There are some stories that must be told. Shonali Bose’s Amu is one such story. A story set in the backdrop of one of the many gruesome (politically instigated) communal riots that took place in modern India.
New Delhi – November 1-3 1984: Thousands of Sikhs were massacred in a methodical fashion at the behest of the then ruling Congress party leaders and their operatives. To this date, the people behind this pogrom have not been brought to justice. The so called protectors of the people had become the hunters. The riots started abruptly and ended suddenly making it quite evident that they were a part of a controlled massacre backed by the State. If the people were really motivated in conducting these massacres, then there would probably be no Sikh left in New Delhi after those 3 days. Many Hindu and Muslim families provided refuge to their Sikh friends in their houses to protect them from the State operated terrorism.
Amu tells the story of Kajori Roy (played with tremendous grace by Konkona Sensharma) who returns from Los Angeles to New Delhi to find out about her roots. Now we all know that this premise can easily fall in the “third world viewed from the first world lens” category. Instead, Bose’s screenplay cleverly avoids these traps and succeeds in taking the viewers on Kajori’s self-discovery of her past. This is Shonali Bose’s first feature film and that inexperience is evident when she tries to deal with multiple themes in 98 minutes and the narrative falters in certain places. But it’s very easy to avoid these shortfalls because her sincerity and earnesty is evident in the entire film. Watching the making of the film, I understand that she had to overcome many obstacles to get this film made. There were political threats, censorship objections and ultimately her producer backed out leaving the film without the backing of any major names. The censor board asked her to edit about 10 minutes of the film to remove any political undercurrents that they thought were objectionable. They even went so far as to give the movie the dreaded “A” certificate on the basis of “exposing the youth to events and themes which should be best forgotten”. Such shame!
The events of 1984 have been carefully and meticulously covered up by the Indian Government and it continues to strive to erase them from the memories of its newer generations. They say history needs to be taught so that the newer generation learns from its mistakes and tries not to repeat them. For India’s future generations it is very important that these horrific events from the recent history become a part of the curriculum : I say every history book should have a chapter on every single episode of communal violence that has occurred in contemporary India (lofty dreams). For now, I will do with movies like “Amu”.