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Amu is the story of Kaju, a twenty-one-year-old Indian American woman who returns to India to visit her family and discover the place where she was born. The film takes a dark turn as Kaju stumbles against secrets and lies from her past. A horrifying genocide that took place twenty years ago turns out to hold the key to her mysterious origins. Written by
I had the pleasure of seeing "Amu" during the launch of the first annual Asian American Film Festival in Pittsburgh this past weekend. Perhaps a fitting testament to the reason festivals such as this need to exist in the first place, the film deals with a subject I hadn't even known existed beforehand: the Sikh massacres in India over a three-day period in 1984, and the complicity of a corrupt government in facilitating and masking the events.
Director Shonali Bose, one of the producers (her husband, Atiya, I believe) and star Konkona Sen Sharma were all on hand to answer questions from the audience, and the political nature of the film led to a spirited discussion (and occasional debate) that, unfortunately, could not be condensed into the time allowed. Thus, given the film's stature and the importance of its subject matter, it's a shame to point out the shortcomings of its actual artistry.
As another commenter has mentioned, the film is generally well-directed but is not perfect. I agree that certain elements of its narrative (particularly the pacing, as well as a few contrived interpersonal moments) felt tacked-on or inauthentic, and were perhaps invented to couch the story in a modern-day milieu that could appeal to audiences before "surprising" them with the political content of the film in its second half, as the mystery of the main character's history is unraveled.
It's entirely possible the film would have worked better without the "mystery" angle, especially since it seems to come from left field midway through the film and then becomes all-pervasive, in direct contrast to the semi-documentary "romantic comedy travelogue" feel of the first half. What struck me most awkwardly was the disjointed nature of the "suspense" surrounding the eventual divulging of repressed information. The purposely vague ways in which Kaju's family avoids discussion of her past or, when confronted with conflicting information, seek to simply change the subject or stare pensively at the floor felt falsely melodramatic.
But all of my criticisms become quibbles when faced with the undeniable power of the film's few flashback scenes, which depict certain controversial events in an unflinching light. In those moments, Bose finds her true voice, and the voice of the victims in these unjustified atrocities.
Incidentally, one area the films succeeds in artistically is the casting of Konkona Sen Sharma as Kaju. Her accent and body language were flawlessly American on screen, as they should have been (Kaju is an Indian girl raised in America), but Bose explained after the film that Konkona has lived her whole life in India and was only given two weeks to immerse herself in Los Angeles's culture to prepare for the role of Kaju. Those who see the film will certainly agree that she succeeded.
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