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Voice of the deprived

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issue-based A still from the film
issue-based A still from the film

Smile Foundation's “I am Kalam” to premiere at Cannes

“It is essential that we enlighten and create widespread awareness on education among all sections of society, particularly in rural areas and among the urban poor.” This statement by former President of India APJ Abdul Kalam sparked the idea of I am Kalam, an 87-minute Hindi feature film. A production of Smile Foundation and Eleeanora Images Private Limited, I Am Kalam, with a whopping budget of 1.2 crore, will make its world premiere at the 63rdCannes Film Festival starting May 12.

The film's producer and director, Nila Madhab Panda, who has to his credit over 60 short films, documentaries, television dramas and films for the BBC, Discovery Channel and National Geographic Channel, now makes his “feature film debut” with the film. Among others, Panda has brought together an interesting star cast which includes Harsh Mayar, a boy from a Delhi slum in the title role of Chhotu, a dhaba worker. Veteran Bollywood actor Gulshan Grover plays Bhati, the dhaba owner, and child actor Hussan Saad of Delhi 6 fame plays Prince Ranvijay. It also features French actress Beatrice Ordeix.

The film, shot in Bikaner, Rajasthan, highlights the issue of millions of underprivileged people in this country who are deprived of education. It also shows how the privileged class can play a role in their uplift.

The story

The idea is shown through Chhotu, who starts calling himself Kalam. Chhotu's life takes an unexpected turn after he befriends Prince Ranvijay, whose father is an erstwhile king of a princely state where Chhotu works. Both the kids bond in no time and Chhotu starts getting his education informally. Whether Chhotu achieves his dream finally is what the film is all about. Chhotu represents millions of other kids who could become many Kalams, but for the unfortunate circumstances they find themselves in. “The film has a universal appeal and a sense of purpose. I believe that the more local you get, the more global your access will be. I have explored people's basic needs and the problems of the marginalised class, a genre that is much neglected in world cinema and more specifically in Asia,” says Panda.

He sums up the conversation saying, “ I am Kalam is a story of struggle that I have faced and observed around me since childhood. The film celebrates the survival of the human spirit against overwhelming odds.”

Next from Panda's kitty is yet another thought-provoking film, The Curse of the Rat Eaters.

PAROMITA SARKAR

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