Such a Long Journey
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.