Mayank Shekhar's review: I Am

By Hindustan Times

Director: Onir
Actors: Juhi Chawla, Rahul Bose
Rating: ***

“Kaafi garmi hai (It’s quite hot),” is a young college kid’s (Purab Kohli) lame opener. The woman sitting next to him understands the boy’s discomfort at making a conversation. “You don't have to talk, if you don't want to,” she, Afia (Nandita Das), tells him. It is a weird situation. The two are at the lobby of a fertility clinic. The boy’s a sperm donor -- the woman, the recipient. As per rules, they were never supposed to meet. But she was adamant. Through flashbacks, we figure how this single woman, once married to a cheater cock, got to where she is.

I Am, strictly speaking, is not a feature film. It’s a bunch of four entirely unrelated short films. Given lowered attention spans among audiences in general, this may well be how movies could be watched in the future. I’m of course making this sweeping prediction in the same vein VS Naipaul had once famously prophesied the demise of the novel.

Afia has a buddy called Megha (Juhi Chawla), which is the loose connection for her story that follows. These casual links justify all shorts within this common package.

Megha, a displaced Hindu pandit, goes back to Kashmir to sign away her ancestral property on a dotted line -- finally undo her ties with the heaven on earth she once called home. Hers is a sensitive conflict. She meets the current Muslim occupants, ones who were once her friends and neighbours. They’re now set apart by terrorism and a curse called organised religion. Manisha Koirala plays Megha’s Kashmiri childhood friend.

It’s been a while since we saw Koirala on screen. It’s still not hard to tell how Mani Ratnam saw a suicide bomber (Dil Se) in those intensely feminine looks. As the two separated friends spend time together, it becomes unclear whose life is better now: whether the Hindu woman found actual freedom, because she was forced to leave Kashmir. Did those who she left behind find only potholes in a place they once considered paradise.

You are made to think, therefore, I guess, I Am. Which is a good thing. Two films down. Two more to go. Through each of the shorts set in four different cities, you sense as well the sights and sounds of Kolkata, Kashmir, Bengaluru and Mumbai that make for a changing Indian landscape.

The third pic is a pretty predictable account of a man (Sanjay Suri) who was sodomised by his uncle (Anurag Kashyap) while growing up. The victim somehow used that to his selfish advantage. This is almost in the same way, the final film, starring the incredibly uninhibited Rahul Bose -- unusual for Indian leading men -- shows how the marginalised homosexual community in the country, living under an antiquated law (now repealed), are abused, harassed for all sorts of personal gains.

Clearly, the director’s picked up strongly engaging conflicts. It should also be as noted achievement for online social networks that, along with professional producers, the filmmaker found 400 unknown investors from across 45 cities of the world to back this vision.

Given that you do end up with four movies, instead of one, it’s only fair that one points out their personal favourite. Mine will have to be the first: a recipient who meets her sperm donor. It’s short-lived. A few steps ahead and this could have been a story with very world-class, Pedro Almodovar (Talk To Her, All About My Mother) sort of sensibilities. For now this would do.

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