Money problems. Who does not have money problems?
An elderly man is dozing off while riding in an autorickshaw. His voiceover says that he will die 48 hours after this, and that those who knew him the most would never know of his last memory. He had once been told that the poorest of men can be the richest. He had dismissed such a notion until he met Amal. Who is this man? And who is Amal? Well, let’s start with Amal and we will double back to the first man later on.
Amal Kumar is an autorickshaw driver. He has driven the autorickshaw for years and drives a lot of people around. He does have regulars, though, such a group of rich kids whom he drives to and from elementary school and a shop owner named Pooja.
During one drive, Pooja asks him what he will be doing during the festival of Diwali. Working, he replies. She says that she will probably be working as well, and double the prices of her items, since people are willing to pay any price on Diwali. Surely Amal would also make a killing. No, he says.
A young girl approaches them at a stop and asks Pooja for some change. Pooja tells the girl to go away, and continues the conversation with Amal, asking if he would seriously not be charging extra on Diwali and expressing surprise that he actually undercharges everyone, not just her. While Pooja is distracted, the girl steals her purse and runs off.
Pooja screams and Amal starts to give chase. Pooja tries to stop him, saying that there was not actually anything of worth in there. But Amal runs after the girl anyways, only to see her get hit by a car. The driver drives away, but Amal stays.
Okay, so back to the elderly man. You know what? Let’s call him GK just because. It is the evening and GK walks to a restaurant where he seems to be the only customer. He demands a cup of tea, and is adamant that he wants only tea. When he gets his tea, he gets upset that it is not a Bournvita…which is definitely not what he asked for. But GK angrily insists that he requested Bournvita was and refuses to pay for the tea, so the boss kicks him out.
Amal and Pooja take the girl to a hospital and answer questions from a police officer. Since the doctors do not know whether the girl will be okay, Amal takes Pooja home. Pooja sees that Amal is troubled and insists that the accident was not his fault that the girl stole her bag and then ran into traffic.
At some point, Amal returns to the hospital and sleeps outside until a doctor named Shiva wakes him up in the morning. He tells Amal that the girl is stable but still in serious condition. He asks whether the girl has a family, but Amal does not know. Doctor Shiva says that she will have to stay there for several days.
GK approaches, asking for an autorickshaw driver. Another driver approaches him, but picks a North American woman instead. GK is perturbed, but then Amal offers a ride. He also offers to help GK into the autorickshaw, but GK refuses the help, just wanting to go immediately.
GK says to go to CP, Inner Circle. He looks through his book and starts coughing. When Amal asks him if he is okay, the man tells him to stay quiet. He does accept some cough drops that Amal offers. Instead of thanking Amal, though, GK orders him to keep going and going faster, even through a traffic jam.
At one point, GK notices the picture of a man on the glass and asks who that is. Amal says that that is his father, who was also an autorickshaw driver. Was, GK points out. Amal will be a was soon enough as well, especially when the metro is finally set up and puts all of the autorickshaw drivers out of business. Amal does not respond, asking only where in the Inner Circle GK to go.
Inner Circle? GK yells at Amal for having missed the Outer Circle. Amal tells him that he had requested the Inner Circle. Just like with the restaurant owner the night before, GK asks if Amal is calling him a liar. Unlike the restaurant owner, Amal retracts his comment and says that he must have misheard. Still, GK threatens to report Amal for this and asks for his name. Amal gives it. GK writes it down and mutters that autorickshaw drivers are money-sucking leeches.
GK orders Amal to stop, and asks how much for the ride. The meter says that it is 47, so it is 47. GK says that he will pay only 37, due to Amal being such an idiot, and threatens to keep the cough drops if Amal complains. Amal seems unhappy, but accepts the arrangement. GK seems puzzled. No talk back? No haggling? What kind of autorickshaw driver is he? Amal says merely that not all autorickshaw drivers are the same. GK calls him an idiot once again as he hands him a banknote, and says that he will die broke.
GK is walking away when Amal calls to him. GK tells him to keep the change, but Amal says that they had agreed on the idiot discount. GK tells him to consider it a tip, but Amal refuses. GK, befuddled, asks Amal what his father’s name was. Vijay Kumar. And then they part ways.
Amal picks up Pooja from her shop and drives her to her supplier Subbash. She asks about the girl, and Amal says that she is improving. Pooja interprets that as meaning that the girl is fine, so she starts going on about how she designed a chain for her wallet and how all beggars are the same. She then starts praising Subbash as they arrive at his warehouse, only to start yelling at Subbash for having given her a local brand water bottles instead of the usual and charging the same price.
It is the evening again, and GK goes to a restaurant that is much more crowded than the one from the night before. He is trying to concentrate on writing something, but gets distracted by the musical performers. He insults the singer, and their back and forth entertains the other customers. Eventually, the singer challenges him to sing and the other customers egg him on. GK does not want to sing, but he does. Everyone is silent; it is obvious that he has impressed all of them. And…then he leaves.
