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Movie Review: I am Kalam (Hindi) 136

This week’s release, ‘I am Kalam’ has already bagged accolades at some international film festivals. It may not be far from the truth that Western audiences have an eye for movies portraying poverty in the less developed world. But, this film is different since its director Nila Madhab Panda keeps the story focused on the tale of a poor boy’s will to change his destiy rather than to dunk the story into predictable emotional trappings.

Chhotu is a young Rajasthani village boy whose poor family needs him to earn a living by working at a roadside dhaba run by Bhati (Gulshan Grover). Amidst a life of dishwashing and sundry chores, Chhotu impresses Bhati with his learning skills and wins the hearts of the dhaba’s multi-ethnic patrons with his language skills.

Across the street, he spots a boy sporting a crisp tie; it turns out to be the son of an erstwhile local ruler. Chhotu’s aspirations start to take shape. He wants to study, wear a tie and be successful. One day, he hears a televised address by Dr Kalam and is inspired by his story of hard work and promptly renames himself after his role model.

The movie becomes worthwhile thanks to its child stars Harsh Mayar as Chhotu and Hussan Saad as Ranvijay. The portrayal of the boys disregarding the class barrier and becoming good friends feels realistic. Here, writing too deserves credit as one doesn’t see oversmart kids with wisecracks, usually seen in movies starring kids.

The film also offers food for thought. There is a time in the movie when Bhati implores Chhotu not to fight with destiny, to which the boy retorts saying that he believes in his work over destiny! Although poor, the protagonist doesn’t envy the rich kid’s wealth; a contrast to this is portrayed in the talentless Laptan who envies Chhotu.

Among the supporting cast, Gulshan Grover is endearing as the dhaba owner who speaks broken English and Pitobash who impressed audiences as ‘Mandook’ in ‘Shor in the City’ gives the film its comic moments as he plays Laptan, the dhaba helper who thinks no less of himself than a Bollywood star. A French actress Beatrice Ordeix plays Lucie, a westerner who has made India her home and offers hope to Chhotu.

The film is not without shortcomings and they hit a low in an unrealistic scene where some of its characters are seen searching the megapolis of Delhi for one missing scrawny kid. Also, the cinematography could have been much better.

I am Kalam’ seems like a story told in world cinema in many different versions. Still, it has has enough to keep viewers engaged and impresses with its simple storytelling.

Rating 7/10: A simple tale that makes its point effectively
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