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|March 5, 2001||
The road well travelled
It is this very expedition that Rohinton Mistry seeks to undertake in his Booker Prize-nominated book Such A Long Journey. A journey that seeks solutions to the dilemmas that life springs on us.
The film is a faithful adaptation of the book, and tells the story of Gustad Noble (Roshan Seth), an upright Parsi family man trying to cope with life within and outside the confines of his dwelling.
Set in Bombay in 1971, with the possibility of an India-Pakistan war looming large, bank clerk Gustad's family life consists of a mutinous son Sohrab (Vrajesh Hirjee), an ailing daughter Roshan, a sparring wife Dilnavaz (Soni Razdan) and uncooperative municipal authorities.
The domestic skirmishes are interrupted when he receives a letter from childhood friend Jimmy Bilimoria (Naseeruddin Shah) whose plea for help plunges Gustad into the tangle of Indian politics and conflicting loyalties from which he cannot emerge unscathed.
The film excels at creating sympathetic and memorable characters. Not just the main protagonist Gustad, but the supporting ensemble of family and friends lend to the over all flavour. Miss Kutpitia (the late Pearl Padamsee) adds mystery, as the spell-casting witch, who Dilnavaz turns to when Gustad quarrels with his son.
Among the colourful assortment of people, there is Mr Dinshawji, Gustad's friend at the bank, who tells an endless number of crude jokes and Tehmul, the child-man, who talks at breakneck speed.
One must also mention the philosophical pavement artist (Ranjit Chowdhari), who proves to be the ingenious solution to one of Gustad's problems.
Intricately layered and wryly humorous, Such A Long Journey mingles wit and tragedy in its portrayal of lives in modern India. Its many conflicts are washed down with a mix of a skillful weaving of political events with social observations and individual resourcefulness.
Director Sturla Gunnarsson manages to capture the angst of a man desperate for heroes and heroic causes, of a man trying to consolidate his family, friendships and patriotic loyalties all at the same time, and of a man struggling with himself to make sense of situations he didn't ask to be a part of.
Roshan Seth is one reason to watch the movie. He is marvelously restrained and dignified in his portrayal of an ordinary man faced with not so ordinary circumstances. You rejoice in his goodness, bite your lip in his frustration and shake your head at his predicaments.
He is ably supported by Soni Razdan, Vrajesh Hirjee, Om Puri and Naseeruddin Shah, among others. One would, in passing, have wished for more screen time for the inimitable Naseeruddin Shah.
Such A Long Journey isn't about technical slickness or extravagant gimmicks. It's about real people living under some real and some unreal circumstances. And for this alone, it is worth a viewing.
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