Amal

Bottom Line: Director Richie Mehta almost gets away with presenting characters of such ancient lineage they feel exotic and fresh.

TORONTO -- A dying street urchin, eccentric millionaire, greedy relatives, a good-hearted auto-rickshaw wallah and beautiful though lovelorn shopkeeper are the key characters in Richie Mehta's unabashedly sentimental tale, "Amal." Not since Charlie Chaplin's silent movies has a filmmaker seriously deployed such stereotypes. Since he sets his fable within chaotic modern-day New Delhi, Mehta, a Canadian filmmaker of Indian heritage, almost gets away with presenting characters of such ancient lineage they feel exotic and fresh.

Rupinder Nagra plays the title character, an impossibly good man who works himself to death ferrying people all over the vast metropolis in an auto-rickshaw he inherited from his equally hardworking father. He is in love with one of his daily fares, a pretty shop owner (Koel Purie), but never says a word. When a street beggar steals her purse, Amal gives chase. The little girl runs into traffic and is hit by a car.
Amal takes the seriously injured child to the hospital and plays for her care despite the fact he cannot afford it.

Unbeknownst to him, an irascible old customer (the superb Naseeruddin Shah) he picked up a few days before was actually a wealthy man who, sensing the goodness in this cabbie, changed his will moments before he died to bequeath this wealth to Amal.

But his lawyer (Seema Biswas) and brother (Roshan Seth) have only a month to find Amal in this city of 14 million or the fortune will revert to his wastrel progeny.

Mehta's actors play this tale for all it's worth, creating surprising depth and personality to the fictional constructs. Nagra is so natural and easygoing that he makes Amal's mix of naivete and wisdom plausible. Purie exudes warmth even though her character has more of a practical mind. Shah as the tycoon and Seth as his brother capture the emotions of old, cynical men who make the startling discovery that human decency is still a possibility.

The best thing about "Amal" is how Mehta, an outsider, catches daily life in Delhi with all its sidewalk arguments, messy traffic, greed, hunger, hopes, humiliations, foibles, joys and fears.
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