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Dev Benegal on Road, Movie

Meet the director of Road, Movie, a whimsical, cinematical (literally) journey through India. Now available on DVD, iTunes and Netflix Instant!

Note: This interview initially ran as part of our 2010 Tribeca Film coverage. Road, Movie is now available on DVD, on iTunes and on Netflix Instant!


Tribeca: Tell us a little about Road, Movie.


Dev Benegal: In Road, Movie, a young man aches to escape his future of inheriting his father's shaky business and become a hair-oil salesman. He grabs an opportunity to deliver a truck to a city by the sea. To get there he has to cross a desert in between. In the crossing, he meets the most unlikely characters and events happen out of the ordinary. He discovers passion, laughter, and an unusual family on the highway.


Tribeca: Have you ever undertaken a trip like Vishnu does in the movie?


Dev Benegal: Pretty close. And it's been part dream and part real. The closest I'd say it was like being in circus.


Tribeca: Can you talk about the truck they ride in? I've never heard about or seen a traveling cinema, but it looks marvelous.


Dev Benegal: Touring cinemas are an amazing phenomenon. Take one part pilgrimage and one part 70mm screen, and you get a heady cocktail. It's like falling down a rabbit hole. I drove miles and miles away from Bombay to a no-man's land—barren, stark, and devoid of human beings. Saw a huge piece of cloth being stretched across the sky and become a gigantic cinema screen. And magically before my eyes, saw this barren landscape fill up with thousands of people, all of whom had walked for hours and some days to come sit and surrender before the large screen. It was magic in the midst of this stark reality.


Tribeca: This is the first full-length film you've made in over a decade. What inspired you to tell the story of Road, Movie?


Dev Benegal: I've always wanted to do an Indian road movie. Did the idea come from traveling in my childhood across these wide-open vistas, which were raw and unexplored, or from watching movies as a child like Sullivan's Travels, the John Ford movies, the King Hu films from whom I learnt everything about widescreen composition, or Chris Petit's Radio On, a movie that haunted me for a long time? I'm sure the answer lies somewhere in between.


I feel strongly about the vanishing Indian landscape. There's this real crisis in India at the moment where large tracts of farmland and open spaces are being converted into Special Economic Zones. There's this raw beauty, this uncharted quality of India that I had seen and wanted to be a part of my film before it disappeared totally.


The story was about Vishnu discovering himself and life through cinema. A lot like what I experienced—losing myself to the movies when I was growing up; spending hours and days in the darkened movie halls of Bombay and Delhi. They were my world even before I interacted or met the real world outside.


Tribeca: What's the craziest thing that happened while making the film?


Dev Benegal: We were told we'd have pleasant weather. I had spent two years planning each angle, finding each location, selecting each bend of the road. Two days before filming it rained, and all our locations turned from brown to green. We had to scramble overnight and find new locations. Then unexpectedly it became hot. And I mean really hot. We were making this film in 49 – 52 C (125 F).


It didn't end there; there were huge windstorms. In one of them my script with notes, sketches, and storyboards were blown away. Michel [Amathieu], my director of photography, and I stood and stared at this. We looked at one another and began to laugh, and I said, "This is how we should be making the film. No script, no schedule, no nothing. We've got the actors, the team, and the location in front of us. Let's go discover the film."


Tribeca: What's the biggest thing you learned while making this film?


Dev Benegal: The big thing I learnt was the movie is not in the words printed on the page. It lies in the white spaces between those words. Discover those spaces and you've got a great movie.


Tribeca: If you could have dinner with any filmmaker (alive or dead), who would it be?


Dev Benegal: Around a small table: Luis Buñuel and Fellini, and if Scorsese could drop by, that would be heaven.


Tribeca: What piece of art (book/film/music/what-have-you) are you currently recommending to your friends most often?


Dev Benegal: I'm a book junkie. Broken Screen by Doug Aitken: 26 conversations with filmmakers and artists on extending the image and breaking the narrative. Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. In fact, anything Murakami writes.



Tribeca: What are your hopes for being part of Tribeca Film and US distribution, especially the On Demand aspect of it?


Dev Benegal: This is historic. It's been a long, long while since an Indian independent movie has got US distribution. I'm thrilled beyond words. It's like a dream.


This is a movie that must be seen on a large screen. At the same time, the On Demand distribution reminds me of the traveling cinema truck—the fifth character in my film. Being able to screen the film anywhere, in your home, living room, laptop, or even on the phone. It's a personal story, which you can carry with you wherever you go. You can hold it close to you, like a dream.


Tribeca: What makes your film a must-see?


Dev Benegal: I've been drawn to stories of people who travel to unknown places, take the step out of the ordinary, and discover something extraordinary about life. My movies have been about these journeys, and my characters in search of these outer and inner worlds.


My film is about the unpredictable that exists in our lives. The magic that could be lurking right around the corner. And sometimes we have to make that choice and stray out of the ordinary to discover what's been missing in our lives.


Road, Movie
is about a young man who feels he has to make this journey and find his future for himself. It's an unusual Indian film. It has whimsy, a loopy sense of humor, it's like a waking dream and it takes you to places you've never seen before.


Check out Road, Movie, now available on DVD, on iTunes and on Netflix Instant!


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