2007 // Canada // Richie Mehta // November 19, 2008 // Theatrical Print (Landmark Plaza Frontenac Cinema)
Richie Mehta's fable of Delhi slums and mansions, Amal, aims quite explicitly to be a Diwali Gift of the Magi. While its Indian setting is rarely superfluous, Amal's focus on the endurance of decency and the morally eroding nature of privilege is uncluttered and accessible. The film presents autorickshaw wallah Amal—portrayed with captivating subtlety by Rupinder Nagra—as just about the most honest, patient, and gentle soul in the world. His kindness towards a grumpy vagrant triggers an amazing destiny that rushes invisibly towards him, even as he struggles with the suffocating demands of clients, his mother, and an injured orphan under his care. Implausibility worries the edges of Amal's character, but Nagra convinces with his tentative speech and nervous smiles. Some of the film's characters border on cartoonish, and Mehta never quite attains a needed balance between the film's sagging realism and its fairy tale glint. While the pacing staggers around a bit initially—Mehta seems reluctant to reach obvious conclusions and essential destinations—Amal picks up steam in its second half, when the twists and revelations quickly begin to click into place. It's no kind of masterpiece, but it is a sweet and memorable tale.