Amal and the definition of success

How does one measure their own success?

I know we’re supposed to taylor the first few blog posts to the central theme of being young, having graduated and trying to find your way in the world, but something came up which I couldn’t resist writing about. Not to worry, there will be plenty of blog posts recounting some incredible stories from the early lives of well-known Canadians — from astronaut Roberta Bondar to children’s performer Raffi, and beyond.

But last night I saw a movie; or , rather, a “film.” It was called Amal. It is a Canadian film, already in theatres (or, more accurately, “in theatre“) for the past five days, that follows the events surrounding the death of an eccentric Indian millionaire, his misguided — and surprisingly cruel — children, and the title character, an autorickshaw driver whose heart is so golden, it weighs him down endlessly, as he weaves his way through the congested streets of Delhi.

Director Richie Mehta tells a simple story. One could even call it a fable. It was put together for less than a million dollars, no small feat for a film these days. The ending comes as a surprise, though it makes absolute sense. And the theme of wealth reverberates throughout the story. Who has more of it — the heirs of a rich man or the one who leads a peaceful, altogether happy, existence?

That question was one we tackled while conducting our interviews for Kickstart. We set out to learn the early stories of Canada’s most “successful” citizens. But how does one measure success? Is it an individual’s net worth (think of billionaire Jim Pattison)? Or is it the amount they give away (think of entrepreneur and philanthropist Peter Munk)? Does it mean leading a balanced life (a lesson passed on from so many of our interviewees, including Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Beverley McLachlin)? Or being happy within yourself?

We hear these questions buzzing around Amal’s rickshaw as he escorts his patrons in and out of the city’s byzantine centre. The ultimate result of Amal’s insouciant quest is that he never knows how close he may come to attaining wealth, unless of course he’s had it all along. “The wealthiest person is a pauper at times,” goes the song, performed by everyone from The Byrds to Johnny Cash and Jeff Buckley, “compared to the man with a satisfied mind.”

The film is touching in its poignancy, believable in its intimacy and endearing in its home-made style. My co-author Paul could go on at length about how important it is to support local films in their first few days: if the theatre senses a lack of audience, it will immediately withdraw the film, letting it flounder and end up in a vault somewhere, unseen by the masses.

Do yourself a favour: go and see this movie. It’s well worth the investment.

Alexander Herman is co-author of Kickstart: “How Successful Canadians Got Started,” a book based on interviews with over fifty well-known people from across the country. He has studied at Trinity College Dublin and is currently studying law at McGill University. He has also written a work of fiction called “The Toronto Trinity.”