I led a quiet life till this was announced,” says Gyan Correa. His Gujarati film The Good Road was chosen, last month, as India’s entry in the Oscars’s foreign-language film category. It trumped 22 contenders, including studio-backed favourites The Lunchbox, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and Ship of Theseus. An avalanche of dissent greeted the decision. “The controversy will blow over in a few days, but cinema will work forever,” says Correa, an ad-film maker.
The Good Road, produced by the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC), is the story of three people whose lives intertwine on State Highway 378, in Gujarat’s Kutch district. Pappu is a truck driver battling financial troubles, Aditya is a young boy who has been separated from his parents and Poonam is an 11-year-old child looking for her grandmother.
What made you choose a truck driver as your protagonist?
Trucks and highways have always fascinated me. As research for this film, I stayed with truck drivers and started to understand their world. I felt very poor in comparison to them. They need such character to deal with the challenges that face them: low pay, terrible roads and a cruel regulatory system. How do these simple guys still manage to deliver goods day after day across the country? Their sense of responsibility is mind-boggling.
What connects the three main characters in your story?
It is the highway that brings them together. The highway is a metaphor for life. Their journeys raise issues that are eventually resolved. The trucker’s moral compass remains intact; the lost boy is enriched by learning so much in one night in a new home; and the little girl goes through her own trials before getting to her grandmother and to school
You are a Goan who lives in Gujarat. What made you make this film in Gujarati, a language you do not speak?
After I wrote the film, I decided to locate it in Kutch, not only for its beautiful landscape and people but also because its culture reflected the stoicism of my characters. Kutch has a culture of struggle, of rising above whatever is thrown at you, with gentle grace and a smile. The film had to be in Gujarati to retain its honesty, especially as the central character is an old truck driver.
You struck gold with Shamji Dhana Kerasia, the truck driver who you cast in the movie
We wanted to cast a real truck driver in the lead role and must have met more than 500 before casting Shamjibhai. The casting director spent several months travelling to dhabas across Gujarat. Shamjibhai did not change from the day we met him till the completion of the film. His capacity for giving seems infinite. He’ll never be false or sentimental. There is no time for that on the highway.
What were the challenges you faced during filming, and what lessons did you learn?
The Good Road was an ambitious project. It was in a language I don’t speak, with several cast members who had never acted before. The cast, crew and producer invested time and energy in an idea without being sure of its final shape. But, that is what a film is all about. The biggest lesson I learnt was to stick to your story.
Isn’t the Oscar ticket a deserved shot in the arm for regional cinema?
I hope for a renewed belief in one’s vernacular among regional filmmakers. There’s no reason why five films like this aren’t made in every region of the country. At a national level, there should be an understanding that the space under the sun is almost infinite.
What is your reaction to the film industry’s carping about the choice of The Good Road as India’s Oscar entry?
The real story is that India is making better films. That is reason to celebrate. There has been disappointment, tempers have run high and things have been said in the heat of the moment. But, I am sure we will come together and build together. The Good Road is now India’s entry in the Oscars, not mine. You’ll see the entire industry and country come together because it’s in everyone’s interest. An Oscar will do wonders for all of us.
Who are the Indian filmmakers you admire?
Every filmmaker has a voice that’s great to hear. I’ve particularly enjoyed Basu Chatterjee, Shyam Benegal and Mani Ratnam’s work. Among Gujarati filmmakers, Ketan Mehta stands out. His films Mirch Masala (1987), Bhavni Bhavai (1980) and Holi (1984) have you on the edge of your seat.
By Meher Marfatia