Last Thursday, film director and UTM alumnus, Richie Mehta, visited UTM for a screening of his 2007 award winning movie Amal.

Amal tells the story of a poor rickshaw driver named Amal Kumar, whose honesty and strong morality inspires a billionaire to leave all his wealth to him. The movie is set in Delhi, India and was nominated for Best Motion Picture and Best Director at the Genie Awards.

Mehta joined the students of RLG332 (Reel Religion) for a Q&A session after the screening.

“Amal explores the idea of happiness and success being relative to each individual, and how some people may not consider money as the primary indicator of success,” Mehta explains. “We are prone to judge others based on our own ideas about happiness, and forget that other people may not want the same things that we want.” Mehta further mentions how the movie portrays different people running after things that they think will make them happy.

When asked about his source of inspiration, Mehta describes how his movies are based on his own personal experiences and the types of people he has met in India.

The director highlights how although movies like Amal are set in a realistic framework and follow the lives of everyday people, these movies are “still pretty fictional, and contain fictional elements like multiple coincidences, which are unlikely to occur in real life; this is a fable, that’s why we have the narration,” he explains.

Mehta further describes how films can have a powerful impact on people: “More so than any other visual or acoustic medium has ever done, because it combines them both. So you use this very strange language to develop ideas and convey them.”

Reel Religion explores the role of films as mediators of thought and experience concerning religious worldviews, is taught by Ken Derry, associate professor in the Department of Historical Studies, exposes students to the idea of conveying ideas surrounding religion through film. Derry sat down with The Medium to discuss how film and religion can intersect.

“I began studying religion and literature during my graduate studies. Not many students were interested in the topic, but one course on religion and film was extremely popular,” says Derry, adding how he began teaching the course and noticed that teaching film was more effective than teaching literature.

“One of the reasons why it was more effective was because we were picking films that we liked and thought were interesting, but that were also popular. If you’re teaching a work of literature, it can sometimes be intimidating for students, and so if you are trying to get them to express their views, they can be very hesitant,” explains Derry, mentioning that in his introduction to religion course, he has shown films like The Lion King, and has found that students are very engaged with thoughtful things to say about it. Derry explains how this “allowed us to teach complicated ideas and theories about religion more effectively.”

Derry describes how incorporating films to study religion gave students a kind of “media literacy,” and gave them “the ability to understand certain aspects of [..] culture that [we] are exposed to all the time.”

When he started teaching the course, Derry wanted to know whether using films to explain religion would be beneficial for students. He conducted a study using answers from the final exams for a term, and found that the questions concerning religion and popular culture were most often picked, and consistently demonstrated a much better understanding of the theories.

Derry explains why he selected Amal for the class viewing: “I was really drawn to Amal, I found it a very lovely film. It does certain things with religion that connects really well with Karl Marx’s theory of religion. I thought it would work well as a teaching film.”

“I’m not too familiar with Bollywood myself, and so I thought it would be good to show a film portraying a completely different culture,” Derry adds.

Derry mentions research that has shown a connection between superhero films and events like the US invasion of Iraq, where a narrative of good versus evil was constructed to get people to see the invasion as a necessary step.

Derry adds, “if this is the case, then things like superhero movies are incredibly dangerous, because if they are helping to make it easier for the U.S. to invade countries illegally, then that’s terrifying.”