SOCIAL media sites have given filmmakers more freedom to tackle sensitive issues. Funded through Facebook by more than 400 people around the world, I Am is a thought-provoking film touching on thorny issues facing modern day India, including homosexuality, prostitution and child abuse. Joyce Ho reports.
What does a sperm donation recipient, a refugee affected by the India-Kashmir conflict, a sexually abused adolescent and a heterosexual blackmail victim have in common? They were all part of this stunning Indian movie funded by social media platforms.
While gaining funding from such platforms to explore social issues might sound like an ingenious concept, it was a lack of cash that turned out to be a blessing in disguise for director and producer Onirban Dhar, better known as Onir.
“I went to Facebook and friends whom I had worked with to ask for funding. I’m not a social activist or a politician, but the only voice I have is through film. These stories are based on true stories. Ones that are present in a lot of people’s lives, but often left unspoken. There’s a lot of silence and I just hope this film starts more dialogues,” Onir said at the film’s debut screening at this year’s Indian Film Festival.
Onir himself is famously known as the only openly gay director in India, and the movie eventually received donations from more 400 people worldwide, allowing its creators to freely tackle taboo subjects.
Unconventional, thought provoking and beautifully crafted, I Am’s four stories about four different characters in modern day India are all connected by a central theme – fear.
But if you’re thinking this is a Bollywood version of Babel or Love Actually, you’re wrong. There is no singing or dancing, only carefully chosen music that carries on the message slowly and stylistically.
Onir works especially hard to draw the movie audience into the story without giving too much away. The end result leaves us with enough critical distance to reflect upon the movie’s heavy themes.
The characters and plotlines themselves are not interwoven. Instead, each narrative is allocated approximately half an hour to focus on the crux of the issue.
“I wanted each story to have an open ending because that’s how it is in real life. I didn’t want to superimpose a structure on it,” Onir explained.
Juhi Chawala, one of the many passionate actors in the movie who also contributed financially to it, played the role of a returning Kashmiri Pandit.
“These issues may feel so far removed sometimes, but when I was doing this film, I was quite shocked to find out that my character was actually based on (co-producer) Sanjay’s story, and his was more disturbing. The movie brought what was happening there at that time to life,” she said.
I Am has already won several awards including the 2010 Best Asian Film Award at the International Film Festival of Kerala and the I-VIEW Film Festival’s Engendered Award for Human Rights – a testament to the movie’s dedicated themes and drive for social justice.
As Juhi Chawala aptly put it, “You can’t ignore this film.”
I Am opens April 29, 2011 at Hoyts Northland, Hoyts Chadstone and Hoyts Highpoint. Visit www.mindblowingfilms.com for more information.