Sunday, January 09, 2005

A word-of-mouth film

There are reasons and reasons to go to a film, but nothing can be more compelling than hearing about one from a trusted friend. If you have not heard anything about Amu, Shonali Bose's film, from someone you know and would believe, please take my word for it.

Amu is a film that works not simply because of what it does, but also because of what it does not do. It does not attempt to sentimentalise human emotion. It does not have to spill blood and crack bone to paint a picture of violence. It does not attempt to conveniently tie up loose threads that may hang tantalisingly in the air. It does not lean on big names to carry it.

When you watch Konkana Sensharma exploring India through a handycam in the opening shots of the film, you can't help but raise your eyebrows and wonder if this was the latest in a stream of crossover films about NRIs discovering themselves on a journey back to the exotic and many-layered mother country. You couldn't be further from the truth.

The manner in which Kaju, Sensharma's character, is used to tell the story of bloodbath of the 1984 anti-sikh riots that shook Delhi in the wake of Indira Gandhi's assasination tells you how much the event meant to Bose. There is no attempt to malign one party or the other. There is no attempt to make broad social comment. In some ways, there is no need to, even, as Kaju struggles to work these things out for herself.

In her journey - which begins innocently enough - Kaju learns about the riots. She learns first-hand of the suffering, the death, and of justice denied to the victims two decades after the crime.

The performances in the film from a varied cast are almost uniformly encouraging. Ankur Khanna, cast as Kabir, Kaju's companion in her passage of deiscovery, is the one weak link, but it's easy to overlook this. Sensharma's smouldering intensity and arresting unorthodox good looks light up the screen so brightly that the odd passage of stilted dialogue and moment of awkward acting fade away. But, just like in a vividly painted oil, the background never loses its lustre. The riots of 1984, and justice denied, are with you even when the movie ends.