They don’t speak each other’s language, so communication is a tad catch-as-catch-can.
He’s given to explaining his country to her — poverty and waste, open-hearted generosity and theft with “That’s the way it is in India…That’s how people are in India.”
She’s testy, greedy, suspicious and self-centered.
“Family is very big here,” he preaches.
“Family is stupid” is all she’ll say to that.
And she is impatient, fuming at his every stop for “street food” (which she avoids), or to help stranded bikers and bicyclists with his handy on-bike tool kit.
Full disclosure here, I was pretty damned impatient myself with this Indian road picture/romance. It takes what seems like forever for “Kilometers and Kilometers” to get on the road and underway. And even underway, it’s rarely more than sentimental, with little dollops of charm sprinkled in.
But this film by the whimsically-named Jeo Baby (“The Little God”) almost gets by on warmth, cute supporting characters, scenery and banter — much of it muttered in Malayam by the teeth-gritting tour guide Josemon (Tovino Thomas) as he drives this lotto-winning American Cathy (India Jarvis) to the temples, caves, markets, statues and ruins of Kerala, his corner of India.
Josemon is commissioned to do this by a relative who runs Appacham’s Holidays Hotel. The idea, cooked up by his brothers (Well, that’s how they address each other.) is that he’ll charge and charge this young woman with the bottomless bank account so that he can pay off debts, cover his sister’s college and the like.
But that’s not his style. Neither is putting up with some tourist’s leeriness of Indian street food — she’d rather not go to the hospital with Kerala’s version of “Dehli Belly” — who gripes at every way he “wastes” her time, and who won’t even lend him her extra sunglasses when he’s getting dust in his eyes from driving kilometers and kilometers over roads and backroads.
A robbery alters the dynamic, the balance of power, and at least lets Josemon turn his endless muttering into a “You fool stupid woman” tirade. Good thing she doesn’t speak Malayam. And boy is she lucky that their unscheduled stop didn’t cost him the motorcycle he inherited from his late father. “Bullet” is his great love.
Their story unfolds at a dawdling pace, and there’s rarely a scene in it that doesn’t go on past its dramatic or comic payoff. Thomas provides most of the story’s spark (a supporting player or two registers as well) and all of the not-quite-there chemistry with his co-star.
All that said, it’s not without its engaging characters and the occasional winning plot thread. Josemon has spent the movie explaining India’s begging to Cathy, and when they lose their cash and phones, Thomas lets us see how quickly Josemon can put on a pitiful face that strangers immediately want to help.
We see touches of grief, some sad and Third World hospital-based, others silly.
And we see the American come to understand what Josemon, with every stop to mend a stranger’s punctured tire, explains as India runs on “relationships,” not money.
Not bad messaging in this pretty, slow-footed and obvious romance. It’d all come off better in a film with the opening half-hour whacked off and the rest subjected to a vigorous edit as well.
MPA Rating: TV-MA
Cast: Tovino Thomas and India Jarvis
Credits: Scripted and directed by Jeo Baby. A Netflix release.
Running time: 2:07