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The ambitious and heartfelt debut film from director Richie Mehta, Amal (2007) — screening in association with In Conversation With... Naseeruddin Shah — is a powerful and touching story of one man's decency, and a vividly textured portrait of contemporary India.
Richie Mehta and Naseeruddin Shah will be at TIFF Bell Lightbox to introduce Amal on October 4 at 8:30pm.
In chaotic New Delhi, Amal (Rupinder Nagra), an auto-rickshaw driver, allows an aged, irascible and seeming homeless man to dodge his fare, an act of generosity that brings about far-reaching consequences.
A short time later, a beautiful client has her bag stolen from Amal's auto-rickshaw by a little girl. When the young cutpurse runs into traffic and is struck by a car, Amal takes her to the hospital and assumes responsibility for her care — an expense he cannot afford.
Meanwhile, the irritable old man to whom Amal had given a free ride dies, and his funeral reveals that he was in fact G. K. Jayaram (Naseeruddin Shah), the patriarch of a wealthy family. Disillusioned with his grasping children, he has willed his fortune to Amal. Now, within thirty days, the estate's executor must find one anonymous man in a city of fourteen million. If he is found, Jayaram's wastrel heirs will be deprived of their inheritance and the little pickpocket can receive the care she needs. Familial machinations descend to vicious levels as the search for Amal plays out.
Mehta, who also co-wrote the film, conveys a visceral feel for working-class Delhi. Nuanced performances by some of India's most revered and beloved actors — including Shah (Monsoon Wedding), Seema Biswas (Water), Roshan Seth (Such a Long Journey) and Koel Purie (White Noise) — enhance the film's authenticity and immediacy. Nagra brings a serene wisdom to Amal that captivates and transports us.
Amal's life-affirming story evokes lingering vestiges of the caste system and examines a family in which wealth creates nothing other than the hunger for more. At the end of his life, the patriarch holds up a mirror to the world he inhabited as a tycoon but departed as an ascetic. Amal is an inadvertent inspiration to Jayaram, for Amal has always known something that the rich man only just learned: that we are defined as much by what we sacrifice as by what we possess.