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‘I Am’ may be overstated and overwritten in parts,but it has power.

Written by Shubhra Gupta | New Delhi |
April 29, 2011 6:45:46 pm

Director: Onir

Cast: Nandita Das,Purab Kohli,Juhi Chawla,Manisha Koirala,Rushad Rana,Sanjay Suri,Radhika Apte,Anurag Kashyap,Rahul Bose,Anuj Mathur,Abhimanyu Singh

Rating: ***1/2

‘I Am’ puts the spotlight on four characters who live very different lives but are unified in one crucial way,the only one that matters : they are all intent on finding themselves,walking past murky,fractured relationships,battling pain and displacement.

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These are not new stories,but they mostly do not find a central place in our movies because they cut too close to the bone. Onir brings them into much-needed focus in ‘I Am’. Afia ( Das) is an abandoned wife in search of solace,not with another man,but in her unborn baby ; a young medical student ( Kohli) is the conduit through whom she will realize her dream. Megha ( Chawla) is a Kashmiri Pandit on a fraught visit back to Srinagar,trying to shake off past ties with childhood pal ( Koirala) and the home she grew up in. Abhimanyu ( Suri) is dealing with the damage caused by years of abuse at the hands of his stepfather ( Kashyap),with the help of loyal friend ( Apte). Omar ( Bose) wears his gay self with acceptance,but has to deal with the humiliation heaped upon him via a chance encounter with a hustler ( Mathur) and a vicious cop ( Singh).

Not all four segments work equally. I liked ‘I Am Abhimanyu’ the most because it left the most unsaid : on a first viewing some months back,I thought Anurag Kashyap needed to be much more of an overt creep. But this time around,I found his sheer ordinariess much scarier. He’s like any other father,helping his young son bathe,play rough and tumble ball games,everything that gets them up close in the most blameless way. And then uses his wife’s blindness ( wilful?) to become a life-long molester. Suri is very good as the manipulative adult,hiding his hurt,and finally spilling his dark secret to his mother,who cannot,or will not,believe her only son.

Das’s desperate-to-be-a-mom is made to explain too much,even though you can understand her desire for an offspring. Purab Kohli stands out in this segment,as the awkward benefactor to a needy older woman.

Both Chawla and Koirala are too shut in as girls who grew up happy,and who have grown apart as embittered adults,but their story needs telling over and over again : the tragedy of Kashmir comes through clearly in the empty,bullet-pocked houses,the acres of barbed wire,and shell-shocked people who can never go home again.

The last story has the most visceral performance of the film. Abhimanyu Singh plays the worst sort of cop,one who runs his hobnailed boots over the weakest person in sight with no qualms at all. It’s the kind of cop we’ve seen before,but Singh gives him an edge you will remember.

‘I Am’ may be overstated and overwritten in parts,but it has power. This is the kind of film Bollywood should be making more of.

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