passage to ottawa (2002)

director: gaurav seth

nabil mehta, amy sobol, jim codrington

Taking its title - somewhat ironically, one would presume - from the David Lean epic Passage to India, Gaurav Seth's Passage to Ottawa tries to do something almost unheard of in this country, or elsewhere - make our nation's capital an exotic, even magical place.

Omi, played by Nabil Mehta, has been sent from India by his dying mother to stay with relatives in Canada - his Uncle Jalal, Jalal's Canadian wife Maggie, and Safiya (Amy Sobol), their typically rebellious teenaged daughter. The skittish, headstrong boy has cobbled together a fantastic plot from a collection of superhero cards and scraps of Indian mythology, and intends to find a hero that will take him back home and save his mother.

After a few false starts he finds Roland (Jim Codrington), a handsome young tour boat captain, and together with Safiya - who has her own plans for Roland - he draws a bemused Roland into his plan. It's all more than a bit heartwarming, and if you don't have an appetite for sweet, small films, you'd best stay away.

The film is a family project, in more ways than one. Husband and wife producers Rashmi Rekha and Raj Gupta drew on the extended family of Mehta and screenwriter Jameel Khaja to fill key roles on the production crew, and in the end managed to make the kind of small, charming, family-oriented film that's all to rare these days - one that can be watched by all but the most cynical late teen.

The low budget accounts for a lack of technical gloss, and the artless camera occasionally brings back memories of federal film agency "quota films" of a decade or more ago, but it does something deftly that those films often brought home with a sledgehammer - a gentle take on multiculturalism, lacking in dogma or grievance, our diverse national condition treated as fact, not fractious, overwrought melodrama.