a giant machine.

To remedy persistent employee dissatisfaction, the company installs a “Fun Committee” to randomly award workers with a day away from the office. For a guy like Chaturvedi, whose job is his life, such a reward feels like a punishment.

According to an anonymous committee member heard only over the phone (voiced by Rajat Kapoor), the day away is scientifically planned to maximize “mandatory” fun. Chaturvedi is dropped off at a shopping mall, under orders to utilize a stack of coupons for free stuff like balloons and lollipops.

The film’s limited budget becomes a problem as the narrative shifts into a surreal examination of consumer culture. Retail employees sing when Chaturvedi redeems his coupons as shoppers mill about nearby. Are the shoppers also a part of the alternative universe inhabited by Chaturvedi and the store workers? Are they even aware of it? A bigger budget would’ve allowed Oberoi to build a more immersive world, avoiding the questions of who’s involved and who’s just a regular person who happened to be shopping on the day of a movie shoot.

Sympathy for Chaturvedi’s plight is undermined when he extends his frustration with his soul-sucking job beyond the callous management to his fellow employees. They’re just as much victims of the system as he is. “Fun Committee” ends on a grim note.

The second story — “The Ghost in the Machine” — is the best of the three. Housewife Sarita (Amruta Subhash) learns that her husband, Mr. Joshi, is in a coma. Sarita, her two young sons, and her mother endure neighbors dropping by to offer condolences in exchange for tea and cookies, but the family knows the truth: Joshi was an overbearing jerk, and their life is more enjoyable without him.

All four family members get hooked on a TV serial about an ideal man. The TV hero (Samir Kochhar) is handsome, affectionate, kind, generous, and polite: all the things Joshi is not. The serial allows the family to envision a better life, while comatose Joshi hovers over their dreams like a not-quite-dead ghost. The story is delightfully clever, especially in the way the TV serial’s narrative evolves to depict the family’s desires.

“Contact” is the last of Island City‘s short stories. Unlike the middle-class protagonists of the other narratives, “Contact” features a poor heroine. Aarti (Tannishtha Chatterjee) endures a hopeless existence, commuting for hours to a manual labor job at a newspaper print shop. Her father has arranged her marriage to a foul-mouthed boor, Jignesh (Chandan Roy Sanyal), who insists that dour Aarti smile without giving her a reason to.

An anonymous love letter professes to see the passionate fire hidden within Aarti’s sad eyes. The mystery awakens not just Aarti’s sense of curiosity but a belief that perhaps she deserves a more fulfilling life than the one she has. Chatterjee’s touching performance lives up her consistently high standards.

Island City is pessimistic about life for the average Mumbaikar. Hope is either a lie, or it comes at an astronomical cost. “The Ghost in the Machine” is the only one of the three tales that is fun to watch.

It’s hard to reconcile how the salaryman’s story fits with the other two. The image of the zombie-like office worker is well established, but Chaturvedi is there by choice. There’s no sense that he quashed some vibrant part of himself to take this job. He has no family to support. He’s there because there’s nothing more to him.

Contrast that with both Sarita and Aarti, whose opportunities are dictated by the men in their lives. Joshi forced Sarita to stop working in a career she loved. Aarti works in a dead-end job, and she’s forced to marry someone she finds repulsive. Not only are Chaturvedi’s self-imposed troubles deemed equivalent with those of the two women, they’re given prominence by being placed first in the story order.

It feels like there’s a piece missing from Island City that might have better connected the three stories. Maybe it was just a matter of weaving the narratives together rather than presenting them separately. As constructed, Island City only hits its stride after a third of the movie is already over.

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Movie Review: Meena (2012)

Meena2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Meena is available to watch for free at the film’s website.

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Actress Lucy Liu chose an important subject for her directorial debut, a short film about sex slavery called Meena. However, the film’s abbreviated length forces the omission of critical contextual information.

For starters, the title is misleading. Meena (Tannishtha Chatterjee) isn’t really the main character; her daughter, Naina (Sparsh Khanchandani), is.

Meena Haseena is a real person whose story features in the wonderful book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Sold into prostitution at age eight, Meena eventually escaped, leaving behind a daughter who also grew up in a life of sex slavery. After more than a decade, Meena rescued her daughter with the help of a non-governmental organization (NGO) working to liberate victims of human trafficking.

Elements of Meena’s tortured childhood are shown in flashbacks, but much of the action in the twenty-minute-long movie focuses on Naina’s present circumstances. Not yet a teenager, Naina has already developed the survival skills necessary to endure a life of brutalization. She counsels another young prostitute to accept that this is their reality.

Naina’s only clue that someone on the outside is plotting her rescue is a strange woman — whom she doesn’t know is Meena, her mother — who twice storms into the brothel, shouting Naina’s name. On both occasions, Meena leaves after being beaten by the madam’s strongman, Manooj (Vikas Shrivastav).

