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Such a Long Journey

Review by Patty-Lynne Herlevi
Posted 7 April 2000

Written and Directed by Sturla Gunnarsson

Starring Roshan Seth, 
Om Puri, Soni Razdan

Naseeruddin Shah, Sam Dastor, 
Vrajesh Hirjee, Kurush Deboo 
and Ranjit Chowdhry

In a similar style to a Merchant Ivory film, cinematographer Jan Kiesserís camera roams the crowded streets of Bombay capturing moments of peace before another war with Pakistan would emerge. Similar to Deepa Mehtaís Earth in which the story focuses on individuals affected by Indiaís war with Pakistan in 1947, Sterla Gunnarssonís Such A Long Journey revolves around a Parsis banker, Gustad Noble and his friends as they pay the consequences for their indirect involvement in political activities in 1971.

Although ostensibly concerned with political tensions between East and West Pakistan and a scandal involving Indira Gandhi siphoning government money into a Swiss bank account while sending Indian soldiers to fight Pakistani troops without proper weapons, this film merely utilizes Indiaís political tensions as a backdrop, and instead focuses on the family problems that Gustad faces in his daily life.

The main plot unfolds as Gustad fights with his eldest son, Sohrab (Vrajesh Hirjee) because the son has rebelled against his fatherís wishes and decided not to study engineering. Soon, Sohrab leaves home to pursue his own interests disheartening his mother Dilnavaz (Soni Razdan). Dilnavaz decides to take matters into her own hands to bring Sohrab home so she begins practicing black magic taught to her by the witch from upstairs. At first, Dilnavaz seems like sheís gone a bit mad cleansing her sonís energy with limes, but later after her daughter Roshan (Shazneen Damania) comes down with malaria, the witch raises the stakes for the mother. Soon the Temul, the idiot brilliantly played by method actor Kurush Deboo becomes the target for the witchery as the grieving mother tricks Tehmul into drinking tainted lime juice thus transferring the curse on her family to Tehmul.

Meanwhile, Gustad has his own problems to solve. Jimmy (Naseeruddin Shah), a friend of his who pulled a disappearing act writes to Gustad telling him that he joined the Secret Service and he would like Gustad to retrieve a parcel for him. The parcel turns out to be a large sum of money that Gustad must illegally deposit in the bank where he works. When Gustad refuses to deposit the money, Ghulam (Om Puri), Jimmyís loyal companion threatens Gustad as he forces the banker to comply. Later, Jimmy confesses that he stole the money from the Indian government because he heard rumors that Indira Gandhi siphoned off money to a Swiss bank account while sending barefoot soldiers to fight a war against Pakistan.

Eventually, Gustad proves his loyalty to his friends by watching three of them die. First, his companion, Dinshawji (Sam Dastor) collapses at work then dies, then Jimmy passes away and finally Tehmul is killed by bricks thrown by protesters trying to save a wall that had been turned into a religious shrine by a pavement painter. Gustad remains composed until Tehmul dies then all of his grief gushes out in a poignant moment where he reunites with his son.

The wall near Gustadís home acts as a symbol in the film. Gustad learns that the Municipal government intends to tear down the wall and also the wall has been turned into a toilet in which men urinate. Gustad meets a pavement artist that he persuades to paint religious motifs on the wall. After the artist renders gorgeous paintings of various Indian gods and goddesses as well as, Christian motifs, people come from all over to seek miracles from the wall. When the government officials come to tear down the wall, they are met with a mob of angry protesters that came to protect their shrine of miracles from harm. At first, the wallís significance isnít obvious, but after the wall has been torn down and the mosquitoes from the wall disappear, Gustad opens his windows letting light shine into his home. The destruction of the wall leads to an awakening.

Such A Long Journey is brilliantly told through a series of flashbacks that blend in with the current story and various subplots that weave in and out of the main plot. All of these are masterfully consolidated by Roshan Sethís award-winning performance (he won a Genie for Best Actor in 1999) as Gustad and strong performances from the supporting cast members. Although the film reflects on Indian politics, comic moments lighten up the film allowing viewers to immerse themselves in another culture without drowning in political debates.

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