Shaikh Ayaz in Mumbai
Onir's I Am is generating buzz as much for its sensitive subject as for its experimental method of mobilising finance through social networking sites.
A montage of four segments, I Am, as Onir himself notes, wouldn't have been possible without its largely unknown contributors and donators who showed tremendous faith in the subject.
Rediff.com sniffs out four such people who readily offered their money (some even their life savings) to make I Am possible...
Photographs: Shaikh Ayaz
Credit roll: Co-producer
Contribution: Rs 1.8 Lakh
You may not have heard of Ober-Fl rsheim but chances are you might find enough folks in this 'nice green village' near Frankfurt in Germany who cannot hide their love for India, its people and culture.
One such Indophile is Sonju, a head of department in a medical company. Also a novelist, publisher and blogger, Sonju freely contributed to I Am because "I trust Onir with telling the worst and darkest parts of mankind.
He shows facts and he's sensitive without judging." At first, Sonju was hesitant to watch I Am at a screening in Florence, Italy. Having seen Onir's earlier films, My Brother... Nikhil, Bas Ek Pal and Sorry Bhai!, Sonju was certain I AM would, too, make her cry. "When I watched the prison-rape scene in Bas Ek Pal, I was shocked. At least Sorry Bhai! was relatively easy," says Sonju who visits India once every year.
"I want to come more often. India is a beautiful country and the people are so warm," she says. "Woh log, woh khushboo, sab mujhe bohut pasand hai," she ends, laughing out aloud, in pure but accented Hindi.
Credit roll: Co-producer
Contribution: Rs 1 lakh
The Karachi-anchored Nabeel is a creative director and aspires to make a film some day. He met Onir through Facebook and their friendship developed.
"In time, we started sharing our experiences and tips to better our products. When I heard Onir's idea of crowd-sourcing, I was impressed and wanted to contribute in some way," says Nabeel. He, along with another friend Amena Khan, chipped in some money and even offered to edit the promos for free. "I ended up editing the initial promo which we used in our presentations to gather funds."
Onir invited him to India to work on the film but that couldn't happen because Nabeel couldn't secure visa. An ardent admirer of Naseeruddin Shah, Irrfan Khan and Aamir Khan, Nabeel hopes to visit India soon. "And make a film there, if possible," he says.
Laxminarayan M Hattangadi
Credit roll: Co-owner
Contribution: Rs 5,000
Small-time character actor, the 69-year-old Laxminarayan is a cancer survivor and learnt about I AM through Facebook. When he asked Onir if he can put in his hard-earned Rs 5,000 and whether that would be too minuscule, the director responded, "No amount is small."
That's how Laxminarayan, who had his oesophagus operation done in August, 2007, entered I Am as a co-owner. He says he was delighted that somebody was making a "hatke" film.
"I'd seen K A Abbas' Char Dil Dhar Rahen (1959) when I was young and when I heard Onir's idea, I was immediately reminded of that film because it had four stories merging together," he recalls. Having played bit parts in films ranging from Deewar to Swades and Mixed Doubles, Laxminarayan has also written a screenplay which he hopes someone will pick up some day.
"I wanted to be a part of a different movement in my career and that's why I contributed to I Am. Ever since my operation, my vocal chords are paralysed and I cannot act any more. But I'm satisfied that at least in my lifetime I could be a part of a film like I Am for which I will be remembered."
C A and Padma Reddi
Credit roll: Co-producers
Contribution: Rs 1 lakh each
Living a retired life, the Reddi couple from Chennai were moved when they got to know of I Am and the subject of child abuse that it tackles in one of its segments.
Their daughter, Vidya, runs an NGO called Tulir which works against child abuse in India and the topic immediately found their approval. Says Padma, "This subject has been pushed under the carpet for too long. When my husband and I saw the film, we were impressed with the sensitive portrayal." On the format of the film, Padma says, "I think it's an eye-opener.
People are already getting aware of such issues and in the future more people will come together and if need be, raise finance the way Onir has done. After the release, such a concept will generate more public interest."Padma, who's a housewife, is also an avid film buff and loved The King's Speech. Her husband, who was an electrical engineer, shares his wife's feelings, as she says, "He cannot speak. But he asked me to read his answers. So, the things I said were his feelings, too."