Beggars and businessmen, bicycles and cars and oxen-pulled carts move through New Delhi's streets like pieces of a brainteaser puzzle. The autorickshaw drivers negotiate traffic jams and tourist crowds. A driver named Amal, a man who inherited his job from his father, picks up a hilarious curmudgeon. After a short drive and dozens of his client's opinions, they enter a dispute over the intended destination. This brief encounter will have far-reaching effects-- perhaps.

A year later, we learn the truth about the man's identity. Then, a second O Henry twist takes us to a problematic but strangely charming conclusion. Shaun Mehta's short story, "Amal: The Autorickshaw Walla" became two films, both co-produced by sources in Canada and India, and filmed in New Delhi.

The original short film (2004) strays little from the source. Amal, a simple but scrupulously honest man, drives an autorickshaw. He lives with his wife, whom he sees too little (he often sleeps in his rickshaw to get an early start on work) and whom we do not see at all.

Musician Dr. Shiva plays G.K. Jarayam, the difficult client who may or may not change Amal's life. A narrator provides additional information, at the beginning and the conclusion. These words frame the piece, emphasizing its similarity to a fable or folk tale. Director Richie Mehta and his crew make effective use of a low budget, and keep the story very simple. Even the Indiapop that scores the film stays very stripped down.

The success of the short meant that the same creative team had the opportunity to expand the eighteen minute short into a full-length feature.

Directed by Richie Mehta
Written by Richie and Shaun Mehta from the short story by Shaun Mehta.

Rupinder Nagra as Amal
Dr. Shiva as G.K. Jarayam
Supriya Ambwani as Beggar Girl
Manjit Bumrah as Ms. Agrawal
Priya Pasricha as Priya
Hans Sachdev as Raju

The second Amal (2007) has to dispense with the simplicity of its source. Amal and G.K. Jarayam now have developed stories, and friends and families who will clutter the story with subplots. Mehta handles these fairly well. Rupinder Nagra once again plays Amal with an understated conviction and real humanity. Our autorickhaw wallah, now single, lives with his widowed mother, a likable though somewhat stereotypical character who longs to see her son married. Amal's favourite client, Pooja, an attractive street-vendor, seems a possible mate. Driver and client soon find their lives enmeshed with a beggar girl, injured in an accident after she steals Pooja's purse, and the local Godfather, the only source Amal knows of money for the girl's medical care.

Amal cannot leave her to die. Having chased her out into the street, he feels responsible. Amal is like that.

G.K. Jarayam has an entire family now, most of whom aren't terribly likable. His son, Vivek, the antithesis of Amal, mistreats people and runs huge gambling debts. G.K.'s brother, Harish, thinks the older man is crazy. G.K. Jarayam wisely trusts his business dealings (as in the original), to a scrupulous lawyer whose son, in this version, gets driven (coincidentally) to and from school by Amal.

Will the lawyer find Amal in time, with G.K.'s important message? How low will Vivek go to get the money he needs? Will Harish experience the rebirth of faith in his brother and humanity? Will Amal and Pooja fall in love? Will the beggar girl survive, and find a family? The film adds these, and other familiar tropes and plot devices, to the original story. That story remains relatively intact and proves interesting, but I don't know how often the remake bests the first film.

Some improvements relate to the character of G.K. Jarayam himself. The longer film makes no secret of his identity, but it develops his character, only sketched out in the original. Certainly, his first scenes provide more laughs, but he has greater depth, as well. Since Bollywood loves its musical numbers, Amal gives us a realistic one, as a band performs an old song at a bar. Jarayam loudly criticizes their rendition. The musicians respond in a suitably comic fashion—and then the scene turns serious, which leads to a moving conclusion. We can only guess at the old man's past, but we see it has had consequences. We understand he was once a very different man.

Our enigmatic passenger also delivers the sparse narration, giving it character missing from the first film. We realize from the beginning that, at the end of his life, he has found peace.

The fate of the other characters must remain in doubt for most of the film. We must wait until the conclusion to learn what befalls Amal in this version, and see what happens to those close to him. As the time passes, Siddhant Behl as Harish shows plausible character development that will affect the conclusion. Vivek's path the filmmaker depicts through a shocking turn of events, and an allusion to Shakespeare's Macbeth. These developments answer (somewhat) the charge that the original is not merely simple, but simplistic, in its message.

Both films, with dialogue in Hindi and English, connected with an audience, and stayed true to the themes of the source. If neither won Oscars, they demonstrate that success need not always be defined in the expected terms and that, sometimes, poor men can find true wealth.

Directed by Richie Mehta
Written by Richie and Shaun Mehta from the short story by Shaun Mehta.

Rupinder Nagra as Amal Kumar
Naseeruddin Shah as G.K. Jarayam
Koel Purie as Pooja Seth
Seema Biswas as Sapna Agarwal
Vik Sahay as Vivek Jarayam
Roshan Seth as Suresh Gupta
Tanisha Chatterjee as Priya
Siddhant Behl as Harish Jarayam
Amardeep Jha as Radha Kumar
Maya Mankotia as Simran Jarayam
Dr. Shiva as Dr. Shiva
Sanjiv Chopra as "Godfather"

Note: Another short film, 2005's "Amal," deals with a 12-year-old girl in Morocco who wants to become a doctor.