Director Gyan Correa talks to Liz Shackleton about his debut feature The Good Road, selected by India as its official entry for the best foreign-language Oscar category.

A middle-class couple and their son; a small girl on the run; and a weary truck driver and his assistant are all travelling through the eerily beautiful landscape on the borders of the Rann of Kutch. When the couple lose their child, the three groups begin to collide and new family units are formed, transforming all the characters in ways they never expected.

Filmed on location in the Indian state of Gujarat, Gyan Correa’s debut feature The Good Road touches on several social problems — a divided society, child prostitution and the harsh life of India’s truck drivers — but it is character-driven, rather than issue-based. “My film is about small people,” Correa explains. “The whole idea was to give a voice to people who are normally never heard.”

A Mumbai-based film-maker with a background in directing commercials, Correa spent several months researching the film by hitchhiking and travelling with the truck drivers who transport goods along the arteries of India. “There’s a whole different system that takes place on our highways that transcends caste, culture and community,” Correa says.

During the writing process, Correa wanted to ensure that the story was firmly rooted in a particular region of India. He was drawn to the culture and landscape of the Kutch region of Gujarat — a vast area encompassing desert, salt marshes and grasslands — but made his final decision on setting during casting when he met real-life truck driver Shamji Dhana Kerasia, one of several non-professional actors in the film.

“We looked at a lot of very good actors but figured it would be easier to put an actor into a driver than a driver into an actor,” Correa says. The decision to cast Kerasia also determined that the film would be Gujarati-language, as it would have “sounded comic” to have him speaking in Hindi.

Correa doesn’t speak Gujarati, but as a commercials director working in multilingual India, has filmed in many languages, and feels that sometimes not understanding a language can be an advantage. “You can get distracted by language, but when you don’t know it you’re just going with the raw emotion.”

Non-professionals play several other characters in the film, including the young girl who unwittingly finds herself in a roadside brothel, although professional actors Sonali Kulkarni and Ajay Gehi play the couple and child actor Keval Katrodia plays their son.

Correa took part in The Screenwriters’ Lab at Film Bazaar in Goa in 2008, which he describes as hugely useful. “They give you a framework to look at your script with fresh eyes but the final say is yours,” he says. India’s National Film Development Corp (NFDC), which organises Film Bazaar, later agreed to fully finance the $350,000 film. It then took part in Film Bazaar’s Work-in-Progress Lab in 2011 after shooting.

The crew, which Correa describes as exceptional, includes Oscar-winning sound designer Resul Pookutty (Slumdog Millionaire), DoP Amitabha Singh (Khosla Ka Ghosla) and music director Rajat Dholakia, responsible for the film’s subtle score of Gujarati folk music.

The end result is a thoughtful and layered film, which leaves many things to the imagination, but is fairly clear in its examination of family and the notion of belonging. “I feel that as a society we don’t appreciate children enough, or if we do, it’s for the wrong reasons,” Correa says. “Children are a lot more mature and intelligent than we give them credit for. I guess that’s the same the world over.”

The film won an award for best Gujarati film at India’s prestigious National Film Awards in May this year — the first time a Gujarati film had been honoured at the awards since Upendra Patel’s Manvi Ni Bhavai in 1994. It was released theatrically by NFDC in Gujarat this July, and will screen at the International Film Festival of India, Goa, this week.

Asked how he feels about the Oscar submission, Correa says: “I was shocked at first, then went through this fear, as I didn’t know what would be involved. But it’s exciting for a film-maker as it gives me visibility and will help me raise funding for my next film.”

Correa says he is currently working on a few screenplay ideas and, while he is not opposed to working in Hindi, would like to make another regional-language film.