A simple tale that draws you into the sands of Rajasthan, into the life of a bright, goal-driven kid with a sunny disposition.
The plot: Mix all this with cheery humour – abject poverty drives an illiterate villager to squash her gifted young son’s dreams when she hands him over to her brother to work in his roadside dhaba to earn his keep and more; the dhaba owner is kind-hearted but learns that dreams don’t always end in happy reality; a maharaja has to adjust to new compulsions where both lifestyle and attitudes have to accept changing times; there’s rivalry at the workplace in the dhaba. It is all topped off with a kid’s eagerness to devour books, study, wear a tie and grow into an assured, literate, self-made man a la President Abdul Kalam.Difficult to put so many thoughts into a simple, linear, entertaining story without once sinking into morose depression? Writer Sanjay Chauhan and director Nila Madhab Panda manage to pull it off with Smile Foundation’s I Am Kalam.How would you like to wake up in a maharaja’s palace-turned-hotel and have your morning cuppa served to you by a cheerful boy on a camel outside your window? That’s just what happens when Chhotu (Harsh Mayar) comes to work for Bhatti (a turbaned Gulshan Grover) in his dhaba. His quick, agile mind picks up work, language and lifestyles with ease, endearing him to the motley crowd around him. While Bhatti’s other employee, Haddi Laptan (Pitobash Tripathy) resents his rising popularity, there’s lonely Ranvijay (Husaan Saad), son of an erstwhile king, whose life brightens up as he finds a close buddy in Chhotu. Ranvijay is Chhotu’s window to books, studies and the English language; Chhotu is the young prince’s companion who teaches him to ride a camel, climb trees and helps him get ready in his own way for a French test and a Hindi elocution. En route, Chhotu insists on re-christening himself ‘Kalam’, after he is inspired by President Kalam’s life where he learns that if you go after your dreams with determination and perseverance, you can map your own course in life. For Chhotu the goal is simply to wear a tie, a uniform and go to school. As Ranvijay’s father (Sanjay Chauhan) faces swiftly changing times that challenge old beliefs (the palace must turn into a hotel, his son finds companionship with a commoner), Chhotu alias Kalam goes through a medley of emotions until he gets onto that bus with all other privileged school children.
The good: Gulshan Grover is a pleasant surprise as the benign dhaba owner who wears his heart on his sleeve only to have it broken. Harsh Mayar as Chhotu is a complete delight and all other performances ably aid to keep the story moving forward. The music (by six different composers, including background score) and the camerawork (Mohana Krishna) create Rajasthan in all its splendour. The best part of the film is that it entertains, amuses, educates without getting oppressive or burdensome.
The bad: Really nothing. It is simplistic but perhaps that’s its beauty.
Overall: A feel-good experience.
– Bharathi S Pradhan