When Shonali Bose set out to make a film with the backdrop of the massacre of Sikhs following then prime minister Indira Gandhi's [ Images ] assassination in 1984, there was no shortage of people asking her to take up some other project.
And when Amu, reportedly the first feature film to deal with the issue, was completed, she says, there were many who kept hoping it would not be released.
"If I ever had doubts that a cover-up of history had taken place," she says, "they were set to rest when the Censor Board removed such lines as 'They were all involved. The police, the bureaucracy, the government', and gave the film an A (Adult) certificate.
The festival also saw the premiere Mistress Of Spices, based on a bestselling novel by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. The film about a woman (Aishwarya Rai [ Images ]) with healing powers torn between her mission and her heart, received a lukewarm reception by such publications as Hollywood Reporter that found the film pretty, but not soul-stirring. The film has not yet found a distributor in North America. It is directed by Paul Mayeda Berges, the writing partner and husband of Bride & Prejudice director Gurinder Chadha.
The festival also drew a large number of actors, directors and producers of Indian origin. Ashok Amritraj has two productions, Shopgirl and Dreamer, both gala releases; John Abraham [ Images ], Seema Biswas [ Images ] and Sarala feature in Deepa Mehta's Water; Mallika Sherawat [ Images ] plays an Indian princess in the Jackie Chan [ Images ] film The Myth; Udayan Prasad directs the romantic comedy Opa; veteran director Buddhadev Dasgupta shows up with Kalpurush; and Ashim Ahluwalia makes an appearance with John & Jay, one of the most admired documentaries at the festival.
Amu was among several controversial films dealing with South Asian issues that were shown at the 30th edition of the Toronto fest. Prominent among them was Water, a project filmmaker Deepa Mehta was forced to shut down five years ago in Varanasi, following protests by fundamentalists who did not like the idea of a film about widows exploited in the holy city.
While Water is being released in the US by Fox Searchlight, Amu and John & Jay, as of now, are still looking for a distributor. Both were repersented by publicist Susan Norget, who had also handled last year's Oscar-winning documentary Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman's Born into Brothels:Calcutta's Red Light Kids .
Ashim Ahluwalia's feature-length documentary John & Jane is a brief examination of the lives of six call centre workers in Mumbai [ Images ]. "I have not made a film about outsourcing," Ahluwalia says. "It is a study of people who work for these call centres who seem to have travelled across North America without ever leaving India [ Images ].
"Many of them hate their job but are there mainly because of money," he continues. "But I am not at all judgmental. I allow the viewpoint of those who love their jobs."
Among the more visible political films was The War Within, in which a young Pakistani is getting ready to blow up the Grand Central station in New York. The film, which opens in a few cities in America on September 30, features a number of South Asian actors, including Ayad Akhtar, Nandana Sen [ Images ], Firdous Bamji, Sarita Choudhury and Varun Sriram.