Great ideas don’t always translate into great cinema. Provocative subjects cannot, alas, always translate into provocative story-telling.
Given the dramatic story of the making of I Am, and its unique ability to capture the popular imagination of the social media for its funding, it’s surprising - and deeply disappointing – how expectations are belied.
What has happened here, in this film, is very simple. The film is poorly written. Full stop.
I Am deals with problems which generally don’t get discussed – paedophily and homosexuality, artifical insemination and displacement of a full community of people from their homes, here, the Kashmiri Pandits.
Afia has an infidel husband who leaves her and she decides to have a child from a semen-donor. Her best friend is shocked when Megha asks the friend to check with her brother, if he would like to be a donor. She asks another friend for his semen. All she receives is a snide comment “Sure, but can we do it the traditional way.” Then she goes to a clinic for a donation. But before agreeing to his donation, she wants to meet the donor. She does. And the meeting is bland and meaningless. All that happens is that the donor seems to take a slight fancy for her. But she’s not interested. So? Where is the battle, the internal struggle with prejudice? Where, in the name of heavens, is the drum-beaten sensitivity? The fact that the donor seems to have built a minicrush on her, and she tears his number off is an apology of a climax, which shows nothing.
The meaningless story-telling continues in the second story. Take Megha, a Kashmiri Pandit, in the second story. She goes to Srinagar to give her house to the residents who are staying there, because her family had fled during times of extreme unrest. Self-obsessed with her sorrow of loss, she rants on and on, until her Kashmiri friend tells her about the loss which the situation had wrought in the lives of the locals, and what it had done to their ambitions too. This piece is shown as a realisation which is ridiculous. Particularly after Megha sees the army-ridden cantonment the whole city ahd become. She seriously didn’t realize that the locals were living half-lives forever in the shadow of fear and violence?
And then Abhimanyu. He is a perfectly normal man with a girlfriend, and he carries on with another woman with whom he seems to be having a fairly ambiguous relationship. And the pain he carries inside himself like a precious heirloom on a mantel is that he was a victim of paedophily by a step-father. And then after the stepfather dies, he tells his grieving mother the truth and asks her – you didn’t know? The fact that he was sexually molested was by itself frightening. But what was the effect on him? How was his life, beyond his father, compromised? There’s absolutley no indication of that. A song with Abhimanyu standing alone in public spaces is hardly enough to show his internal turmoil.
And then Omar, the homosexual. He picks up a guy, wants to make out in a car, and is accosted by a tough policeman, and has his money and belongings taken away. Until he discovers he was set up. Now the simple fact - it wasn’t his gay intimacy which made him get accosted by the police. His fate would have been the same if he had been caught flagrante delecto in a car with a woman . And he would have had to face the same cruel consequences. Plain and simple. What else did he expect? The simplistic logic baffles.
Onir has been on a downward slide after My Brother Nikhil. His Bas Ek Pal was a shameless lift of an Aldomovar film. His Sorry Bhai was good-looking and empty-feeling. And in this film, his shallowness comes out in the lame writing and incoherent search for a core center, which is never really found.
The tragedy of the film lies in its lack of powerful stories which move and make us question our prejudices. Just picking up a topic doesn’t indicate an automatic investigation of all the issues which make the topic incendiary. For example, whilst in the Omar-sequence, the policeman scene is lacerating in its impact, it is a consequence more of Omar’s horniness and indiscriminate choice of picking someone off the street to make love to. Where is the trauma of being a gay?
The lack of ideas reflects in the faux-artiness in the Abhimanya-sequence where he keeps having dreams of himself as a girl. One sees no indication of him facing any real problems in his day-to-day life.
The tragedy of the film does not lie in its characters but its artless and clueless writer and director.