MADMAN: Dev Benegal’s joyous film is at once a fable, a coming of age story, and a homage to India's love affair with cinema.
, directed by Dev Benegal, is at once a fable and coming of age story; a journey both literal and metaphorical.
Vishnu, a man trapped in a selfish adolescence, volunteers to deliver an ancient truck to a museum for his uncle, thus briefly escaping the tedium of life as a hair oil salesman for his father’s company. But Atma Hair Oil is no ordinary product, it has special gifts which prove to be life (as well as hair) enhancing.
It’s hard to like Vishnu at first, but in classic road movie style we know he will be challenged by his journey and ultimately be forced to grow as a person and engage with his better self.
In the tradition of the hero’s journey he gains a few companions on the way: a young chai wallah, an old mechanic and entertainer, and a dynamic gypsy woman with whom Vishnu falls in love. They meet a bullying policeman and an evil and murderous water-lord who controls the villagers’ wells and sells their water back to them, but the magic of the movies and the special properties of Atma hair oil save the day.
Ravishingly shot in the Rajastani desert, the colours and composition of each scene are mesmerising and seductive. The ancient truck turns out to be a travelling cinema carrying a stock of old Indian movies and Buster Keaton films. The sub-continent’s adoration of cinema is here lovingly illustrated; the film comprises an unabashedly sentimental nod to the days of travelling fairs and spontaneous screenings. The characters and their adventures, though, are underplayed and gritty so that the mix of naturalism and magic realism sit happily together.
A joyous example of cinematic craftmanship.
Directed by Dev Benegal
India, 2009, 91 mins
Available to rent or buy now through Madman Entertainment