Set in the muted chaos of New Delhi, where motorized auto-rickshaws, cows, luxury cars and begging urchins mingle in the hot, dusty streets without much incident (though not always without complaint), Amal (Seville Pictures) is about contrasts. But there’s more to it than a familiar rich-exploiting-the-poor plot. The tale of an upstanding auto-rickshaw driver (or wallah) whose fate becomes intertwined with that of the family and friends of a deceased millionaire, Amal teaches about happiness. Instead of actively seeking it, the message seems to be, work hard, do good, and quiet satisfaction will soon spread. But the movie is big enough to show genuine respect toward those who are too overwhelmed by their circumstances to follow the sage advice.
Amal (Rupinder Nagra) is the upstanding wallah, an honest man who makes little money and still lives with his mother. He depends for his livelihood on an auto-rickshaw left to him by his father, who died young. One day, Amal is driving his regular customer Pooja (Koel Purie), a good-looking and level-headed shop-owner, when a street girl (Tanisha Chatterjee) approaches the rickshaw and asks Pooja for money. Pooja refuses, so the girl nabs Pooja’s purse and runs off. Chivalrous Amal chases after the young thief only to see her get hit by a car as she tries to evade him. Horrified and feeling responsible, Amal takes the girl to hospital and struggles to pay her expenses.
Meanwhile the viewer learns that Amal has been named in the will of an extraordinarily rich hotelier who, shortly before dying, rode in Amal’s rickshaw and was so impressed with the driver’s integrity and grace that he left his money to Amal instead of his adult children. The hotelier’s no-good son, Vivek (Vik Sahay), who seems to have been ruined by his father’s wealth, is none too pleased when he learns from his father’s business partner, Suresh (Roshan Seth), that a complete stranger will inherit the family fortune if he can be located within 30 days. Vivek agrees to share his portion of the inheritance with Suresh if Suresh will deliberately fail to find Amal.
So Suresh takes to the streets of New Delhi and goes through the motions of searching for Amal, with no intention of succeeding. Roshan Seth, with his expressive face, makes it easy to read his character’s struggle to understand why his former partner would forsake his near and dear for a random wallah. Seth plays it appropriately cool but confused when his eventual encounter with Amal fails to offer any answers.
A word of caution: To fully enjoy Amal and take its lessons to heart, I had to frequently quiet a persistent little voice in my head. It pointed out the plot’s painfully ludicrous coincidences, the characters’ too-easy transformations and the slightly infuriating way that Amal shows only the kinds of flaws you’d list on a job application under “weaknesses” – working too hard, caring too much, etc. Vivek’s problems (a destructive gambling habit, a spoiled brat’s sense of entitlement) seem real enough, but his relationship with his brother is never fully developed, nor do we learn how he interacted with his father before the latter died. (Were they ever close? Or always butting heads?) So how could I enjoy a movie that didn’t make the grade in so many ways? I think the main reason was that it performed the amazing feat of bringing life to a cliché: I left feeling I could actually believe the usually trite message that money cannot buy happiness.
Amal ends with the title character carrying on his life as he did before he met the millionaire: For better or worse, he is still a wallah, and Pooja is still in his life. As the millionaire’s friends and family are destroyed by the excesses of their affluence, and the prospect of more, Amal stays solidly steady. Viewers who can appreciate the surprising delight of balance – the wellbeing that comes from acceptance – may try to be a little more like the title character every day.
-Marni Soupcoff is the Deputy Comment Editor of Canada’s National Post.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Joseph Hammond
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Emma Elliott Freire