A part of me feels some measure of empathy for well-meaning but basically awful little indie movies like The Journey (Sancharram). The story of teenage lesbians in India who face cruel ostracism from a society with no tolerance for them is clearly a project that someone cared very deeply about. The movie was made with the very best of intentions in the hope of exposing this important issue to a world audience. Unfortunately, as is so often the case, good intentions only get you so far, and human rights activists do not necessarily make good dramatists or filmmakers.
The movie's plot is barely a sketch of an idea, so predictable that it writes itself after the first scene. Childhood friends Kiran and Lilah grow into budding adolescence and develop an attraction for each other that their families and community consider unnatural and sinful. The needy Kiran has been pining for forbidden love and, after finally expressing her feelings toward the obliging Lilah, much hand-holding and tepid cuddling ensues. Things seem bright and happy until Rajan, a teenage boy with the hots for Lilah, happens to spy on the two girls hugging in the forest one day. You'd think a normal heterosexual male would find himself a good vantage point and stick around for the sweet Sapphic makeout session to come, but instead the wussy Rajan cries like a sissy and runs off to tell Lilah's mother about the horrors he witnessed. Soon enough, the two girls' families tear them apart, Lilah's mother fixing an arranged marriage to salvage her daughter's reputation and Kiran's family disowning her. Gossip and scandal throughout the community drive the wedge deeper, forcing Lilah to choose between her best friend and her responsibilities to the family. I'd recap more of the plot but I'm sure you can figure it out from there.
Despite its ambitions, The Journey is a bland little film, amateurishly acted, written, and directed. It plays like the Indian equivalent of an Afterschool Special, dragged out to an interminable feature length. As much as I'd like to respect the attempt to dramatize a subject still extremely taboo in the Indian culture, good storytelling this is not.
The Journey comes to DVD courtesy of Wolfe Video, an indie label I hadn't heard of before. Judging by the complete lack of care or effort put into the mastering of this DVD, I think I'll be avoiding them in the future.
Just about everything that can possibly go wrong with a video transfer is in evidence on this disc. The movie is presented at an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 (the actual ratio varies throughout the running time) in non-anamorphic letterbox format. In many shots it is also windowboxed with black bars on all four sides of the frame. I suppose we should be grateful the studio even feigned any interest in the widescreen format when they could have just panned & scanned it, but even to that end it's clear that the framing is cropped too tightly on the top of the screen and usually too loosely on the bottom, as if the film were centered incorrectly on the telecine.
The picture appears to have been mastered from a VHS source, which was in turn mastered from a ratty theatrical print found in someone's basement. The image is fuzzy, dull, faded, and plagued by dirt and speckles. The DVD's digital compression quality is also a mess. This is clearly the work of a studio that doesn't care at all about quality.
The disc's case claims that the Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack is "stereo", but it sounds like straight mono to me. Shrill, scratchy, warbly, awful mono. As bad as the picture quality is, the soundtrack gives it a run for its money.
Non-removable English subtitles in a big ugly yellow font are present throughout the movie.
Director Ligy Pullappally delivers and audio commentary (in clear English) that, at least for the 10 minutes or so I listed to, was more interesting than the movie itself. The story about how a lawyer from Chicago came to direct a movie about teenage lesbians in India is kind of intriguing, but even so I couldn't care less and bored of it quickly. Just to drive home the incompetence of the studio, the commentary is accompanied by a loud, distracting buzz in the recording.
A theatrical trailer and a music video are also included.
No ROM supplements have been provided.
Unless you're a teenage lesbian from India and/or a feminist activist with a high tolerance for poor drama, there's no reason to look at this DVD. Move on.