Back in August of 2009 Onir talked to us about his unique project, the 4 short films that make up I AM. The first story, I Am Abhimanyu, had finished filming and the second, I am Omar was getting ready to start its first schedule. I AM is unique not only in that it is 4 short stories made into one feature film, but also that it explores stories not usually seen in Hindi films including sexual abuse, discrimination against homosexuals, artificial insemination and ethnic cleansing in Kashmir. Onir said, ” When it is released in theaters, I want people to see it as cinema with interesting content, telling them stories they have not heard about. I don’t want it to be perceived as a public service documentary I am making. It is a film, a film with a certain important content, which makes you also think. It should entertain as a film, but at the same time it makes you think.”
Another cool thing about the I AM films is that they asked the audience to become part of the films and co-produce any of the stories along with the main producers. Onir explained, “Some of the finance is being based on the company but for the other 50% what we are doing is raising it, in a way, from the audience by making them part owners of the film. The whole idea is that not only are you raising money, but you are making an audience which is an active audience, supporting the kind of film that is getting made, right from the stage of making, and whom you constantly interact with in terms of what is the film about and what is the content. So everyone is participating, and at the end of the day when the film comes out these people will see their money, they will not only come because their names are there, they will get their friends to see it because they feel that this is also their film. I feel it is an experiment for me to try and create a different audience for the kind of films I want to do. It is an experiment – let’s see where it goes.” The experiment worked because the film was partly financed through donations from 400 people from 35 cities around the world.
Have a look at the 4 stores that make up I AM:
I AM is a feature film of four stories, with the common thread being that the lead character in each is fighting to regain control of their own lives after circumstances devastate them. I AM is about issues and dilemmas that bruise the modern Indian society. Unraveling and exploring these tribulations, the film unfolds many a tale of individuals struggling to find their identity, and uphold their dignity in a world that is callous, cold and unsympathetic. I AM is born of true life incidents.
The first in the series I AM Abhimanyu is about a film director (Sanjay Suri) who is struggling to deal with the psychological scars that remain as a result of sexual abuse when he was younger. Anurag Kashyap, Radhika Apte, and Shernaz Patel are also part of the cast.
Starring Rahul Bose, Arjun Mathur, Abhimanyu Singh and Mukesh Sawlani, I AM Omar is a horrific tale of sexual discrimination; blackmail and prejudice. It reveals how the police use Article 377 (law under Indian Penal code which criminalizes homosexuality) to harass and blackmail gay men.
I AM Afia, starring Nandita Das, Purab Kohli, Anurag Basu and Manav Kaul, deals with artificial insemination. The concept of a single woman wanting a child is practically unheard of, but Afia, who is worried she is getting to old to have a baby, decides to find a sperm donor for the perfect child. Her search takes her through the underbelly of desire-desperation.
The story of two friends – a Kashmiri pandit woman and a muslim woman – separated by conflict; I AM Megha tells the tale of Megha (Juhi Chawla) who returns home after almost 20 years of exile, where she meets long-lost friend Rubina (Manisha Koirala). Against the backdrop of the ethnic cleansing in Kashmir in the late 80’s and early 90’s, this story tells of loss of home and identity.
The film has been screened at several prestigious film festivals and has won many awards including: Endangered Award for Human Rights in New York, the Audience Choice Award at the River-to-River Film Festival in Florence, the Best Asian Film award at NETPAC by IFFK, Special Jury Mention at the IFFK (International Film Festival of Kerala). The film will also be opening the London Asian Film Festival on March 18th.
The film has been given rave reviews at the festivals and at special screenings. In fact, Taran Adarsh recently tweeted, “Watched Onir’s ‘I Am’. A moving & unique experience. A fantastic treat for viewers thirsting for intelligent, sensible cinema. ‘I Am': It is daring films like these that originate legal, social and political change in society. A motion picture of major significance.”
I AM, which stars Juhi Chawla, Rahul Bose, Nandita Das, Sanjay Suri, Purab Kohli, Abhimanyu Singh, Shernaz Patel, Arjun Mathur, Radhika Apte Anurag Kashyap, Anurag Basu and Manisha Koirala is getting ready for its theatrical debut on April 22nd! Be sure to go watch it and support the work of Onir, Sanjay Suri, and all the people who have worked hard to make this film become a reality!