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Kalam continues to inspire, now on reel
- Oriya director’s take on former President’s struggle for education wins global award

Balangir, Sept. 19: Former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s “early life and vision” has been captured on reel to convey the message of education to the deprived millions in India.

The film I am Kalam is already going places and has won the best feature film award and the Don Quixote Prize at the Lucas International Film Festival in Germany.

Produced by the Smile Foundation and Eleeanora Images Private Limited, the film had its world premiere at the 63rd Cannes Film Festival last May and will now be screened at the prestigious London Children Film Festival and Asia Pacific Screen Award. Few, however, know that Nila Madhab Panda, co-producer and director of the film, hails from a non-descript village in Sonepur district.

Set in Rajasthan, the film is the story of Chhotu alias Kalam, who cannot aspire for education because of his family’s poverty-stricken status. Through an entertaining and fast-paced narrative, the film takes the viewer to the world of Chhotu, who at one point starts referring to himself as Kalam after watching the missile man speak on television about how he got his education fighting several odds.

Panda said: “Naming himself Kalam has more than a symbolic meaning for Chhotu, a name thrust upon him by customers at the dhaba who, like most of us, insensitively calling all of them ‘Chhotu’ or the small one.”

Chhotu’s life takes an unexpected turn as he befriends Prince Ranvijay. His father, an erstwhile “king” of a princely state, runs a heritage hotel at his ancestral palace across the street, where Chhotu goes to deliver tea to the guests.

The kids bond big time and Chhotu starts getting his education informally, courtesy Ranvijay’s old books and interaction with costumers.

The film strikes a chord with the viewers thanks to the heart-touching acting by Delhi slum boy Harsh Mayar. Mayar as Chhotu represents, in a way, millions of other kids who could become Kalams but for the unfortunate circumstances they find themselves in.

Panda said, “The film is a story of struggle that I have faced and observed since my own childhood. The film celebrates the spirit of survival against overwhelming odds.” Panda’s father Aditya Prasad said: “I am proud that my son never studied in famous schools and colleges but has managed to achieve what many would be dreaming of. After completing his college studies, he asked me for Rs 2,000 to go to Delhi. And there he has carved a niche for himself.”

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