That’s right, folks. Another movie about a guy who drives a truck, lost his wife, and has a debt to pay.
Ghalib arrives at the warehouse to find almost no one there except for fellow truck drivers. Most of the warehouse workers are all out on strike. Ghalib notes that his own helper ran off when he parked the truck. So, just like this other guy, Ghalib will have to load his own truck.
Ghalib meets with a Mr. Sheikh, who says that Ghalib has driven through the night for little reason, as the checkpoint looters would not be out so early. They go to Ghalib’s truck so that Sheikh can get a reading. 500,182 kilometers. Oh, wow. Ghalib’s truck is the first among them to hit half a million. Ghalib does not really react to this.
Ghalib and Sheikh start moving items onto the truck. Not used to doing this, Ghalib hurts his back and has to sit down.
Ghalib drives to the truck…lot…and sees an older driver named Dilbaug. He asks Dilbaug to park the truck for him, as he hurt his back. Dilbaug thinks that he should get that checked out instead of pushing himself so hard. Dilbaug is about to park the truck when Ghalib asks him about the guy he was yelling at earlier. Dilbaug says that his night vision is worsening, so he is training a new intern to do work night shifts.
Ghalib meets with…the lot underboss, who asks him about his limp and tells him that those strikers are acting like thugs. He talks of a local job that night and Ghalib offers to take it, downplaying his injuries. As long as the client has people who will load up the stuff, then he is all set.
Ghalib goes back to his apartment, though not before a Kashmiri neighbor’s kid rolls a ball at him. Anyways, he goes inside and opens a letter. What does it say? Well…
Ghalib starts his night-time trip, except the gate is still down. He honks his horn until someone runs over to open it. Ghalib asks where the gatekeeper is. On strike. So, why is the gate down if no one is around to open it? The guy has nothing to say regarding that. Who is this guy anyways? He says that he started last week, doing afternoon rounds. His name is Pash.
Ghalib goes to the client and oh no it is just one guy and he has a broken arm. At least he has some liquor.
This looks to be highly unsafe. At least Ghalib managed to stop somewhere to doze off as opposed to crashing.
Oh, that’s a nice shot.
Ghalib takes a jeep from New Delhi to his home village around 60 miles away. He greets an elder, who notes that he has been gone so long that he is a city slicker.
Ghalib with the village leader, Madam Sarpanch, along with the father and sister of his late wife, Etali. The two have traveled all the way from Sikkim, around 760 miles away. They look to him and he begins his story. It was raining that night. She tried to call him, but the signal was bad. He heard he say that she was going, but the call stopped. He tried calling back, but couldn’t get through. He managed to get a call an hour later…from the police. And that was that. The village leader asks Ghalib if he had beaten Etali. He denies it. She asks two more times and he denies it again.
Madam Sarpanch then turns to Etali’s sister. She says that Etali used to call them once a week. But then she started calling every day, sometimes crying. She had an argument with Ghalib, and he stopped talking to her or eating with her. She fell into depression, but Ghalib didn’t care. Ghalib interrupts that he would not have sold his ancestral lands to satisfy Etali’s wish to live in the city if he didn’t care. The sister continues, saying that Ghalib did not call her family once after her death. She also translates her father’s statement that he would not even have come had the rain not destroyed his crops, leaving the family destitute. Etali had sent them money every month and now she is dead.
Madam Sarpanch asks whether Ghalib objected to Etali sending money or working at the garment factory, and he says no. He says that he did everything to make her happy. But he is unable to explain what happened. Madam Sarpanch finally makes her judgment. Ghalib’s roots run deep in the village, and his forefathers helped to build it up from nothing. So, it gives her no joy to tell him that he must take responsibility for driving his wife to suicide and compensate her family. Ghalib says that he went beyond his own means to make Etali happy, and that he grieves as much as they do. How can one measure grief? But Madam Sarpanch claims that she had given him a chance to tell his side.
The four go outside to where other villagers and the council have gathered. Madam Sarpanch says that Ghalib is a good man who has never caused the village any trouble and is not legally responsible for his wife’s death. Perhaps wanting to prevent Ghalib from coming across as the bad guy, she says that he feels responsible as Etali’s husband. After some silence, Ghalib announces compensation of 100,000 rupees, or about 1,260 USD. The sister does not accept. Ghalib says that he can give 200,000 at most. The sister refuses. Madam Sarpanch asks if the amount is too small and the sister says no. When Madam Sarpanch says that perhaps Ghalib needs more time to think about his offer, the sister agrees on thirty days.
Ghalib goes to the truck stop, fixes up his truck, and gets some hot milk from the…truck lot restaurant owner. It is then that he learns that Dilbaug got fired and had a violent confrontation with the bosses. Jeez…because of the night vision thing? Did they not know about that before Ghalib told them?