And then not long afterwards, he dies.
There is a funeral. GK’s sons are there. His business partner is there. His lawyer is there. Other friends and associates are there. Apparently, the man who was such a cheapskate and dressed in ill-fitting clothes was actually pretty rich.
GK’s lawyer, Sapna Agarwal, has his sons meet her in her office to discuss his will, specifically, his new will, which supersedes the other one. One of the sons, Vivek, has no idea what Sapna is talking about. She says that GK had handwritten a new will just minutes before dying in the hospital. He had stipulated that its contents were not to be revealed to anyone until 30 days after his death. GK’s other son, Harish is angry; they had not even known that he was sick, let alone that he had rewritten his will. Sapna says that those were his wishes and nothing can be done about it for 27 days. So, that is when they will meet. Harish and his wife leave. Vivek apologizes for his brother’s outburst and shakes her hand. Sapna just says to have patience; that his father had his reasons. Vivek gives a fake smile and leaves.
After the meeting with the sons, Sapna has a meeting with Suresh Gupta, GK ‘s business partner. He asks her why she went along with this will, as the instructions were ludicrous. But she says that it is not up to either of them to question it. And Suresh has his own instructions, which involves some sort of list.
Amal returns to the hospital and, hey the girl is awake. He asks her if they are taking care of her. She says that it is fine aside from them missing her breakfast today. She said that she would have run into traffic long ago had she known that hospital service was like this. He asks whether she has a family. Just a godfather. Amal deduces that she means Mr. Thakur. Of course. The girl had assumed that everyone works for Mr. Thakur. Not Amal, though. She asks about the “miser witch” in his autorickshaw. He denies that Pooja is a witch, and the girl says that that means that she is a miser.
Vivek meets with Suresh at the bar of the hotel that his father owned. Suresh reminisces about how he and GK planned every detail for their first hotel. They were like brothers. But Suresh was a witness for the will writing and saw that he did not receive anything the will. That makes no sense to Vivek; surely Suresh had done more for GK than anyone. Suresh says that the friends and family meant little to him by that point. So, who is in the will? Suresh laughs. Vivek would not believe it.
Surely, though, you can guess who is in the will.
Amal returns home. The first thing that his mother says upon seeing him is that she had not seen him for three days. She had spent years worrying about his father and now she spends years worrying about her son. He has not been taking care of himself. Her brother is still offering to hire him at the post office, where the pay is higher and there is less work. Then he can afford to marry a nice girl…who can wait on her mother-in-law hand and foot. Amal does not say much, only to say that she should not have wasted money on clothes for him to wear on Diwali, since he will be working. This sets her off even further. The autorickshaw work killed his father and will kill him too. That is unless the metro comes first and puts him out of work. But Amal is not listening…he was too exhausted to stay awake.
Vivek goes to see Mr. Thakur, the Godfather. Apparently, Thakur had sent flowers to the funeral. And Vivek has owed him money for a while. The only reason why Thakur has not had Vivek killed after running off without paying the last time was out of respect for Vivek’s father. Vivek tells Thakur that he needs just one more month and then the payment will come, including interest. Thakur accepts, but says that the debt is doubled. And to make sure that he does run off to London again, Thakur has a minion keep Vivek’s passport. Huh…so, does this mean that Vivek is in his father’s will or does he have another plan?
So…I have been doing this series for three years and, I have certain criteria that determines what I include. However, it seems that what I count as being from Asia can be a little loose at times, particularly in terms of funding, but also director. Though the hints were there in the beginning, I had not realized until after finishing the movie that it is actually from Canada. No, not Kannada, a language spoken in Southwest India, the Canada in North America. The movie is set and filmed in India, but the director is Canadian, the writer is Canadian, most of the producers are Canadian as far as I can tell, the actor who plays Amal is Canadian, and several other actors are Canadian…yeah, that’s it. I have no insight into that. Anyways…
Who is Amal? Amal is just a guy. He drives an autorickshaw. He drives people around. Sometimes he also transports supplies for them. And that is pretty much it. He is not a hero, let alone a superhero. But he is nice. He is polite. He is considerate. He is not a great guy. He is just a good person. A good person who will commit small sacrifices for the sake of others whether or not they deserve it. He is not a gentleman, but he is a gentle man. Surely, he is not the only one, but I guess that that level of decency is in short supply in the city.
The city is bustling, especially during the day. It is full, bustling, and busy. No one has time to stick around. Everyone is working. Almost all of the characters in this movie are concerned with making money and keeping their money. Some worry because they are struggling to survive. Others want the money to live comfortably. Others want the money to move up the economic ladder. Others are just greedy. Everyone overcharges and underpays. Everything is transactional, and no one seems to be willing to do anything more than their jobs if they do not get something out of it. Sapna takes pride in her job and does not want to stray beyond it, regardless of how strange this current situation is. The doctor who looks after the girl certainly does want to help her recover, but will not put his own resources into it. At best, people do their jobs without ripping off other people. This is how things are, and everyone expects it. Life does not reward anyone for anything. What you have, you got because you took.
