Road


Director: Rajat Mukherjee
Producer: Ram Gopal Varma
Starring: Manoj Bajpai, Vivek Oberoi, Antara Mali, Koena Mitra
Music: Sandesh Shandilya, Nitin Raikwar; Lyrics: Various
Year: 2002
Running Time: 132 minutes

About 30 minutes into the film a little déjà vu started going off in my head – “didn’t I just see this movie?” I wondered. Then it clicked – sure – the Korean film “Say Yes” not only has a similar plot but some of the same dialogue. I guess this means that Bollywood really has gone global when they start pilfering from films in Korea! Oddly though, I hadn’t really liked the Korean film all that much – just too cold – but for the most part I thought Road was a lot of trashy fun with much more personable characters. And then of course “Say Yes” didn’t have Antara Mali in it.

Antara is like a rocket in your pocket with a lit fuse. She has become a favorite of Ram Gopal Varma as of late appearing in his earlier films Mast and Company. In both of those films though she played innocent as the sweet girlfriend – but here Varma allows her to explode on the screen in a sexually charged whirlwind performance. She is very small of stature, but every inch of her curvaceous figure seems to be calling out your name with a pout and a wiggle. Her final facial expression and goodbye wave in the film is a brazen exclamation point that seemingly declares just how in control she is and how she can alternate sexuality and innocence to take advantage of any man.
In many of his previous films, Varma transfixed on his past muse, Urmila’s well-dimensioned chest – but now he seems fascinated by Antara’s flat tawny stomach and presents it like a temple of worship. Antara drives this film with her spitfire personality, her ebullient sexuality and her fevered dance choreography. Antara is simply hot and one of most interesting new Bollywood actresses to hit the scene in years. Gone it appears are the days when the heroine in a Bollywood film had to be chaste and innocent - Antara is very much the heroine, but she is also the vamp and it is clear that she and the film's hero have been doing more than trading dance steps.
Antara and Vivek Oberoi are in love, but her father doesn’t approve of her choice in men – so the two of them decide to elope and get married. They pile into a car and begin a long trek across some nearly uninhabited desert like terrain that stretches on for miles. Soon into their journey they pass a fellow (Manoj Bajpai) whose car has apparently broken down and they agree to give him a ride to the next town. This initially turns out to be an irritating mistake and then very soon a dangerous one. Manoj insists on smoking, on changing the radio station, on stopping to eat. Vivek wants to get rid of him like a bad rash, but Antara gives in to Manoj’s pleadings to take him just a little further. Clearly these two have not seen enough movies about hitchhikers and pay the price when Manoj puts a gun to Vivek’s head and orders him out of the car. He is soon driving away with Antara with a frantic Vivek trying to track them down.
The film does not really generate a lot of suspense and as in these types of films you have to accept with a huge grain of salt the ability of the psycho to show up everywhere and seemingly know everything like Carnak the Magnificent. This sort of thing always bothers me in films, but at least they don’t give Manoj those nearly indestructible powers that these killers often have. The most intriguing parts of the film for me were actually the scenes between Manoj and Antara that allow you a glimpse into his psyche and also to observe the manner in which Antara slowly gains the upper hand in a battle of mind games. Both of their performances are very good – but Vivek’s is murkier. At times he seems very natural – primarily in the early romantic scenes with Antara  - but later during the chase he seems emotionally vacant and forced. Of course Varma was only the producer of the film and though his influence is obvious, it is missing his seamless technique and always interesting camera work except for the musical numbers that feel very much to be his.
There are only four songs – not particularly memorable for the music but the choreography and visuals are fabulous with Antara burning like an ember in three of them – the one of her draped in sheets was especially sensual and worthy of repeated replays. As is Varma’s habit – he introduces a new actress (Koena Mitra) in one special item number and she is definitely eye catching – though her dancing partner Ganesh Acharya seems an amusing choice with his beer swilling physique.

My rating for this film: 6.0

Song 1