Kids Corner


AMU: Fearless Filmmaking

A Film Review by KIRK HONEYCUTT.

AMU. Written, Directed and Produced by Shonali Bose. USA. Running time: 101 min

[Straight from its triumphant tour of the world's top-tier film festivals, Shonali Bose's Amu will begin its North American release on February 16, 2007 in Toronto, followed by Vancouver, Montreal and 10 other Canadian cities. Acclaimed at the Toronto and Berlin film festivals, among many others, Amu is produced and is being released in Canada by Jonai Productions - a Los Angeles based independent film company. Emerging Pictures, a NY based company, is releasing the film across the US in the Spring.]


For an Indian, 1984 conjures up not the spectre of George Orwell's famous novel, but the ant-Sikh riots in the capital city of Delhi following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. For three days, mobs, allegedly led by politicians and abetted by police, went on a rampage in which thousands of Sikhs were injured or slaughtered. "Amu," the first feature film by Shonali Bose, a UCLA film school grad and political activist, boldly rips away a tapestry of lies and cover-ups by successive Indian governments, which even today refuses to prosecute even one individual.

The heat of Bose's anger is tempered by a keen sense of drama and character as she uses a story set in the present day to unravel the shameful truth. While receiving its first international exposure at the Berlinale, "Amu" has already played across India, where it has attracted large crowds and controversy. [The film certainly has the legs for wide travel and is now being released in theatres in North America.]

Bose wisely chooses to present the story as that of an American immigrant so the film can deal not only with the issue of cultural identity but also take the point of view of an outsider. Amu (played by the beautiful and talented Bengali actress Konkona Sensharma) goes to visit relatives in Dehli from her Los Angeles home after college. An upper-class student named Kabir (Ankur Khanna) teases her about her quest to discover the "real India." The two become friends despite this challenge to Amu's naivety.

Wandering among the crowded markets and slums of Delhi, Amu experiences odd feelings that refuse to go away. Asking questions with the determined curiosity of youth, she learns about the anti-Sikh riots and, as an adopted child, wonders if they have any connection to her parents' demise. Her adopted mother Keya Roy (Brinda Karat, the director's aunt who is wonderful despite never having acted before) becomes flustered by her daughter's prying.

Soon the movie takes on the quality of a first-rate detective story as the two young people dig deeper and deeper into family secrets. Amu is not certain which she dreads more: discovering that rioters killed her parents or that a man who just might be her father actually participated in the slaughter.

At the climax, the film does flash back to 1984 so that it may bear witness to genocidal fury not unlike that in the film "Hotel Rwanda." As a 19-year-old student in Delhi, Bose worked in the refugee camps where she heard the horror stories that form the basis of her screenplay. The script skillfully draws a viewer into this maelstrom of hatred using both the mystery story and budding romance between Amu and Kabir. It beautifully personalizes a social and political tragedy without resorting to the old Hollywood trick of thrusting a white journalist or tourist into foreign chaos.

"Amu" is less about finger-pointing than a plea for India to confront its past, to overthrow its official amnesia and deal with the cycles of sectarian violence that continue to haunt that country as witnessed in Gujerat only a few years ago. (The film ends as the Gujerat riots begin.) Bose is a fearless filmmaker who certainly knows how to tell an engrossing tale without compromising her political viewpoint.


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