Such a Long Journey (film)

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Such a Long Journey
Directed by Sturla Gunnarsson
Produced by Simon MacCorkindale
Paul Stephens
Screenplay by Sooni Taraporevala
Based on Such a Long Journey 
by Rohinton Mistry
Starring Roshan Seth
Soni Razdan
Om Puri
Naseeruddin Shah
Kurush Deboo
Vrajesh Hirjee
Music by Jonathan Goldsmith
Release dates
  • 1998 (1998)
  • 1999 (1999)
Running time
113 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

Such a Long Journey is a 1998 film based on the novel of the same name written by Rohinton Mistry. It is directed by Sturla Gunnarsson from a screenplay by Sooni Taraporevala.


Gustad Noble (Roshan Seth) is a Parsi bank clerk who lives with his family in Bombay (Mumbai) just before the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971. At first he seems to be a self-centred, self-involved neurotic man who is so tied up in his own pain for perceived slights both past and present that he cannot seem to connect with either friends or family. He is haunted by memories of a privileged youth and his father's fortune, lost to the machinations of a scheming, unscrupulous uncle. He is baffled by the changes wrought in his eldest son, Sohrab (Vrajesh Hirjee), who is having a difficult coming of age. A childhood friend, Jimmy Bilimoria (Naseeruddin Shah), has become a swashbuckling, swaggering member of the military. At the beginning of the movie, Major Jimmy has abandoned a lifelong friendship with Gustad without warning or explanation, and Gustad is angry and resentful over the desertion. Soon the Major contacts Gustad, ostensibly to restore their friendship, but in actuality he uses their past acquaintance to impose on Gustad for help in a clandestine plan to put money into the hands of rebels in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) When Gustad has second thoughts and tries to back out of the plan, the family cat is killed in a gruesome way and left for Gustad to find with a threatening note attached.

During a chance conversation with a street artist, Gustad encourages him to bring his art to the eyesore of a wall in front of his house, which he feels will give the artist's work a permanence which he cannot achieve by painting and repainting the public sidewalk where he has been working up to now. The artist is at first dismissive of the idea, stating that impermanence is the way of the world, but eventually comes to begin his work there.

Desperate to protect his family from the Major's threats, Gustad seeks help from a friend at the bank, Dinshawji (Sam Dastor), a bumbling, foolish man who nevertheless shows his great heart in his simple faith in his friend, even when things go badly wrong and both are put in danger by Jimmy's shadowy machinations and his eventual incarceration by the government. Wracked by guilt and caught between their fear of being caught by the government and the fear of retaliation by the Major's thuggish, and often invisible, associates, Gustad and Dinshawji forge ahead with trepidation to implement the Major's money-laundering plan. In fear of discovery, Gustad is driven to admonish Dinshawji about his buffoonish and lewd behaviour around one of the bank secretaries, and indeed around most of the other employees in general. They decide that in order to cover up the real reason for Dinshawja's changed behaviour, which both men fear would draw as much or more attention than his usual buffoonery, they will explain the new quieter Dinshawja by spreading a rumour that he has fallen ill. Later, Gustad will realize this was inadvertently prophetic, and he is stricken by guilt over the idea that the stress of their undertaking may have led to the actual collapse of Dinshawja's health.

Gustad's youngest child, his daughter, Roshan, is stricken by malaria. Between this incident and the estrangement that leads their oldest son to argue with his father and leave home, Gustad's wife, Dilnavaz (Soni Razdan), is convinced by a neighbour that her family is under a curse of black magic and, despite her qualms, begins a ritual to transfer the bad luck to the simpleton Tehmul, played to devastating effect by Kurush Deboo. Gustad and Dilnavaz go to a Parsi temple, where Gustad makes a simple, heartfelt prayer for the recovery of his daughter; for the health of his friend, Dinshawja, and for the return of his son to the family; at the end, he says, "and don't worry about my hip, it's not that important." (in reference to a serious injury he had suffered years before when he pushed his son out of the way of a car after the child had run out into the street unexpectedly, an injury which previously had frequently preoccupied Gustad's thoughts).

Government officials take Major Jimmy into custody when they discover his plot to divert government funds to the resistance movement in Pakistan. Broken by torture, Major Jimmy asks for Gustad's forgiveness from his deathbed in a hospital jail. Gustad struggles with his feelings over the Major's initial abandonment of their friendship, then his imposition on that friendship that put his family and friends in danger, understanding at the end just how much Major Jimmy sacrificed to hide Gustad's inadvertent and eventually forced involvement in the Major's plot. Shortly thereafter, the war between Pakistan and India erupts.

When Gustad patrols the building where he rents a room during an air raid to make sure all the lights are off, he catches the simpleton, Tehmul, making love to a large bride doll stolen from Gustad's daughter. At first recoiling from what he sees as an act of perversion, Gustad recognizes the terrible loneliness of the simpleton and his initial anger and disgust is quickly tempered by a compassion of which he most likely would have been incapable at the beginning of the movie.

Meanwhile, the wall outside his home has been transformed from a trash clogged public urinal to a beautiful mural, which the local residents treat as a holy shrine. When municipal work crews show up to break the wall down, acting on orders issued years ago to remove it as a public nuisance, a riot breaks out, resulting in the death of the simpleton Temuhl. In the wake of this tragic death, Gustad experiences a moment of clarity and openness that leads him to step out of his preoccupation with the perception of his own pain and truly experience the fullness of his compassion for others.

Gustad moves through the kaleidoscope of his troubled life at first as if a helpless victim, a mere spectator, anxious and overwrought at the chaos around him, clearly feeling isolated and that his life is spinning out of control. His disconnection and alienation is underscored by the way events are presented, strung like pearls as if they are discrete events which are whole in and of themselves, even though at the root they are all connected and as much a part of Gustad as he is of them. His transformation is subtle, but steady, until by the end of the movie, events that would have destroyed the man he was are surmounted and accepted by the man he has become. He has, perhaps unknowingly, internalized and accepted an observation made by the artist, that many of mankind's troubles arise from our attempts to deny the fact of the impermanent nature of the universe and to impose our ideas of permanence in its place. Gustad bids farewell to the artist as he nonchalantly walks off into the busy street while municipal workers tear down the painted wall.

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