Strong directorial debut about a New Delhi driver will please arthouse crowds


on August 12, 2008 by Chad Greene

If the world worked differently, first-timer Richie Mehta would assuredly ride an auto-rickshaw all the way to silver-screen success with Amal. Instead, one suspects the writer/director of this auspicious pic about a New Delhi driver who toils along on the edge of financial ruin even though he has—unbeknownst to him—been named as the sole beneficiary of an eccentric entrepreneur who once rode in his rickshaw will, like Amal himself, find happiness with his lot in life. Which will be, in this case, likely limited to respectable arthouse runs—especially in communities with Indian-American or Indian-Canadian constituencies.

Midway through his second decade as an auto-rickshaw wallah, Amal (Rupinder Nagra) is jolted out of his straight-and-narrow routine when an urchin named Priya (Tanisha Chatterjee) snatches the purse of Amal’s gorgeous regular rider Pooja (Koel Purie). The chivalrous Amal chases after Priya on foot, only to see her struck by a car as she dashes across a nearby street. Horrified, he and Pooja drive the thieving girl to the hospital themselves. Already a workaholic, Amal takes it upon himself to pay for Priya’s expenses (including bribes to the hospital staff)—necessitating ever-longer hours behind the wheel.

Unknown to the struggling lug, however, he is actually the heir to a fortune. After riding in his rickshaw, a terminally ill hotelier named G.K. Jayaram (Naseeruddin Shah) decided that the profoundly decent Amal was more deserving of an inheritance than his own spoiled sons Vivek and Harish (Vik Sahay and Siddhant Behl) and wrote a new will decreeing that if his business partner Suresh (Roshan Seth) and lawyer Sapna (Seema Biswas) can locate Amal within 30 days of his death, the driver will receive hundreds of millions. Drowning in gambling debts, the prodigal Vivek convinces Suresh not to tell the trusty attorney that he has, indeed, found Amal until it is too late. But Suresh begins to have doubts about this course of action even as Sapna sets out to find Amal on her own.

Perhaps most thought-provoking for Western audiences will be the way Mehta’s script—a collaboration with his brother Shaun, who wrote the short story that inspired it—challenges the ways we define wealth. It’s a subtle theme, yet one that is supported in almost every single shot of Amal —especially the scenes of the New Delhi streets, where the extremely rich and the extremely poor are in constant contact and, at times, conflict. However one measures success, though, Amal is unquestionably a rich cinematic experience.

Distributor: Seville Pictures
Cast: Rupinder Nagra, Koel Purie, Naseeruddin Shah, Seema Biswas, Vik Sahay, Roshan Seth and Tanisha Chatterjee
Director: Richie Mehta
Screenwriters: Richie Mehta and Shaun Mehta
Producers: David Miller and Steven Bray
Genre: Drama; English- and Hindi-language, subtitled
Rating: Unrated
Running time: 118 min.
Release date: July 15 Canada

Tags: independent, Rupinder Nagra, Koel Purie, Naseeruddin Shah, Seema Biswas, Vik Sahay, Roshan Seth, Tanisha Chatterjee, Richie Mehta, foreign, Hindi

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