AMU (Shonali Bose). Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Amu, the first feature by Shonali Bose, deals with the human aftermath of the 1984 Indian riots, when more than 5,000 Sikhs were killed following Indira Gandhi's assassination.
Kaju (Konkona Sen Sharma), an Indo-American recent UCLA grad, visits New Delhi for the first time since she left there as a three-year-old. Lugging around a camcorder, she's enjoying spending time with her middle-class extended family and her cousin's university friends, but she's mysteriously drawn to the city's slums.
When she overhears talk there about the 1984 killings, she starts probing into this hidden chapter in India's history, which could deliver answers about her own personal history as well. She was born in the slums and adopted at three, but who were her birth parents? Why won't anyone talk about the massacres? What's her adoptive mother hiding?
Bose directed a couple of narrative shorts and a well-known doc (Lifting The Veil), but it's obvious this is her first feature. The acting and characterizations are uneven, a few scenes are awkwardly staged (including one where Kaju and her mom dance and discuss politics), and several secondary storylines aren't fully developed. (A forthcoming novel based on the screenplay should fill in some gaps.)
But despite these shortcomings - as well as a touch of sentimental melodrama - the film explores a little-represented period in recent history with sincerity and commitment. It's a worthy gala opener to the third annual Spinning Wheel Film Festival celebrating Sikh film and culture.
Other intriguing features at this year's fest include By The Guru's Grace (October 16), about Sikhism in Canada and around the world, and Tiger! (October 15), a documentary about a man who arrives in Canada with six dollars and claws his way to international success. (Isabel Bader, October 14)