Ghalib goes to see the lot underboss the next day, having to lift the gate himself to drive in. Apparently, the underboss has taken Pash off of his small job and wants Ghalib to train him on driving the trucks. Ghalib says that he only wanted help with loading and unloading, but the underboss wants him to teach Pash the works. The underboss says that Pash, like Ghalib, comes from a family of truck drivers. And like a few of the people in Pash’s village, Ghalib’s father drove trucks in Kuwait. So, that is it. Starting tomorrow, Ghalib will be Pash’s mentor. Ghalib is…a little apprehensive.
Pash leaves and in comes the big boss, Mr. Gill, father of the underboss. Ghalib takes this opportunity to ask about Dilbaug. The underboss takes Ghalib aside and claims that he had tried to reason with Dilbaug about his night vision: truckers have to drive at night or else the business will go under. He claims that Dilbaug charged at him. Painting himself as the selfless one, the underboss says that he thanked Dilbaug for his years of service instead of calling the police.
Ghalib goes outside and sees the man who was going to help Dilbaug do nighttime drives now working his truck in the light of day. Dilbaug was a loyal worker for years, and they dumped him like that…in the middle of a strike. This Ghalib’s future and he knows it. He lost his wife. He is going to lose all of his money soon. And thanks to his back problems, he is probably going to lose his job soon as well.
Ghalib seems to be in a rut. He is in constant misery. It is not simply that he is in mourning, but he is in deep guilt as well. He may argue to Madam Sarpanch and his in-laws that he was good to Etali, but it is clear that he does not really believe it himself. He wants to be seen as a good person, but does he believe that he deserve to be?
While Ghalib is constantly on the move in his truck, it is almost as if he is going nowhere. Driving the truck is not simply what he does, but what he is. Driving trucks is in his blood, even back when he was a kid in Kuwait. Now that he has lost his wife and is no longer a husband, his only identity is a truck driver. He is at home as little as possible, perhaps to not get direct reminders of Etali, even though his time away probably played a big part in the breakdown of his marriage in the first place. Regardless, he is spiraling. We see later on that the job is far from a means for him to make money and not even really a matter of masculine dignity. It is simply all that he is. Without it, he is nothing. It is probably why he has little patience for the strikers and makes all sorts of excuses for the bosses, pushing aside the obvious signs that the bosses are trying to push him out.
This movie seems to show life in a state of uncertainty. There are stories all around that we get only a glimpse of. Dilbaug’s firing, Pash’s relationship with his sister, various residents in Ghalib’s apartment complex, his village, Etali’s family, the labor strikers, and certain rather colorful characters in the trucking crew who do not actually appear on screen. It turns out that there are parts of Ghalib’s story that we are not privy to, and not just his childhood in Kuwait. We get just enough of these stories to realize that there is so much more that we are not getting. Either the characters stop talking, start talking about something else, or the movie cuts to another scene. Perhaps we have to guess…or we are simply not meant to know.
In addition to uncertainty, we see how dysfunction and the struggle to stay afloat leads people to clash. It can be a small thing, like how a broken elevator can prevent residents from getting to their homes and other services from getting completed. How bad are things around New Delhi that the repair man could not get the elevator fixed in a timely manner? Then we see how the trucking company’s refusal to pay the warehouse laborers just a little bit more resulted in the strike, resulting in Ghalib’s hurt back and getting the attention of the bosses. The bosses are also on the lookout for the “checkpoint looters” and crooked cops whom they need to pay off. Is it desperation or plain greedy opportunism that gets them targeting truck drivers? And then, of course, there is the slow dissolution of Ghalib’s marriage, leading to his wife’s suicide and, subsequently, his taking more and more driving jobs just as the laborers are planning to strike. And why did Dilbaug even have to keep working in his old age?
On top of that is communication and the difficulties of it. At the center is how Ghalib and Etali stopped talking to each other until that fateful day when the phone signal didn’t work. There is Ghalib’s offhand comments to the boss that gets Dilbaug fired and him under a spotlight as well. Pash’s desire to be a good person gets undermined by Ghalib’s unwillingness to give him straight answers. And that is all in one language.
Taking place primarily in New Delhi, but everyone seems to be from somewhere else. Though born in Kuwait, Ghalib is from a village several miles away, where people speak…I think Punjabi. Etali and her family are from Sikkim, from almost the other end of the country, where neither Hindi nor Punjabi are regularly spoken. Then there are Ghalib’s neighbors, who are from Kashmir. And it seems like official documents are expected to be in English, which Ghalib can write in, but not everyone can. Sometimes, the people from these different cultures and regions can come together and bond. Other times, not so much. But they can try. They have to.
This is a slow and sad movie, but it is a good one.
WTF ASIA 228: Revenge (Kazakhstan: 1989, approx. 100 minutes)
WTF ASIA 229: Tanda Tanya (Indonesia: 2011, approx. 102 minutes)