The film’s intent is undoubted – it aims at breaking shackles, at shocking people out of numbness, and telling them what’s going on around them when they’re not looking.
Each of the four stories (faintly reminiscent of Dhobi Ghat) is relevant in its own way. Nandita Das plays Afia who has just discovered her husband’s been cheating on her. Desperate to become a mother, she now understands why her husband was avoiding starting a family. So she contemplates IVF and becoming a single parent; only thing is she can’t help doubting her decision. Then there is a story of Kashmiri Pandit Megha (Juhi Chawla) who is bitter about the state in “Paradise” and returns to Kashmir to sell off her property—the last connection to the place. Abhimanyu (Sanjay Suri) is a documentary filmmaker who is yet to come to terms with the sexual abuse he faced all through his childhood. Omar (Rahul Bose) is a corporate honcho who hires a male sex worker (Arjun Mathur) and is caught by a cop who brings out the culture baton.
The stories cross each other at some level, but that’s not where the film focuses. Each story is treated as a separate chapter moving back and forth timelines. The ones that are the most fleshed out are Megha and Abhimanyu’s stories. Megha’s angst is palpable as she just hurriedly wants to finish the paperwork and get out the place that holds too many memories. One of the most moving scenes in the film is where Abhimanyu confesses that at age 13 he became a “slut” sleeping with his step-father for new things.
The film, however, falters in its stilted dialogue and at-times clumsy execution. The conversation between Afia and the potential sperm donor sounds `affected’, for example. One can hardly imagine the young woman complimenting the college-going lad with a “You’re a very kind boy.” The film’s dubbing is below-par as is the English sub-titling that appears throughout the film (also a bit distracting).
With finance crowd-sourced and the publicity done mainly through social media, I Am is a triumph in itself. Producer-writer-director Onir’s I Am is soulful and honest. Not as dapper as his other films – My Brother Nikhil and Sorry Bhai! – I Am works because of the moving stories.
The performances are a treat. Juhi Chawla brings a lot to her role as the bitter yet nostalgic Megha displaced from her homeland and forced to settle elsewhere.
Sanjay Suri is dependably good. Rahul Bose brings out the character’s helplessness masterfully. Nandita Das shines as strong-willed and amiable Afia. Anurag Kashyap and Shernaz Patel leave a mark.
I Am may not be a breezy popcorn-cruncher, but the stories and performances are moving and offer plenty of food for thought. A great movie-watching week, this!