By Subhash K. Jha
Film: "Road To Sangam"; Cast: Paresh Rawal, Om Puri, Pavan Malhotra, Javed Shaikh; Writer-Director: Amit Rai; Rating: ***
This is a small, tender idea, executed with a certain amount of elan and loads and loads of heart. Writer-director Amit Rai's debut film is a Gandhian parable done up in shades that are at once, pristine, noble, gentle and funny.
The imaginative plot about the Mahatma's ashes belatedly being taken out of Allahabad to be scattered in the Ganga gets its strength from the moral frailty of the times that we live in.
Miraculously while constructing a heart-warming morality tale, the debutant writer-director manages to keep the tone purely and strictly non-judgemental.
Among the many virtues in this frail but strong tale of two communities that need hard and immediate lessons in co-existence, is the detailed eye for locations. The streets and roof-tops of humble middle class homes in Allahabad are shot by cinematographer Dharam Gulati with a keen eye for the teeming crowds peeping out of ramshackle windows which have seen better days.
The eye used to create the authentic ambience is forever lucid and non-judgemental.
Sandesh Shandilya's re-worked interpretation of Gandhian bhajans add considerably to a sense of serene sincerity in a work that gently but firmly prods our conscience.
The process of spiritual awakening that the sleepy communally-divided town undergoes when a humble honest motor mechanic Hashmatullah decides to repair the car that would take Gandhiji's ashes to the sea, is shown to be gradual and persuasive.
In its effort to project a world beyond strife that is obtainable to a more reasonable humankind than visible in today's divided times, the narrative at times slips into the realm of naive idealism.
No harm in that. "Road To Sangam" shows us that the road to salvation for a wounded and dying civilisation is to cut through the tangled web of politics and religion to try to a find a common ground between the Hindu and Muslim viewpoint without compromising or hurting either.
Paresh Rawal as the simple and obstinate motor mechanic Hashmatullah finds that dithering but comforting ground in his performance.
Hashmatullah is a gentle soul driven by a clarity of purpose that brooks no interference from religious bigots. His cluster of Muslim compatriots opposing his idealistic efforts to do justice to Mahatma Gandhi's memories often come across as benign caricatures.
Rai portrays the world of religious bigotry as eminently reformable. In this sense, the film's core could be considered impractical. But the film's quest to convert the currency of communalism into a molten gold of harmony and peace, is never questionable.
"Road To Sangam" is a gentle trip into the heart of a society that has resorted to a collective suspicion and hostility as a form of protestation and self-protection. Without really saying so aloud, this film suggests Gandhism still has the solution and medicine to the spirit of ceaseless strife that grips our society.
The dusty half-formed modern integrally-traditional ambience of Allahabad and Paresh's deceptively smooth portrayal of the man who must do his duty even if it endangers his life, carry "Road To Sangam" to the region of an important statement on the relevance of Gandhi in today's age of rage.
There's a lesson to be learnt from this film. Luckily, we aren't required to dig too deep into the narrative to procure the message.
Gentle and heart-warming "Road To Sangam" is that rare passionate paean to patriotism that doesn't resort to flag-waving even once.