It’s disappointing to see Chatterjee’s immense talent wasted in such a small role. All she does is scream and get beaten up. When Meena finally succeeds in liberating Naina, we are given no context for how she accomplished the feat. How did she contact the NGO? What planning went into the rescue? Is her life in danger?

As frustrating as the lack of context is, the rescue’s suddenness forces the audience to empathize with Naina. Every adult she’s ever known has abused her. Manooj follows his mock-sympathetic encouragement with a slap. So when a stranger arrives to take her from the only home she’s ever known — as awful as it is — Naina is confused at best, terrified at worst.

Liu spends a lot of time visually emphasizing the horrors of sexual slavery. However, it’s fair to assume that most of the audience already believes it to be horrible. We don’t need to see a flashback of Manooj zipping his fly as gets out of bed after raping eight-year-old Meena.

The scene that most effectively illustrates the gulf between regular folks and the aberrant sexuality of a pedophile is a scene in which Naina and some other girls are trotted out to dance for the customers. The girls wear midriff-baring tops and such garish make-up that they look ridiculous, but the urge to laugh quickly disappears when one realizes that there are real-life perverts who find a child in such attire arousing. The scene hits home without being in any way salacious.

Meena is at its best when it explores the psychology of the women forced into slavery and the conditions that make it hard for them to escape, but the movie simply isn’t long enough to look deeply into such matters. If only Liu had been able to make a feature-length film about the same subject.

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Movie Review: Siddharth (2013)

Siddharth4 Stars (out of 4)

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Practicalities are often omitted from movies in order to save time. Characters never end a phone call with, “Good-bye.” A character jumps in a car and says, “Just drive,” and the driver does it without demanding to know where they are going.

Siddharth isn’t like that. It takes a familiar setup — a child goes missing, and the parents have to find him — and delves into how it would really play out for a family of limited means. Writer-director Richie Mehta paints a gripping and emotional picture by avoiding movie conveniences and emphasizing the details.

The title’s Siddharth (Irfan Khan) is a 12-year-old boy, son of Suman (Tannishtha Chatterjee) and Mahendra (Rajesh Tailang), a Delhi zipper repairman. The family is so desperate for money that Siddharth leaves school to work in a factory for a month, hopeful that his earnings will start a dowry fund for his little sister, Pinky (Khushi Mathur).

When Siddharth doesn’t return for Diwali as planned, Mahendra and Suman struggle to discover what happened to their son.

Wealthy movie dads like Mel Gibson’s character in Ransom or Liam Neeson’s in Taken can stop everything in order to search for their kids, but Mahendra doesn’t have that luxury. Bus tickets cost money that he doesn’t have, and that his friends and neighbors don’t have. While he’s searching for his son, who’s earning money to feed his wife and daughter?

That’s the difference between Siddharth and other missing child movies: the villain isn’t a person. The villain is poverty. If Mahendra had money, he could hire investigators and bribe informants and flit from place to place on a moment’s notice to look for Siddharth. If Mahendra had money, Siddharth wouldn’t have had to go to work in the first place.

Without a villain, the tension in Siddharth doesn’t feel acute. There’s no ticking clock. Yet there’s a growing sense of frustration that builds as the movie progresses. Mahendra and Suman calculate how many weeks it will take them to save the money for bus fare. The policewoman explains how hard it is to find a missing kid in a nation of a billion people without so much as a photograph of the boy. Mahendra asks every client if they’ve heard of a place call Dongri, his only lead to Siddharth’s whereabouts.

It’s a powerful illustration of how hard it is to live in poverty, particularly in a time of crisis. There’s no margin for error. Siddharth leaves because his family is broke, and it ends up costing them more than he would have made.

Mehta makes the audience’s frustration personal by introducing Siddharth with only a couple of seconds of screentime at the very start of the film. We don’t get a good enough look at him to join Mahendra in his search. Scanning crowd scenes is worthless, because every boy could be Siddharth.

Another fascinating thread within Siddharth is the impact education has on whole families. Pinky is more educated than either of her parents, and she’s only about six years old. She writes a letter for her illiterate mother, and she’s the only one in the house who can operate their cell phone. Upon learning that the phone has a camera, Mahendra asks Pinky how to use it so that he can take a photo of her, lest she go missing, too.

Siddharth reminded me of a terrific novel on a totally unrelated subject: The Martian by Andy Weir. Weir’s book presents in minute detail what life would be like for an astronaut left behind on Mars with virtually no resources. There are no aliens or space vampires in the book, just an endless series of ordinary events that could be fatal if one thing goes wrong. It’s fascinating.

Mehta’s film is no less fascinating. It allows the audience to come as close as they can to walking a mile in someone else’s shoes and illustrates the frustrating, devastating consequences of poverty. Siddharth is a triumph of storytelling.

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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.