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Shameful past unveiled with passion in `Amu'

June 15, 2007|Carina Chocano | Times Staff Writer

In Shonali Bose's debut feature, "Amu," a young Indian American woman travels to Delhi to get in touch with her roots and ends up stumbling upon a terrible secret from her country's past.

American-raised recent UCLA grad Kaju Roy (Konkona Sensharma) is spending a post-collegiate year with her protective, middle-class family in Delhi when an impromptu visit to the city's slums sparks her interest in a 2-decade-old massacre -- the 1984 Delhi riots during which about 5,000 Sikhs were killed by order of the government after the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The systematic suppression of the massacre and the sense of deja vu she feels in the slums combine for Kaju into a single mystery she becomes intent on solving.

As Kaju and her new friend Kabir (Ankur Khanna), the wealthy son of an influential politician, delve into the true circumstances surrounding her adoption at age 3, they uncover a hidden moment in their country's past as well as a terrible link between them.

An admirable labor of love that stumbles dramatically but gets along on its sincere good intentions, "Amu" is Bose's debut feature, which she wrote, produced, directed and distributed herself, with Emerging Pictures. Bose, who holds a master's degree in political science from Columbia, has worked as an organizer and comes from a politically active family. Brinda Karat, who plays Kaju's mother, is herself a women's and worker's activist and the filmmaker's aunt.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday July 04, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 1 inches; 68 words Type of Material: Correction
'Amu': A June 15 review of the film "Amu" said that during the 1984 Delhi riots about 5,000 Sikhs were killed by order of the government after the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. While some members of India's ruling party at the time were accused of being involved in the Sikh killings, none were charged, and there is some historical dispute about where the precise responsibility lies.

Though some scenes, such as the incidental domestic ones featuring Kaju's elderly grandmother (Aparna Roy) or the humble cafe-owner Gobind (Yashpal Sharma), have an authentic, verite feel (there's a nice scene of Gobind's son performing a dance for Kaju's video camera), others, in particular Kaju's more strident attempts to extract the truth from people disinclined to share it, feel at once shrill and flat. Sensharma, a rising star of Indian cinema, is an appealing presence, but as a naive recent college grad in search of "the real India," she can be a real nerve-plucker.

Still, given the Indian government's reaction to the film -- it has screened in India with references to the government involvement in the massacre taken out, and Bose refused to make similar cuts for it to run on television -- it's hard to fault the filmmaker's passion.

And despite the overt message and Manichean universe it pushes, "Amu" manages some memorable cinematic moments while getting the word out for its cause.

"Amu." In Bengali, Punjami and Hindi with English subtitles. MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes. At Laemmle's Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 274-6869; and Laemmle's Fallbrook, 6731 Fallbrook Ave., West Hills, (818) 340-8710.

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