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The Baltimore Sun

Such a Long Journey


Friday March 24, 2000

     Roshan Seth is one of India's most internationally renowned actors, best known as the prosperous uncle in "My Beautiful Laundrette" and for appearances in such films as "Mississippi Masala" and "London Kills Me." Never in the West, however, has he had such a formidable role as in "Such a Long Journey," playing a Bombay bank clerk, a classic Everyman, who is severely tested on the eve of India's 1971 war with Pakistan.
     Seth, a handsome, middle-aged man with an aura of civility, reveals the strength and wisdom within a seemingly ordinary man. In doing so, he brings a presence and authority much needed in holding together a thoughtful but uneven film, making it a rewarding experience.
     Seth's Gustad Noble is a Parsi, a descendant of Zoroastrians who fled from Persia to India more than 1,000 years before to escape Muslim persecution. He sometimes daydreams about his family's lost wealth but never complains. He is content, complacent even, about his life in a dingy, crowded apartment he shares with his wife, Dilnavaz (Soni Razdan), and children. Gustad has taught himself to make the best of things and to embrace bustling Bombay street life. But all of this is about to change.
     His eldest son, Sohrab (Vrajesh Hirjee), is accepted by an institute of technology but wants to stay in his current college and pursue the arts, incurring the wrath of his father, who wants his son to have a more prosperous life than he has had. Then his little daughter Roshan (Shazneen Damania) is struck with malaria, and Dilnavaz, in her concern for both Sohrab and Roshan, falls under the sway of a neighbor (Pearl Padamsee), a veritable voodoo woman.
     These developments, however, pale before the danger that envelops Gustad when he receives word from a friend from the old days who wants him to agree to receive a package on his behalf. Is the friend a sincere leader in the Bengali resistance in Pakistan? Or simply a con man? In any event, Gustad reflexively agrees, bringing him into contact with a formidable mystery man (Om Puri) who, by coincidence, once saved Gustad's life in the aftermath of a traffic accident.
     Canadian director Sturla Gunnarsson, in bringing to the screen Sooni Taraporevala's English-language script from Rohinton Mistry's 1991 novel, has much to keep track of--the complications outlined are only part of the story. "Such a Long Journey" lacks coherence, with too many questions raised only to be dropped for several reels; even the suspense evoked in Gustad's compliance with his old friend's request is allowed to dissipate. Furthermore, there is considerable cornball humor that strikes an artificial note, and the film, which means to be a comedy, is consistently more effective and credible in its serious moments. There's a lack of clarity in the use of flashbacks, and most everyone, with the exception of Seth, is at one time or another hard to understand through thick Indian accents.
     In short, "Such a Long Journey," which has strong political overtones, is not very well-made. But Gustad is so exceptionally well-drawn, his simple humanity so staunch, and Seth's portrayal of a good man whose capacity for courage and understanding grows under duress so transcendent that the film is ultimately quite moving.

Such a Long Journey, 2000. PG, for thematic material. A Shooting Gallery release of a Film Works and Amy International Artists presentation with the participation of Telefilm Canada, British Screen and the Harold Greenberg Fund. Director Sturla Gunnarsson. Producers Paul Stephens, Simon MacCorkindale. Executive producer Victor Solnicki. Screenplay by Sooni Taraporevala; from the novel by Rohinton Mistry. Cinematographer Jan Kiesser. Editor Jeff Warren. Music Jonathan Goldsmith. Costumes Lovlenn Bains. Production designer Nitin Desai. Running time: 1 hour, 53 minutes. Roshan Seth as Gustad Noble. Om Puri as Ghulam. Soni Razdan as Dilnavaz Noble. Naseeruddin Shah as Jimmy Bilimoria.

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