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MOVIE REVIEW – Such a Long Journey

Rating *****

If you want to see India vicariously, this is the trip to take – back into 1971, when Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister, India and Pakistan were warring and the tragedy of Bangladesh clouded the skies.

In Bombay, we stay in a humble Victorian apartment building, adorned with faded gingerbread and peeling paint. Our charming host is Gustad Noble (Roshan Seth), who shares his modest abode with his wife and three children. We are guests at his daughter's birthday party, observers of his family's strife and voyeurs of neighborhood dramas in a place where privacy is a rare commodity.

A devoted family man of high moral fiber, Gustad works as a supervisor in a stuffy old downtown Bombay bank. He's a daydreamer and romantic, whose memories of a Parsi childhood that was far more rich and elegant than his drab life today create golden images that drift in and out of his consciousness. This dreaminess is his salvation – and his undoing.

One day, a letter arrives from his friend Jimmy, who had skipped town without a word, and is now "on an assignment of national security." Jimmy asks Gustad to hold a secret parcel for him, and his decision to do so ends up testing his values, his faith in his friend and his belief in his country.

Out on the hot and hazy city streets, we are swept along in the throngs of people, oxen and goats. Trucks, taxis and scooters clog the roadways. Vendors line the sidewalks, hawking live chickens, milk, water, baskets and whores. Drummers start an impromptu parade. A man creates religious chalk drawings on the pavement.

Closer to home, the ancient cement wall around Gustad's building is slated for demolition so the road can be widened. It has become a repository for garbage, urine and excrement. But Gustad wants to save the wall, so he recruits the pavement painter (Ranjit Chowdry) to help him scrub it down and beautify it. The painter covers the wall in holy pictures and it becomes a community shrine. But the "miracle wall" gets torn down anyway, and presents a fascinating lesson in philosophy.

A movie as complex and thought-provoking as the country in which it is set, Such a Long Journey is also an educational tour of a different kind of history and a different kind of culture.

This 1998 Canadian-British drama is now on video.

For more information on this video, visit the GreatestEscapes.com store.

To learn more about Rohinton Mistry’s Bombay, visit www.literarytrips.com.