"Such a Long Journey" presents a slice of life in 1971 Bombay on the eve of yet another Indian war with Pakistan, this time over East Pakistan, later to become the independent state of Bangladesh.
Though vividly directed by Canadian helmer Sturla Gunnarsson and featuring a cast of excellent veteran actors from the Indian cinema, the film never gains its narrative footing. Devolved from Rohinton Mistry's 1991 best-selling Dickensian novel, Sooni Taraporevala's screenplay suffers from too many loose plot threads, none of which feels satisfying or fully developed.
The third movie in the Shooting Gallery's traveling film series, "Journey" will play only to an art house audience, and to be fully understood, that audience needs some grounding in Indian history and Parsi culture.
The central figure is Gustad Noble (Roshan Seth from "Gandhi" and "My Beautiful Laundrette"), a Parsi bank clerk whose easygoing routine gets disrupted during the course of the movie. Troubles come all at once: His son (Vrajesh Hirjee) refuses to go to a top Indian college; a mysterious friend asks a "favor" that has Noble depositing large sums of dubious money at his own bank; his young daughter becomes ill, possibly with malaria; and his wife (Soni Razdan) falls under the influence of an aging witch (Pearl Padamsee) living in the upstairs apartment.
The film is populated with a number of comical eccentrics, which include Noble's daffy pal at the bank (Sam Dastor) and a mental misfit (Kurush Deboo) whose death causes Noble's emotional breakdown. Then there's major Indian star Om Puri in the small but pivotal role of a shady political operative and Ranjit Chowdhry as a street artist who transforms the wall outside Noble's flat from a public urinal to a shrine dedicated to various gods.
But the script never succeeds in bringing all of these characters and colorful plot lines into a unified whole. Instead, it jumps here and there with only the stoic though increasingly agitated Noble holding it together.
The comic byplay among the actors is often quite funny and opens a window into life on the subcontinent and especially in Bombay during that era. The film is well produced with cinematographer Jan Kiesser and production designer Nitin Desai performing miracles in tough location shooting in one of the world's noisiest and most polluted cities.
SUCH A LONG JOURNEY
The Shooting Gallery
British Screen, BSkyB, Telefilm Canada, Harold Greenberg Fund and CBC
Producer:Paul Stephens, Simon MacCorkindale
Based on the novel by:Rohinton Mistry
Executive producer:Victor Solnicki
Director of photography:Jan Kiesser
Production designer:Nitin Desai
Costume designer:Lovleen Bains
Gustad Noble:Roshan Seth
Dilnavaz Noble:Soni Razdan
Sohrab Noble:Vrajesh Hirjee
Pavement Artist:Ranjit Chowdhry
Jimmy Bilimoria:Naseeruddin Shah
Mrs. Kutpitia:Pearl Padamsee
Running time -- 113 minutes
No MPAA rating
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