An elderly English couple set out on a 5000-mile-long trip through India and Bangladesh in this watchable little documentary
If this film, as described by one of its subjects, is about “two upper-class English people poncing about India in a Rolls-Royce,” it's also just on the right side of affable to be worthy of 80 minutes of your time. The self-described upper-class English people of Romantic Road are Rupert and Jan Grey. Rupert is the great-grandson of Prime Minister Earl Grey and a top London lawyer, who dreams of returning to India where he travelled as a backpacker with Jan in his younger days.
The ostensibly crazy idea is to travel 5,000 miles through India and Bangladesh, in time for an art festival where Rupert and Jan are to be the guests on honour. The film chronicles their journey, where they face numerous obstacles (including the usual bouts of dodgy stomachs), though none so troublesome as the 1936 Rolls itself, which has a tendency to break down, and which later the Bangladeshi authorities refuse to let into the country.
The film eschews the usual overtly romantic portrait of India we've become accustomed to in western cinema, and instead shows us the country as it: chaotic, frustrating, beautiful, with an overwhelming amount of poverty. But the Greys' initial fear that the population might react badly to such an overt symbol of colonialism whizzing through the streets are quickly quashed: everyone here is, for the most part, very friendly and gracious.
The whole documentary, which attempts some low-key mythification of Rupert himself, is light as air, and there are points where it's hard not to wonder who, exactly, it's for. It isn't detailed or insightful enough about the country to stand as a proper travelogue. And when, at the end, the film tries to retroactively brand the whole affair as a love story about its leads, we wonder where exactly that love story was on-screen. Jan – not as charismatic as her husband – doesn't get much screen time at all; at points we forget she's even on the trip.
Still, what could have come over as grating and tone deaf emerges as a mostly charming and very watchable foray.
Romantic Road is in select UK cinemas from 8 October.Where to watch