I Am Kalam | Film review
For adults, this film should prove to be heartwarming and inspirational, but for kids it might be a bit of a stretch. I Am Kalam tells the sometimes-confusing story of Chhotu, a poor Indian boy who's left to work in a roadside diner (if you can call it that) to help pay off the family's debt. While sleeping on floors and, one would guess, hoping for a better life, he happens to become friends with a prince and invents a future for himself that involves proper schooling and renaming himself Kalam, after the Indian president. Suffice it to say that this is Bollywood's version of Mark Twain's The Prince and The Pauper, but with less of a recognizable cultural element.
Older tweens may be able to pick up on the intricacies of Indian culture—including a subtle criticism of white expats who look to co-opt said culture—but it's unlikely a nine-year-old would (the suggested audience for the film is 9–12 year olds), especially when Chhotu scarcely looks older than nine himself. Expect a lot of questions about why such Chhotu would be allowed to work at his age, why he wasn't in school already, and why his mother abandoned him at the diner. Perhaps the biggest potential mind-boggler, though: Chhotu is extremely happy with his lot in life, and he is almost always smiling. Even when forced into a moral dilemma toward the end of the film, there isn't a sense that he's upset—just, well, a bit saddened that things didn't work out better.
Overall, I Am Kalam is an interesting film. It brings to light not only issues of inequality and injustice in a foreign land but also those which would be considered "first-world problems," as most of Chhotu's experiences are entirely removed from those of a U.S. child. Don't shy away from seeing this film because of this disconnect, but do be entirely ready to have a lengthy discussion with your tween about why such a gap persists in our modern world.
CICFF screens I Am Kalam in Hindi with English subtitles at 10am Tuesday, October 25, at Patio Theater (6008 W Irving Park Rd) and again at 1pm Saturday, October 29, at Facets Multi-Media (1517 W Fullerton Ave).