Road To Sangam

'Road to Sangam' is a movie that was on my watch-list for a long time now, but somehow I never got a chance to see it, not least because it did not get a major release. Thanks to the Fremont Main Library that had a DVD, and to the lazy Saturday morning, I finally got to see it.

I have been watching a lot of movies that I could not catch up on when they released, and quite a few of the recently watched ones had Paresh Rawal in them - and I am in awe of the man now. I will do a separate Paresh Rawal post soon and so here I will keep my awe in check :)

'Road to Sangam' is the story of a simple man who is caught between the turmoil of his times. How he chooses to fight being a part of the herd and follow his heart, is what the film tries to depict, and it does a very good job of it

Paresh Rawal is Hasmat Bhai, the most well-written character and the protagonist of the movie, an expert motor-mechanic and a devout muslim. He lives a non-confrontational life and goes about his job with honesty and commitment. His life is thrown into a turmoil when his idea of religion clashes with the preachers. He believes in honouring his word, finishing the job he started - you can say that an honest day's work is his religion. But when he is unable to deliver on a commitment due to the local Muslim community leaders calling for a boycott of all work (to oppose of arrest of suspects in a blast case, and the death of an innocent in the stampede following a protest), he begins to question the decrees of those leaders. After much debate, with family, friends and community members, and most importantly with his own self, he decides to follow his conscience. The fact that the task at hand involves the ashes of Mahatma Gandhi makes his resolve only stronger.

The movie is about this thought. Can you follow your conscience against the face of any opposition? Everyone has a limit to which he will listen to his inner voice, as is seen by Hasmat Bhai's various friends helping him covertly. Hasmat Bhai is the protagonist because his commitment to his inner voice is the strongest. He may have his limits but clarion calls to toe the community line do not define them. It is the genuineness with which this thought has been portrayed that makes this movie worth a watch.

Sure, it has its drawbacks. It gets preachy at times, and the sermon to Mr Kasuri (a very one-dimensional Om Puri) by Hasmat Bhai comes very close to overkill. But most of the times the director stays far far away from pretentiousness. The characters other than Hasmat Bhai are not that well-written and do not engage you as much, except when they are interacting with Hasmat. Also, by focusing on one community, the director is providing ammunition to those who might want to dub him partisan. But I feel the story could as well have been set in any community and to look at it with a narrow vision would be a folly.

Paresh Rawal as Hasmat Bhai is a not a revelation since we know how good an actor he is, but it sure is refreshing to see him play a not over the top character for a change. Being from Lucknow, I can appreciate the nuances he brought to the role to depict an Allahabadi, and his portrayal of the internal struggles of Hasmat is too good. Pawan Malhotra, as the Maulvi was a revelation because it took me a while to realize that it is him. The voice that he used, the mannerisms, the expressions, and his diction all added to the character and showed how he could be revered by some and feared by others. Om Puri, as I said, carried the same expression throughout and didn't have too much to do. The rest of the supporting cast was adequate and the interactions that Hasmat had with them which made the movie watchable.

I would have recommended watching this one on DVD, but since it is not running in cinema halls anymore that is a moot point. It is not engaging throughout, and has a few troughs among more frequent crests. But the central thought has been depicted with simplicity and genuineness, and for that you should watch it.