It has always surprised me that Indian social commentators -- media, cinema, writers or academia -- have been fairly amnesiac about the 1984 Sikh killings. As a kid, while growing up in North India, I remember hearing stories and stories about the 'riots' that followed Indira Gandhi's death -- Sikh kids pulled out of their houses, tied together, doused with gasoline and burnt alive; the crowds 'felicitating' Sikhs for having 'killed' Indira Gandhi by 'garlanding' them with lit tires; Sikhs being dragged by the hair which were the main symbols for 'marking' and killing them.
Somehow these stories which I just heard are much more visually etched in
my mind, than the graphic videos that I have watched of the 1992 killings or
the post-Godhra pogrom. It might have something to do with the fact that as
children our imaginations give us the scope to register things more starkly
And perhaps that is the reason why I could relate with the movie at a very different level than I would with any other movie on a similar theme.
Amu is a story of a five years old child who witnesses her father and brother being killed by a mob in 1984. It is about this child's mother who feels so helpless by the events surrounding her husband's and son's deaths that she commits suicide. And it is about the police, politicians and state machinery which is complicit in these events, perpetrates and allows them to happen.
Amu starts off as a typical 'in-search-of-her-roots' story about a young Indian-American woman, Kaju, coming to India. As usual, there is a twist in the tale where she discovers that there is more to her history than she had been told or had assumed. However, unlike other such movies, the twist is much more than personal. Kaju is that child who lost all her family in 1984, the family that called her Amu.
The movie uses this story as a focal point to highlight the politics of communal violence in India, which often manifests itself in the form of 'riots' -- a euphemistic expression for killings that more often than not are done by people who have the support of state structures of power. It goes beyond being a mere chronicle of events of 1984. It makes a statement about communal politics in India and the institutionalized structures that have allowed it violent expressions. In fact, it end with a news clipping of a report on post-Godhra riots.
Amu is intelligently crafted, and well-researched. Konkana Sensharma does a great job as Kaju/Amu. You get to see two active women politicians^×Brinda Karat and Subhasini Ali^×showing off their acting skills. And most importantly, Shonali Bose, the director, holds the whole movie together with a very evident and immense amount of conviction. She needs to commended solidly for that.
And watching the movie in the backdrop of the recent acquittal of Congress leader Jagdish Tytler, one of the prime accused in the 1984 cases, of all charges of engineering the killings, was indeed gratifying.
In wont of a critique, I would say a little bit of essentializing could have been avoided -- the 'good' social women workers from Delhi elite colleges helping out the victims, the perpetually better-informed Bengali intellectuals and the angst-ridden son of a demanding Punjabi rich bourgeois father who wants to write poetry! For god's sake! But then again social commentaries somewhere have to essentialize!
-- Ellora Puri
Ellora Puri is a Political Scientist based at the University of Jammu, India
Film description: Kaju, a twenty-one-year-old Indian American woman returns to India to visit her family. 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. How were Kaju?s family involved in the killings? What happened and why? Who were the culprits? Who benefited? Will Kaju have the courage to pursue the truth no matter the cost? Will it destroy her relationship with her mother? Will it affect her burgeoning romance? Will it change everything she knows about herself and about India?