What separates the rich from the poor? Well, the amount of money each has, of course. Yet, the two worlds a crammed together in this city, with the middle class stuck there as well. At least in this movie, the rich draw a circle around themselves by speaking English to each other and their business subordinates. But they still have to speak Hindi with everyone else. The wealthy may have walls around their houses, but there are still child beggars just outside, desperate for any act of charity. The closeness of the various worlds does lead to a couple of eyebrow-raising coincidences near the end, but it also calls attention to just how little we may notice when we choose not to look.
Now, sure, you can argue that it is unfair for this Canadian movie to portray India as a land of thieves and child beggars, but just you wait for the next Indian movie coming up in a few weeks.
It is only Amal who devotes time and money to check in on the girl. Does he do it out of guilt for having chased her into traffic? Perhaps. But he feels responsible for her well-being. And since no one else steps up, then he has to, even if he is not sure how.
It would be easy to label Amal a fool or a pushover. And, perhaps he is. A few characters treat his behavior as naïve and may honestly believe that they are doing him a favor by advising him to look after his own interests. And perhaps they are right. But he is not unaware of what goes on; of what other people do. He knows that the metro is coming. He knows that he is not making as much money as he could be making. He knows that the job was at least partly responsible for his father’s death. He is not content with his life or at peace. He is casually religious, but he has no overriding philosophy to get him through the day. And he has no big speeches to give others. He just lives his life the way that his father did. And if he dies the way that his father did, then so be it. He helps people because he feels that it is the right thing to do. He lets people get one over him because there is no point in arguing. That is just how he is. He wants to do good for its own sake. A review refers to Amal as “the last good man” and…maybe?
GK knows none of this when he interacts with Amal. GK will never know any of this during his lifetime. He never meets Pooja or the little girl as far as we know. All he knows is that Amal drove him to his destination, put up with his frequent insults, admitted to being in the wrong despite being right, accepted a fee that was lower than the official bill, and enforced it instead of accepting money that was still lower than the official bill. The only time that Amal came close to talking back was to confirm that GK wanted to go where he had said.
All of this blows GK’s mind. In his…sixty-five years on earth, he has known only people ripping each other off. Autorickshaw are among the worst; that is just common knowledge. Always ignoring the meter and charging more. And it is certainly the case with a certain other autorickshaw driver that the movie briefly focuses on. That, in the last day of his life, he has a brief encounter with a man who gave into his demands and stuck by them is incredible. While Amal’s behavior does inspire others to change their ways a little, GK’s changing his will is a rather extreme example.
It may help that GK had turned…let’s say eccentric…by that time. As rich as he is, he could have worn clothes that, if not looked good, at least fit him properly. He could be eating at fancy restaurants and riding around in more comfortable modes of transportation. But he doesn’t. And he is quite stingy. For certain, this lifestyle brings him no joy. He is eternally grumpy. And then there is his giving orders and then angrily claiming that he had ordered something else. While he is not totally unjustified in his grievances, it does sometimes feel like he gets angry to be angry.
Then again, maybe things would not be much better had GK lived the lifestyle that he could afford. Ripoff artists are among the rich as well, just on a larger scale. His money has not made him happy. At least one of his sons is a major screwup and I am guessing that he cut them off, which is why Vivek had to turn to Thakur for money. Perhaps he left the life of luxury in hopes of finding meaning among the lower classes. But he didn’t. All he saw was misery and money grubbing, just like with the rich. So, perhaps he figured that that is all that life was until his brief interaction with Amal.
Alternately, it has been theorized that much of this was an act on GK’s part, especially as he seemed to be rather clear of mind in his voiceovers. Perhaps he was just sick of his family and business associates, so he put on this persona of an absent-minded curmudgeon to see if he could find someone in the city who would exhibit a natural kindness towards such a person. That Amal turned away those three rupees suggested that he was the opposite of GK’s greedy gambler of a son. That he did not want money made him the most deserving of it. Finally able to change his will to reward a worthy heir, he could die in peace. I do not know if I totally agree with this take, but it is one to consider.
This movie walks a pretty fine line, constantly about to fall into a cheesy morality play about karmic justice for a noble poor man who puts up with the verbal abuse from his betters and has no desire for a better life. Some might say that it does fall into that. But…there is a sincerity to it that I find quite touching. This movie could have also easily slid into one of those movies about an innocent man ground down into dust by the cruelty of society, but it is not that either. The movie is not saying that we should all live our lives like Amal. Not at all. Perhaps, though, it might better us all if we thought a little bit more about others. No, there may not be a point to being good, but perhaps goodness for its own sake is good enough. Even if the film is a bit cornball, I feel that it is effectively cornball. So that makes it one for me to recommend.
WTF ASIA 159: Fires on the Plain (Japan: 1959, approx. 104-5 minutes)
WTF ASIA 160: Explosion (China: 2017, approx. 106 minutes)