Films

BEGUILING AND BITTERSWEET

SUCH A LONG JOURNEY Directed by Sturla Gunnarsson

B.D.J. March 1 1999
Films

BEGUILING AND BITTERSWEET

SUCH A LONG JOURNEY Directed by Sturla Gunnarsson

B.D.J. March 1 1999

BEGUILING AND BITTERSWEET

SUCH A LONG JOURNEY Directed by Sturla Gunnarsson

Bombay, 1971. The eve of India’s war with Pakistan. Indian independence, almost a quarter-century old, is losing its innocence, and a Bombay bank clerk named Gustad Noble (Roshan Seth) is watching his world slowly crumble around him. He has a defiant son who has enraged him by choosing to go into arts instead of engineering. He has a young daughter who has fallen ill with malaria—no doubt carried by mosquitoes infesting the urine-soaked wall outside his family apartment. And further complicating Gustad’s life, an old friend involved in a clandestine government mission asks him to secretly deposit a large sum of cash in the bank—money apparently earmarked for freedom fighters in Bangladesh.

Faithfully adapted from the Rohinton Mistry novel, Such a Long Journey features an impressive Indian cast. Roshan Seth, whose credits include Gandhi, My Beautiful Laundretie and Mississippi Masala, won the best actor Genie this month for his quietly assured performance. Om Puri {City of Joy) brings a compelling mix of integrity and malevolence to the role of Ghulam, the emissary who hands Gustad his mission. And Ranjit Chowdhry {Sam & Me, Fire) has a sub-

limely offhand touch as the pavement artist who transforms Gustad’s wall from a public urinal into a religious mural (and who spells out the film’s credo—“Life’s problems begin when we start to look for permanence”).

But the narrative has so many threads that none of them gets fully developed. Although director Sturla Gunnarsson evokes the novel with a vividly textured weave of images, Sooni Taraporevala’s script lacks a central momentum. Gustad, the decent little man at the heart of the story, is almost lost in a crowd of subplots. His headstrong wife, Dilnavaz (Soni Razdan), falls under the spell of the witch upstairs in an attempt to cure her family woes; his surrogate son, the babbling halfwit Tehmul (Kurush Deboo), lusts after

his daughter’s blond doll; his co-worker, an eccentric lecher named Dinshawji (Sam Dastor), harasses the office beauty. And on top of that is the riddle of the political intrigue.

Such a Long Journey looks for God in the details without pretending to find Him. In conjuring the fragility of life, the film achieves a bittersweet pathos. And as a lyrical mosaic of life’s small mercies, it is full of wonderful moments. For those who loved the novel, the film may indeed re-illuminate the magic. But the viewer who comes to the movie cold may feel like a traveller who watches a beguiling landscape roll by without really getting to know the inhabitants.

B.D.J.