Harsh Mayar, who plays Chotu in I Am Kalam, was apparently rejected by the makers of Chillar Party
when he auditioned for the role of Fatka. This lost opportunity became a blessing in disguise, and he bagged the lead role in the movie that has been produced by Smile Foundation, earning appreciation for his portrayal of a poverty-stricken boy deprived of education.
Unlike Chillar Party, however, I Am Kalam is a serious movie, and fun moments are few and far between. Chotu (Harsh Mayar) works at Bhati's dhaba
, famous for its tea. Bhati (Gulshan Grover) is a distant relation, and is kind to the boy, but makes him work hard for his keep. Laptan (Pitobash Tripathy), who has worked with Bhati for a while, is jealous of the boy's obvious intelligence and gregarious nature.
Chotu can learn anything, from brewing the best cup of tea in the region to speaking a foreign language, by observing others. He befriends Ranvijay Singh (Husaan Saad), the son of a local royal, who lives in the palace-turned-hotel across the road. Bhati's dhaba
provides food to the tourists who frequent the hotel.
Despite this idyllic world, complete with camel rides and tree-climbing, Chotu wants to become someone who can make a difference. His hero is the President of the country, Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam, who believes that education and hard work is the key to rising above mediocrity. Chotu adopts the name, Kalam, and dreams of the day when his luck will change.
Directed by Nila Madhab Panda, documentary filmmaker and founder of the Children's Film Society, India, I Am Kalam is a statement on the lack of the basic right to education rampant in large pockets of India - in this case, Rajasthan. From the word go, Chotu is discouraged from dreaming big. He is asked to clip his wings of fantasy and accept what "fate" has to offer him.
The film is also a commentary on the oft-ignored problem of child labour. It is natural for Chotu's impoverished mother to leave her son with a relative so that he can earn some money. It is even more natural for Bhati to employ a young boy, but what is relevant, and true, is that even visitors from more developed countries do not bat an eyelid when they see an underage boy slaving away at chores best suited for mature men.
Gulshan Grover delivers a fine performance as the compassionate and popular dhaba
owner. His character is in love with a regular visitor, Lucie (Beatrice Ordeix), and in a refreshing romantic avatar, Grover shows us what unrequited love is all about and how it can hurt you.
This is Pitobash Tripathy's debut film, although Shor In The City
was released first. The little man is a powerful actor, and does complete justice to his character of a disgruntled dhaba
assistant. Unfortunately, Grover and Pitobash are the only decent adult actors in the movie, although Beatrice Ordeix is more convincing on a motorcycle than Katrina Kaif could ever be
Harsh Mayar gets a little carried away with his role at times. He appears in almost every frame of the movie, and it looks like the director ran out of ideas of things to make him do. Harsh's best moments are the ones with the camel, Lakshmi.
Husaan Saad is convincing as a poor little lonely rich boy locked away in a palace without friends. He plays the politically correct little prince with supreme confidence.
With its heart in the right place (although a little preachy towards the end) and with endorsement from Dr. Kalam himself, I Am Kalam is a must-watch. Not just to be entertained, but also to be awakened to the fact that education and a better lifestyle is a prerogative of every child in this country, and that dreams should never be laughed at.