I am Kalam Movie Review: Presidential Effort: ‘I Am Kalam’ Shines!
Looking back at the year so far, 2011 has proved to be a banner year for the children of Bollywood. Releases like Stanley Ka Dabba, Chillar Party and Bubble Gum have all featured young actors in leading roles, though they can't be classified as children's films. Instead, with innocent characters, simple scripts and sincere execution, these were plain old good cinema that held appeal for a wider cross-section of the audience. The latest addition to that roll call could well be Nila Madhab Panda's I Am Kalam, which has already bagged a host of awards, including the National Award for its lead actor, the young Harsh Mayar, the film's titular Kalam.
Well, he's not actually Kalam, but a young boy named Chhotu, who waits tables at a restaurant in a desert village in Rajasthan. He's a precocious child, eager to learn and teach himself, whose idol is former president APJ Abdul Kalam, who also grew up poor just like him. The film takes a turn when Chhotu strikes up a friendship with the young kunwar, the prince of the area, and a Delhi-based French woman, Lucy, who he thinks will take him to the capital and enrol him in a school, so that he can fulfil his dream of becoming a tie-wearing 'big man', when he grows up.
The beauty of Panda's film is the simplicity of the script and the innocence of his lead actors. Though the film does go awry a bit in the final moments, when Chhotu runs away from the restaurant, for the most part, this is an extremely believable story, right from the young boy's fixation with Kalam, to the natural way the two young children form an unlikely friendship. Young Chhotu's innocence also comes through in his wish to simply wear a tie and uniform like the kunwar, when he himself is dressed in rags.
Nila Madhab Panda's strength in the film are his two lead actors, Harsh Mayar and Hussan Saad. Panda deserves kudos for scouting Mayar out of a crowded Delhi slum, where the latter lives, only to cast him as his film's Kalam. Mayar does full justice to the role, bringing in a perfect picture of innocence and street-smartness required for the role. Saad, as the young kunwar is also an ideal choice, though he lags behind Mayar a bit in the acting department. The other players in the plot, like Gulshan Grover as the restaurant owner Bhati and Pitobash as the devious Laptan, the senior waiter at the place, always at odds with Chhotu, are also well cast. One needs to say, that Grover has always made a mark when cast in positive roles, like he is here, and must get into them more often.
The film's other strength is in the cinematography department, where Mohana Krishna explores the Rajasthani setting of the film beautifully. Though the film doesn't vary too much in its locales, limited to a few set pieces of the restaurant and the haveli, the film does capture the feel of Rajasthan's remoteness.
Though there are few points where the film could have done better, like some tauter editing, ultimately, I Am Kalam comes across as a fairly sincere effort from its director, Nila Madhab Panda. With few embellishments in the script and a rooted cast, I Am Kalam shows that a film doesn't need a high-powered cast or exotic settings to be good; just a good story and honest actors will do.