Therefore, ‘I am'

After we spend years meticulously brushing many a thing under the proverbial carpet, along comes someone like Onir to lift it up, and point them out. And point without preaching, without accusing. He's only saying they're there, and why don't we talk about it.

The director, whose first film was the internationally-acclaimed “My Brother… Nikhil”, is awaiting the release of his “I Am”. “This is a film that proved that content-oriented cinema has a place, so much so that the audience itself is willing to pay for it,” he says. For “I Am” is one of the first crowd-sourced films in India, and made with the contributions of more than 400 people. It wasn't just monetary help — some brought lunch for the crew for a day, others offered their vehicles, some others designed sets and assisted with the costumes.

The film takes on four volatile themes of dissent, heavy with history and the politics of the self. There's the plight of a homosexual man in “I Am Omar”, with Rahul Bose and Arjun Mathur; motherhood with an anonymous sperm donor in “I Am Afia”, with Nandita Das; a man who grows up in the shadow of memories of child sexual abuse in “I Am Abhimanyu” with Sanjay Suri; and the oft-neglected stories of the Kashmiri Pandits with Juhi Chawla and Manisha Koirala, in “I Am Megha”. “So the film makes a statement about the audience as well,” he says. “They're saying we'd like these stories to be told.”

The stories, a contemporary daily reality for millions, are also linked by an undercurrent of fear. “So many of us live that way. Leading invisible, muted lives. The single mother who fears society will reject her; the homosexual who fears imprisonment.”

“Why are we as a society so threatened by a simple act of love?” he asks. “Lovemaking is ‘dirty', but rape and brutal murders are fine. All manner of regressive, violent films get a U certificate; but one kiss and you get an A. What are we telling our children? That it's better to kill than to kiss?”

Arjun Mathur, who acts in “I Am Omar”, is here after “Luck by Chance” and “My Name is Khan”; but isn't essaying the role of a homosexual man still suicidal in Hindi cinema? “Possibly, yes,” he smiles. “But I'd rather be working with people with whom I share certain sensibilities, who are able to understand, relate.”

“I Am” has done its rounds of the world's film festivals, at a time when Kashmir has plunged once again into violence, and the country awaits a verdict on Article 377. Onir's inbox was full of mails from people with histories of abuse, he tells us. “All those people trusting me, a complete stranger, with their stories! I realise how lonely they must have been in their grief.”

The problem, of course, is that the viewership for independent cinema in India been running thin. “Two reasons. If you want people in your theatre, you need the media to support you, which it usually doesn't. Secondly, these independent, small-budget films should be ticketed less — why would you pay as much as you would for an extravagantly expensive film?” he says. “Think of the 1970s, the 1980s — we had powerhouses such as Shyam Benegal, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Satyajit Ray …where are the virtuosos now?”

But the winds of change are blowing, he's sure. “It is a difficult time, as all metamorphoses are. But it will happen.” Is he certain? “Yes. Otherwise one wouldn't work,” he laughs.

If you'd like to support “I Am”, send an email to, or call 98214 25049.

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Printable version | May 6, 2021 2:32:37 AM |

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