Road is like a caricature of the quintessential "art movie" - the kind that embarrasses to no end your innermost urges to expect a plot out of a film. There are vague movies and there are rambling movies, but Road quite takes the cake as far as the business of taking artistic license and absconding with it is concerned.
A restless Vishnu (Abhay Deol) sets out on a battered truck to escape the rut of having to take part in his father's hair oil business. The truck is apparently to be sold to a museum across the desert, and while all Vishnu wants to do is be liberated, his father arms him with a bunch of cartons of the foul-smelling hair oil, to be sold during the journey.
On his way he reluctantly picks up a kid (Faizal) working in a roadside tea stall who wants to desperately run away to a better place, and then a miscellaneous vagrant (Satish Kaushik). All the while during his journey across the frighteningly sterile desert, Vishnu grudges company. He tries to shake his co-passengers off, until he slowly realizes he needs their favours as much as they need the ride.
The truck happens to carry an ancient cinema projector and several film reels - the movie never makes it clear whether Vishnu already knew this or not - and the trio start screening movies to little clusters of awe-struck village populace during their stops.
A search for water ominously takes over their frame of reference. They let in a gypsy who offers them a sip, and later, encounter water goons who threaten to take their life. The film ambles on until it reaches what the makers are convinced is a logical end to the whole premise.
Though an expertly shot film, Road is ridiculously slow and pointless. The bareness of the desert and the nothingnesses in the dialogue and screenplay are vexing to sit through, even though this is a film with a run time of less than one-and-a-half-hour.
Indeed, if not for Satish Kaushik's occasional wisecracks, it wouldn't have been half as tolerable as it is currently. On the other extreme, there are touches of the outrageous - one scene that shows Abhay Deol crapping (!!); and towards the end, a long love-making session between Abhay Deol and the heroine.
Every scene looks pregnant, but you don't know with what - for example, the sequences in which the cinema projector entertains the villagers, or the scenes of the mela. The whole set-up reeks of a focus on the "arty" types who love suggestiveness but don't bother that it leads nowhere.
As for the performances, they all deserve accolades, but Satish Kaushik stands out for refreshingly bringing to life his character - and more importantly, the movie. Abhay Deol, the 12-year-old Faizal and the heroine Tannishtha Chatterjee put in a fine effort as well. Faizal is especially fun to have around, for his chirpy presence.
And like we said, it's a brilliantly made film, technically. The starkness and the heat of the desert and the rawness of being of all the 4 protagonists - have all been captured flawlessly. The journey in the truck is real enough for you to even smell the dingy interiors. Some fine classical tunes lace the background, and the soundtrack is innovatively woven into some of the scenes.
Watch it, if you like your movies with a lot of commas, at more places, than are, tolerable, or even grammatically correct, and... plenty of ellipses... where the commas run out... and also... if you don't mind your films not having a full stop