Cast: Nandita Das, Purab Kohli, Juhi Chawla, Manisha Koirala, Sanjay Suri, Rahul Bose, Arjun Mathur, Anurag Basu, Anurag Kashyap
Storyline: A divorcee meets with her sperm donor to have a baby, a Kashmiri Pandit returns home to Srinagar after 20 years, a filmmaker is haunted by child abuse and a gay man is humiliated
Bottomline: A daring indie film about identity, boundaries, sexuality and societal norms
Got an open mind? Make sure you take that with you when you enter the hall to watch Onir’s most honest and powerful film till date.
Because, when you hear a man still haunted by child abuse confess that he felt the love of his step-father strangely comforting that after a point he used to manipulate their incestual relationship for personal gain, you will need empathy to soak in the complexity of this intricately woven tales of people and identity.
Because, when you watch a family of a reformed mujahideen living in Srinagar refer to Delhi as India, you will need the compassion to dig into their tense, military-supervised everyday lives, understand and accept that ideologies have caused irreparable damage between friends.
Because, when you see a divorced woman waver around about wanting to know more about her sperm donor but not wanting him around after the delivery, you need to see it as a fleeting moment of confusion, a perfectly normal thing for an anxious mother.
Because, when you see a powerful man blackmail a struggler into going on a dinner date with him for purely sexual reasons, you need the perspective to understand that there are very few avenues left for gay men to openly flirt with other men.
And because, people are complex.
This anthology of short stories – I am Afia, I am Megha, I am Abhimanyu and I am Omar – is a mixed bag. There are loads of issues packed together into every short story apart from the broad common thread of identity and the role of the system in defining boundaries, so much that each story is complicated in its own unique way.
If the system prevents a mother from meeting a sperm donor in I am Afia (Nandita Das), the system has caused a permanent rift between best friends in I am Megha (Juhi Chawla), the system is in denial about child abuse in I am Abhimanyu (Sanjay Suri) and the system is the two-faced hypocritical oppressor in I am Omar (Arjun Mathur). The last story is more about Jai (Rahul Bose) than Omar though.
Each story, irrespective of the intensity of drama, is treated refreshingly low-key that the dramatic background score actually jars in a couple of places. Despite the extreme nature of the issues explored, nothing is done to shock and awe. With I am, Onir has really come of age as a filmmaker with an original voice. And it’s a voice that needs to be heard.