“Listen Amaya” by Avinash Kumar Singh was a very difficult film to review. Not because I didn’t like it. Quite the contrary actually. I loved it. I found it pleasant, realistic, heartfelt and humorous with the appropriate amount of melodrama. But I also found it very personal.
The story is centered around a twenty something girl named Amaya (Swara Bhaskar) coming to grips with her widowed mother’s new relationship. Her mother Leela (Deepti Naval) runs an off-beat cafe called Book A Coffee who falls in love with a regular at the shop, Jayant (Farooq Shaikh). Jayant (affectionately called Jazz by all the kids at the cafe) is a 60-something photographer who also lost his wife and daughter years ago. All is well with the three of them until Amaya discovers her mother and Jayant are romantically entangled.
The charm of “Listen Amaya” is not necessarily in the plot but in its execution. There is a refreshing amount of honesty and heart to all the main characters. Bhaskar is a bolt of lightning onscreen as Amaya and she does an admirable job of carrying the film opposite heavy weights like Naval and Shaikh, who still have fantastic chemistry after all these years. Much will be made of their reunion on screen after more than 20 years. But their homecoming to the silver screen is not a gimmick. Their roles are the spine of the film and they approach a sensitive subject (at least by Indian standards) with great ease and intelligence.
However, it’s the relationship between a child and their widowed parent that hits so close to home for me. When I was 16, I lost my mother to breast cancer. It was a difficult time to say the least. You go through mood swings and find yourself unreasonably angry at times. My father had to adapt. A man who hardly ever stepped foot inside a kitchen was forced to try to completely change his lifestyle after the age of 50. Plus he had to deal with an at times over the top angry teenager. Our relationship is not perfect but it is based on the immense respect for what he had to go through.
In certain scenes, viewers will undoubtedly see Amaya’s reactions to the situation as petty and irrational. But it’s exactly what happens in these scenarios. Your better judgement gets clouded because of the pain from your loss and anything that looks like a slight towards how you feel gets an angry rebuttal. There is a scene where Leela is explaining her relationship with Jayant to Amaya very rationally and calmly. Amaya cannot respond despite the impassioned plea from her mother. Director Avinash Kumar Singh expertly portrays these moments with great candor and fidelity.
“Listen Amaya” touches on subjects rarely portrayed in Bollywood. Instead of going down the road of shock and awe, he deftly chooses subtlety and moderation to great effect. It won the best feature film and best director awards at The New Jersey Independent South Asian Cinefest back in October and now I understand why. It’s releasing all over India February 1. It’s an important and touching film worth your time.