Bollywood and culture in an emerging India
I Am: Intentions good, not execution
The one thing you must appreciate about Onir’s “I Am” is the attempt to do something away from the trodden path — India’s first crowdfunded film. Director Onir and his team invited ordinary citizens and film lovers from all parts of the world to contribute to the film by donating as little as 1,000 rupees in return for a mention in the film’s credits as a co-producer.
Onir’s intentions are also obviously in the right place when it comes to this film, but if intentions were the criteria by which we could judge films, there wouldn’t be a bad film in the world. Through four intertwined stories, he raises issues like child abuse, displacement of Kashmiri pandits and discrimination against homosexuals. Where he does go wrong is in the treatment of those issues and their execution.
The film starts off with Afia (Nandita Das), a recently divorced web designer who decides she wants a baby from a sperm donor, moves on to her friend Megha (Juhi Chawla), a Kashmiri Pandit who fled her homeland as a child and returns after twenty years, hoping to achieve some closure.
The second half of ‘I Am’ moves on to the story of Abhimanyu (Sanjay Suri), a filmmaker who suffered from sexual abuse in his childhood and struggles to come to terms with it. The final story is that of Jai and Omar and homophobia in India.
While all of these stories do have some genuine, and indeed, very serious issues at their heart, the treatment is almost like that of a school play. Most of the actors (and there some pretty experienced ones acting in this ensemble cast) appear painfully rehearsed, and the situations are totally unconvincing. Some of the dialogue is laughable. Sample this gem, an exchange between Abhimanyu and a girl he fancies, where he tells her “very few things should be preserved – wildlife, architecture, environment…. And children.” To which she responds – “very few men think this way. “Yes”, he says, “I’m special”.
The pace of the film doesn’t help its cause, and characters take their own sweet time arriving at an epiphany. Also, the four stories have a very tenuous thread joining them. Onir tries, but barely scratches the surface of what it means to be displaced, a victim of abuse or a homosexual in this country. Everything is oversimplified. Watch this one only if you want to support the director’s intention, nothing else works.