The ApunKaChoice movie review of I Am. For all the escapist entertainment churned out by Bollywood every Friday, a bitter dose of realism once in a while is always welcome. Director Onir’s film I Am holds out that pill, invokes the tales that talk about things many would rather have swept under the carpet. But Onir drags them out in the cold light of day, and holds out for us to see squarely in the eye.
The film tells four different tales in as many cities and all the stories are bound together by the theme of accepting one’s individuality and self as it is, warts and all, and then asserting it with the confidence that’s reflected in the film’s somewhat zen title.
I Am Omar is about how being a gay in a society as straitjacketed as ours is almost akin to a crime. The embedded irony in the tale is that it’s the cops and sex hustlers that exploit the gays. Rahul Bose plays a closet gay, Abhimanyu Singh an exploitative cop and Arjun Mathur an aspiring actor.
In I Am Abhimanyu, Sanjay Suri plays a director who was sodomised in childhood by his step-father (Anurag Kashyap verily into the skin of the paedophile) and is now coming to grips with his troubled past. This one is the most disturbing of the four tales even though there’s no graphic depiction of the sexual abuse of the young Abhimanyu (played by Zain Salam).
I Am Afia has Nandita Das playing a woman who opts for artificial insemination to have a baby because her husband isn’t in favour of starting a family, partly because he’s got another woman on the side. So Afia takes the option most women would cringe at. Not just that, she decides to meet and know the donor (Purab Kohli) of the sperm.
In I Am Megha, Juhi Chawla plays a displaced Kashmiri pundit returning to Kashmir after two decades. It’s the story that brings to light the plight of women who have suffered at the hands of insurgency, communal intolerance, and the iron fist of the state. The perspective of the Muslim women is presented through the character of Megha’s childhood friend played by Manisha Koirala.
The director doesn’t venture out to tie the neat knots and conclude the quartet of stories with a definitive redemption of the characters. For the most part, the stories remain somewhat open-ended, giving each viewer the room for their interpretation.
It’s a laudable attempt by Onir to make a socially relevant film and amply powered by performances that make you sit up and notice. Nandita Das, Rahul Bose, Abhimanyu Singh, Juhi Chawla and Sanjay Suri shoulder their roles with conviction.
If you are looking for a serious, sensible, thought-provoking film, I Am is the answer.