The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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'I just made Amu to be able to sleep peacefully at night'

Q:Did Amu get a normal nationwide release'

No, my distributors Shringar Films started with only four prints in Mumbai, Delhi and Calcutta. Then it moved to other cities. Amu is the realisation of a long-suppressed idea. I was in the first year of my college in Delhi when the 1984 anti-Sikh riots happened. I was deeply impacted by it. I never wanted to be a filmmaker, only an academician. But then my mother passed away under tragic circumstances and I left for the US. But I didn't like academics. So I became a filmmaker. I needed to write about the mother-daughter relationship. The 1984 riots coalesced with my mother's death. I realised how important it is to provide comfort to the grieving.

Q: Amu is a film with a strong message.

Yes, my husband and I have been activists in the US. And many members of my family including my parents have been activists. But I was very sure I didn't want Amu to become a shrill message film. My husband and I had read the script to independent filmmakers in LA. They insisted we put more politics in the film. We managed to mask the politics in Amu and we're proud of it.

Q: The film's message is warning us against forgetting the lessons of history that needs to go to the young generation.

Yes. I discovered the young generation knows nothing about the 1984 riots. But can you believe a member of the censor board asked me why the young need to know something as painful as the 1984 anti-Sikh riots! They also deleted some lines condemning the hands of politicians and cops in the riots. Because Amu is a well told story, I've had an amazing response.

It opened the Kerala Film Festival and there were 2000 people there. At the premiere in Mumbai we got a standing ovation. In Calcutta, too, we got a fantastic response. It's overwhelming. But the English language will restrict the audience. It will be dubbed in Hindi later. But Amu is an international film. It will be shown globally.

Q:Amu creates a painful reaction in the audience.

What I've discovered is that people are responding emotionally to Amu. I think people are rejecting empty entertainment. In any case, I wasn't thinking of the market when I made the film. I had no choice. I just had to do this film. And now when I see 900 people reacting in a theatre I feel I'm in Disneyland.

Q:The casting ' real-life activist Brinda Karat ' is interestingly cast very close to her personality'

No, I didn't cast her because she was an activist. It's a very difficult job to play oneself. Subhashini Ali is uncomfortable in the two scenes that she has in my film. I cast Brinda Karat because she's a good actress. I was very sure about the faces and personalities I wanted. I must confess I auditioned 50-60 actresses for the title role. Being in LA I hadn't seen any of Konkona Sensharma's work, not even Mr & Mrs Iyer. I had gone to Konkona's mother Aparna Sen to play the mother. She said she was no longer acting. Then she asked me about the daughter's role and recommended Konkona. I needed an actress with depth and a lot of interior stuff going on. In Delhi, I finally saw Mr & Mrs Iyer, and right from the theatre's parking lot I called Aparna. Konkona did an audition in Delhi. I immediately knew she was my heroine Kaju. As for the little girl who plays Konkona as a child, she was discovered by Brinda Karat. When we shot the riots she was terrified and she wouldn't come. For the next riot sequence I got her father into a turban to play one of the rioters. Then I told the little girl, 'Apne papa ko dhundo.Woh udhar hain.' Then we got her real brother to play little Amu's brother. Each time he was put on camera he wailed for his mother. That worked well for the film.

Q:What next'

Another film soon. I can only make films with a message. Issues galvanise me. I just want to make the films I believe in. Ideally, I wouldn't want to write. But I can't find the stories that I want to film. I've two children to manage. My husband has been amazingly supportive. He's a NASA scientist. He's a real swadesi. You know, a big production company in Mumbai ditched Amu after pursuing me. Just then my husband got money for producing the world's smallest camera. We used that money to keep Amu going. But I'm satisfied with the way I made it. I never thought of a target audience for Amu. I just made it to be able to sleep peacefully at night.

Q:The book version of Amu was released along with the film.

I never wanted to write! In Delhi, Penguin got hold of the screenplay and they were convinced it'd make a good novel. While I was editing Amu in LA I squeezed the book out. I don't feel it stands up to the film, though I could put in all the details. That's why I agreed to write the novel.

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