Known for his off beat and social issue based movies, Onir comes up with yet another offering with I AM. The movie consists of four stories or rather four issues which any common man could face in today’s time. These are stories not usually not seen in Hindi cinema but are powerfully brought to life in this film. Whether it’s child abuse or artificial insemination, Onir has dealt with these issues through the short films without enforcing any opinions or giving conclusive end. While some may like this left-to-interpretation approach, those used to typical Bollywood fare may not appreciate it. The film brought together not only some of the finest actors in Hindi cinema it was also a successful experiment in bringing together people from all over the world who contributed time and donations to make I Am become a reality. Let’s take a look at the film.
The first in the series is I Am Afia. Afia (Nandita Das), dejected by her husband’s betrayal and too hurt to trust another man, decides on making her wish of being a mother come true by going it on her own and using artificial insemination. That’s when she meets a medical student (Purab Kohli) a frequent sperm donor. The segment is basically from Afia’s point of view and talks about a pretty unkown topic in Indian society. While initially Afia is hurt and confused, she gets herself together and emerges strong enough to do defy the norms of a man-woman relationship and makes her dream of being a mother come true. Nothing much is said about Purab’s character – why does he become a sperm donor, how did he come to be one – but frankly that is really not much relevant to Afia’s story. Nandita, who has time and again proved herself to be a brilliant actress, shines in the character of an independent woman who isn’t bothered about the archetypal society and its expectations from her while Purab does fine as the young, shy donor. Anurag Basu does a cameo in the role of a doctor. The initial hesitation and awkwardness between the two is beautifully played out and this one is perhaps the lightest of the four stories.
I Am Megha is about a Kashmiri Pandit Megha (Juhi Chawla) who was forced to leave her home as a child and settle in Delhi because of the communal tension. Rubina (Manisha Koirala) on the other hand, is her childhood friend who daily has to go through hatred and humiliation because of being a part of a family with a reformed terrorist. Without taking any sides, Onir talks about the trauma the communalism had not only on the Kashmiri Pandits but also on the Muslims who stayed behind. The best part of the story is that in spite of being based on such a big political and sensitive issue, it focuses on the emotions of the people involved and doesn’t try to drag politics into it. Are the ones who were forced to leave their homes (but ended up at more independent places) better off than the ones left behind to witness the hell everyday? That’s the question Onir puts forth – and smartly doesn’t answer- before the viewer. Supposedly based on Sanjay Suri’s life, Juhi brings out the anger, hurt and betrayal of a person who cannot return to her own home very well. Quite different from the characters which she usually plays her resentment and frustration is beautifully put forth although she does fumble in the parts where she speaks Kashmiri. Koirala is brilliant as the one who has to pay the price for staying back.
The third in the series is I Am Abhimanyu. Abhimanyu (Sanjay Suri), is a victim of child abuse by his stepfather (Anurag Kashyap). Having started using this fact to indirectly blackmail him, Abhimanyu has now turned into a selfish being who doesn’t think twice before using someone for his benefit. But it has also affected his sexuality with Abhimanyu often dreaming of him being a girl instead of a boy. Onir brings out the ugliness of child abuse which can affect a person’s psyche and mar him for life very well. Sanjay is good although we must say that having played a victim earlier in Onir movie, it does give a sense of déjà vu. Watch out though for the touching confrontation between him and his mother in the climax. Radhika Apte and Shernaz Patel do justice to their role but it is Anurag who leaves an impact with his depiction of a pedophile. Done subtly and without any stereotypes, his character manages to scare you enough to double check next time who you leave your kid alone with.
The last story I Am Omar deals with homosexuality, still considered a taboo, and the mentality of the people towards homosexuals. Omar (Rahul Bose), MD of a multinational company, feels that there is enough chemistry when he meets Jai (Arjun Mathur) a struggling actor. What was supposed to be an intimate night out for the two turns out to be a nightmare when they get caught by a cop (Abhimanyu Singh). Rahul Bose as the victim who is humiliated and betrayed is exceptional while Arjun does well too. Abhimanyu as the cop is too good and you just can’t stop yourself from hating him and sympathizing for Omar. The darkest story of the lot, the love making sequence between Omar and Jai is explosive and it may leave a few conservative souls squirming in their seats.
The best part of the movie is that Onir doesn’t overplay any characters or scenes and lays it all out before you without spoon feeding you. Introducing a character in one short film, he continues his story in the next one, although that’s all the connection is between the four stories. Otherwise, on the whole, they are a disconnected bunch of stories. Music is good and the cinematography though not exceptionally brilliant manages to capture the reality of the issues pretty well. Having been funded by 400 odd people (one of our first crowd sourced movie), the movie does hint at being a tad tight in the budget department but Onir makes the best of what is available.
Many might find the treatment of the movie too art-festivalish which may work against it but those who enjoy different kinds of cinema will definitely end up loving it. Our verdict ? Do watch I AM.