Friday, Oct 07, 2022

I Am Kalam

All little boys who serve you tea at road side dhabas are called Chotu.

Director: Nila Madhab Panda

Cast: Harsh Mayar,Gulshan Grover,Hussan Saad,Beatrice Ordeix


All little boys who serve you tea at road side dhabas are called Chotu. This is an immutable law of nature. All except one,who has arrived on a screen near you. His name is Kalam. And he is a winner.

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This is turning out to be the year when Bollywood has suddenly decided to throw a spotlight on child labour,starting with ‘Stanley Ka Dabba’,and ‘Chillar Party’. Kalam aka Chotu (Mayar) is the little boy-in-rags whom you don’t even look at. He is the invisible child who sells plastic knick knacks at traffic lights. He is the one with wilting flowers outside your car window; or the one to turn somersaults; or hold out a bandaged hand with fake blood : anything to make you meet his eyes,to make you open your fat leather wallet,and fling him a few coins : woh phenke huey paise hi udhaata hai. That money could go towards the guy who’s pimped him out,or to his mother with a starving infant in her lap.

Kalam comes from a long line of such little fellows,and he grabs our attention with his mile-wide smile which lights up the screen,and his belief in himself. He knows that he’s not going to be serving ‘khana’ and ‘chai’ to tourists who stop by at the ‘dhaba’ run by Bhati ( Grover) all his life. He knows that the books that he treasures,and teases out knowledge from,will take him far. Maybe as far as the grand house where the President of India lives : A P J Kalam may not be the ‘rashtrapati’ now but the impact he’s left on little children,and the importance of learning,is clear in the storyline. And in a nifty little gesture that young Kalam makes,by oiling his hair,whipping out a comb,and creating those two distinctive commas on the forehead.

Mayar,who is a real-life slumchild,is endearingly life-like. So is his royal-blood companion,the lonely ‘kunwar’ of a Rajasthan princely estate,who finds a friend in the unlettered Kalam. The trade off is simple : Prince Rannvijay ( Saad) will teach him how to wear a tie; Kalam will teach him how to be a carefree boy,and to chuck stones in water-bodies. Or what’s a boy for?

So wary are we of Bollywoodised Rajasthan,that anything set in that touristy state runs the risk of being exoticised beyond measure : ‘I Am Kalam’ keeps it in check enough,and is good-intentioned enough to make you feel churlish at having noticed it’s tiny improbabilities-and-simplicities,and Grover’s occasional slide into filminess.

But to give him credit,he manages to imbue his dhaba-wala with real humour and feeling. Pitobash Tripathi,whom we saw earlier this year in ‘Shor and the City’,plays the dhaba’s clownish second-in-command,and is good for a few laughs. Another piece of inspired casting is Lucy ( Ordeix) the pretty French musician who comes into Kalam’s life like a bright light,and shines on it.


‘I Am Kalam’ is a big smile of a movie. You watch,and smile right back.

First published on: 05-08-2011 at 06:14:14 pm
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