I am Kalam’ directed by Nila Madhab Panda was one of the most critically acclaimed movies of 2011. The film was released in August last year and was also screened at the 63rd Cannes Film Festival.
The plot revolves around a poor young boy named Chhotu, played by Harish Mayar (a slum child in real life) who is sent to work at a Dhaba in the city. Set in Rajasthan the film explores the desire of a naturally talented and bright young boy to receive school education. Adverse economic circumstances do not deter Chhotu from embarking on a heart-warming journey of self –education. The boy soon finds a source of inspiration in the figure of former President of India Dr. Abdul Kalam, and decides to name himself after his newly acquired role model.
Destiny brings Chhotu in proximity to the young Prince Ranvijay, (played by Hasan Saad) when he goes to deliver food at the heritage hotel owned by Ranvijay’s father. The two form a close friendship, despite their class barriers and the older Prince’s rigid class biases.
The two child artists keep the audience mesmerised with their brilliant performances. The kind of friendship that is shown between the two of them reminds us of our childhood days when the company of a friend was the end all and be all of life and when class and caste differences were inconsequential.
The film raises some serious questions with respect to the educational inequalities that exist in India, which is a corollary of disparities in income. It forces us to take a critical look at our society where a lot of talent simply goes waste due to our inability to nurture and support them. The film has been distributed by Smile Foundation an NGO aimed at tackling among other things the educational crisis in India. In addition to this the film highlights the class prejudices still prevailing amongst people belonging to the upper echelons. The dwindling state of the royalty and child labour are amongst other issues depicted in the film. The film is 87 minutes long but at times the story progresses very slowly. The final resolution as envisaged in the film is a bit too utopic and hastily put together.
In addition to an engaging plot, the background music and the cinematography with some beautiful landscape shots are the other strong points in the film. Gulshan Grover’s acting as the benevolent Dhaba owner is commendable. Moreover the film is a tribute to Dr.Kalam, a man whose own journey from a small village and a life of poverty to becoming one of the greatest scientist of all times and the President of the country is an inspiration for a lot of young Indians.
According to critic Taran Adarsh the film is inspirational and motivational and deserves to be encouraged. The film has been honoured with several national and international awards like the Golden Elephant in Best Screenplay at the 17th International Children Film Society. Nila Panda and Harsh Mayar won the Aravindan Best Debutante Director and The National Award for Best Child Artist respectively.
Those who enjoy films with simple narrative style packed with a powerful social message will find the movie a delightful one. ‘I am Kalam’ breaks the myth that children’s movies are not meant for the adult audiences, the film caters to the aesthetics of both.