What would a road movie about a road engineer who is endlessly driving someplace be like, wonders a road engineer in a road movie who is endlessly driving someplace.

Prakash, the engineer, is one of a handful of characters who features in painter and multi-media artist Babu Eshwar Prasad’s debut Gaali Beeja (Wind Seed), which is being shown at the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival (October 29-November 5). The Kannada film is set on a stretch of the highway that connects Bengaluru to Mumbai. The ribbon of asphalt that winds past patches of black soil and emerald is Prakash’s open-air workspace. Along the way, Prakash picks up Jaffer, a movie pirate who is on his way to a hilltop village where he will screen world cinema titles. A man who sticks film posters weaves in and out of the elliptical narrative, as does a farmer who bears silent witness to the gradual loss of agricultural land to road widening.

Gaali Beeja pays overt tribute to the cinematic genre that has excited the imagination of Hollywood and international arthouse filmmakers in the scene in which Jaffer hands over to Prakash pirated DVDs of road movies. In a later scene, Prakash watches Alice In the Cities, one of German director’s Wim Wenders most well-regarded films about a writer who helps a nine-year-old girl locate her grandmother. “Alice in the Cities was one of the first movies I saw when I was studying at Baroda,” said Prasad, who graduated from MS University with a Master of Fine Arts in Graphics. “Gaali Beeja is a dialogue with that movie and the genre.”

Gaali Beeja uses the conventions of the road movie, which typically involves characters who set out on a journey that may or may not have a defined goal, to reflect overlapping themes. One of them is Bengaluru’s sprawl outwards into the hinterland. The 96-minute film opens with a series of tracking shots that reveal the intense construction activity that has engulfed vast parts of the metropolis. As characters and the narrative move away from the city, urban markers follow into the patchwork of fields, trees and tin-roof shops. Tensions between urban and rural subtly manifest themselves, especially in the figure of the farmer who waits by the roadside for nobody in particular.

Gaali Beeja is, however, hardly a message movie about the conquest of the countryside by rampaging JCB machines. The movie has an eye for landscapes and a distinctive voice that is curious about the intersection of human lives, whether on a highway or elsewhere. Gaali Beeja is a scrapbook of fragments, images, memories and cinephilia, and its larger questions are existential in nature. The absence of an obvious plot foxed the Bengaluru office of the Central Board of Fillm Certification, which denied Gaali Beeja a certificate on the ground that it was hardly a movie. “I don’t know how they got that impression,” Prasad said. After a long wait, Gaali Beeja has finally been awarded a Universal certificate.

“I had wanted to make a proper road movie, but somehow it came a movie set on the road,” the 46-year-old filmmaker said. The criss-crossing of different lives and worlds, of the urban, semi-urban and the rural, the philosopher and the householder, points to the prevalence of harmony as well as an uneasy co-existence, he added,

Gaali Beeja was initially a jumble of images in Prasad’s head. “It took me some time to start developing what were initially simple images, such as the screening of films on a full moon night, the road itself, the movie Alice in the Cities, the films of Abbas Kiarostami and Jim Jarmusch,” he said. In an evocative sequence, Jaffer looks at the patterns that cable wires along the highway form when seen from the inside of a moving vehicle. “I wanted to capture flowers, the parting of clouds, the play of light and shadow,” Prasad said.” Some of the moments in the movie refer to Prasad’s past, such as his fascination with movie posters, whose iconography he explored in a short film in 2005 called Dus Ka Bees.

The crew travelled close to 350 kilometres from Bengaluru while shooting the movie in June last year, and not surprisingly, part of the minuscule budget was spent on car fuel. Most of the sequences were staged with a mix of professional and first-time actors (Prakash is a theatre actor, the farmer and the man who sticks posters are visual artists), but BR Viswanath’s camera is also alert to found objects along the way, such as a neatly stacked row of cement mixers and the skeleton of a burnt bus that suggests a previous traumatic accident. “Work should happen spontaneously, otherwise it becomes another kind of arithmetic process,” Prasad said. “Even in painting, I start by putting colours on the canvas and wait for the painting to develop.”

In the classic manner of the genre, characters wait for inevitable changes (a bus stop is abandoned, a tea stall haunt shuts down) and quietly acknowledge that the beauty of the road always extracts a price. The road engineer is initially bored of Alice and the Cities, but he comes to acknowledge its significance. He returns to the city after another encounter with a female biker, and the movie leaves open the question of whether he has been lightly touched or transformed.