Written and Directed
by Shonali Bose
Running Time: 1:42
Amu was a movie that tried very hard to be uplifting and moving, but didn't quite reach the heights it inspired to reach.
After graduating from college in the U.S., Kaju decides to take a trip to India to help discover her roots. She is quickly caught up in the life and wonders aloud why she didn't make the trip sooner. She meets Kabir, a jaded resident who lives the upper class life and feels Kaju is 'slumming' in India before going back to her sheltered life in the States. Kaju ignores him and ends up meeting and befriending a cafe owner, who brings her to visit his family in the slums. There, Kaju has flashes of a life she doesn't recognize. It leads her on a path to discover her true beginnings. It is a path that will lead to haunting discoveries about the true identity of her parents and what really happened to them in 1984.
The story of what happened in India in 1984 is not a well known one, especially for an event that happened in relatively recent memory. In June of 1984, then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi sent her military into the Golden Temple, the holiest of Sikh shrines in India, to search for the leader of a militant Sikh group. The military desecrated the temple and killed hundreds of innocent Sikhs. In October, two of Gandhi's Sikh bodyguards assassinated her. This lead to three days of rioting in the streets of Delhi where thousands of Sikhs were dragged from their homes and murdered. No one was spared. What makes the event even more tragic (if that's even possible) is that the prevailing wisdom believes the government allowed it to happen. To this day it is an event that no one wants to speak about.
Amu is marketed as a film about the 1984 riots, but in reality it's a movie about a girl searching for her roots. It just so happens her roots were born from the riots. But the majority of the film has nothing to do with 1984, and so I felt a little mislead when I watched the film. That being said, the journey of this girl was an interesting one and one I could understand. Kaju was born in India but left when she was three, so she essentially grew up as an American. It's only natural at some point in your life that you'd want to go back and find out where you came from. Adding to her interest was the fact that she was adopted and knew nothing about her birth parents. That truth was hidden from her.
Amu was the director's first feature film and it was a good effort. Her actors held up admirably well, even if some of them weren't the greatest. The lead actress was terrific, and that made up for the deficiencies of anyone else. Visually the film was pretty good. Everything was shot on location and although many people don't want to talk about 1984, the story was done in such a way where things could be alluded too without coming right out and saying it. There were moments where the director attacked the government through her characters and those were the strongest moments of the film. I only wish there had been more of a concentration on that aspect of the story.
I think what troubled me most about the film wasn't so much the movie, but the discussion that took place afterwards. The director and her husband came up on stage for a Q&A and while she was more neutral in her answers, he went to an extreme that I didn't like. He basically said that the government was entirely at fault for this. They started the riots, they supported the rioters, they let the rioting continue and they did nothing to try and end it. I have a problem with that. Even if all of that is true, people still had a choice to make. There's a scene in the film where the rioting has just started and there are people on a train. They see what's going on outside, and immediately they get together to protect their two Sikh friends who are on board. It is a horrifying and extremely sad scene as one of the Sikhs is forced to cut his hair in order to save his life. But in the scene you see that people have a choice. You don't have to join the crowd. Even if your government is pushing you to do something, who says you have to listen to them?
THE BOTTOM LINE
All in all, I thought Amu was a so-so film. It had great potential but in a movie that purports to be about the 1984 riots, there was little discussion on the riots themselves. There is still a great a movie to be made about what happened 23 years ago, but this is not it. This is more of a coming-of-age drama set against the background of the horrific events. For what it was it was good. But it could have been so much more.
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