Film: I Am Kalam
Director: Nila Madhab Panda
Cast: Harsh Mayar, Gulshan Grover, Pitobash, Beatrice Ordeix
Rating: *** ½
The setting is a dhaba in Rajasthan. A group of tired travelers are enjoying dinner, while a set of musicians, who play for the royal household across the street, are waiting for refreshments. A French woman, also a regular at the dhaba, starts playing a tune on her sarod while another traveler joins in. The royal musicians can’t help themselves either and, soon, music reverberates across the desert. The melody is lilting, the atmosphere joyous; the moment complete.
At the centre of it all is Chhotu, grinning from ear to ear, contributing his bit to the music. He works at the dhaba but knows he’s made for bigger things. His mother has a debt to repay and so he has to work -- away from her -- but he’s not bogged down by it. He’s sure he’ll achieve what he wants -- to be a bada aadmi -- because he’s willing to work towards it. There’s resilience in his demeanor, confidence in his eyes and a sense of self-assuredness in his smile.
As willing to learn to make the perfect chai from his boss and dhaba owner, Bhati (Grover), as he is inclined to pick French words from travelers, Chhotu’s moment of realisation comes when the President of India APJ Abdul Kalam delivers a speech to children about the importance of education. There’s no age to learn, Kalam says in his speech, and recounts the hardships he underwent to get himself educated. “Impossible is nothing,” learns Chhotu, and rechristens himself Kalam.
Kalam’s yearning to progress as an individual is contrasted with the character of Laptan (Pitobash), who is aimless and ambitionless. He idolises Amitabh Bachchan and daydreams about acting with Bollywood heroines. He is everything Kalam is not -- his biggest adversary, probably.
Director Nila Madhab Panda does what many filmmakers can’t do -- instill a social message in his film with ease, and not shove it down our throats. Disparity between classes is clear in characterisation; that karma trumps kismet is spoken of; the need for education in a country with vast potential is another point touched upon. The film also reinforces the need to re-evaluate the importance of role models in our society.
All the little pearls of wisdom aside, Panda’s biggest triumph is that he involves the viewer and makes him part of the drama, effortlessly. Sanjay Chauhan’s story is simple but effective, and Panda keeps his narration straightforward. The film may have a low budget, but technical finesse hasn’t been compromised on. Mohana Krishna’s cinematography is tremendously eye-pleasing without distracting you from the story. The background score is used sparingly and effectively.
Harsh Mayar, who plays the central role, won a National Award for his performance and rightfully so. The boy is extremely natural and endearing. Gulshan Grover displays acting chops that belie his ‘bad man’ image. Give him a meaty role and he will deliver, the film shows.
Pitobash, who wowed us with a fabulous performance in Shor In The City earlier this year, is a treat to watch once again. Beatrice Ordeix is pleasing as Chhotu’s unlikely friend, Lucy.
At a little over 90 minutes, I Am Kalam is a gripping watch that leaves you feeling uplifted and positive. Try not to miss it.