Cast: Aamir Khan, Darsheel Safary
Direction: Aamir Khan
Don't sign off on your list of the Best Films of 2007 just yet, because ladies and gentlemen, the year's most honourable film has arrived. Taare Zameen Par, directed by Aamir Khan and written by Amole Gupte is the one film you have to watch, even if you haven't watched anything else this year because it's a film with a big heart, an important message, but mostly because it's a film that could change your life.
Who can't relate with Taare Zameen Par's eight-year-old protagonist Ishaan Awasthi who can't seem to get his head around his studies? Be it words or numbers, he struggles to make sense of them, falling way behind his classmates, much to the frustration of his teachers and his parents.
Naturally, it doesn't help that his elder brother is a class topper and a tennis champ to boot. Ishaan meanwhile, is a dreamer who's fascinated with little fish, and spends most days punished outside class letting his imagination run riot. At home, he's mixing colours, painting away instead of doing his homework.
Convinced that some strict discipline will straighten him out, Ishaan's father packs him off to a boarding school, much against both his wife and Ishaan's wishes. Unable to deal with this betrayal, Ishaan goes into a shell at his new school, not only failing to show any improvement in his academics, but also no longer inspired to paint. When substitute art teacher, Ram Shankar Nikumbh, recognizes in him all the symptoms of dyslexia, he takes it upon himself to help Ishaan.
First educating his parents about his condition, then urging the school's principal to give the boy more time to catch up, Nikumbh devises unconventional methods to teach the boy, and succeeds eventually in changing his life forever.
There should be no doubt whatsoever in anybody's mind after watching Taare Zameen Par that the real hero of this film is its remarkable, rooted, rock-solid script which provides the landscape for such an emotionally engaging, heart-warming experience.
Between the writer and director, they construct some of the most memorable moments you're likely to come across on screen. Take that simple one that illustrates the everydayness of a schoolboy's life - the one in which we see Ishaan biding his time, punished outside class, moon-walking in the corridor and burping away enthusiastically. Or that heart-wrenching scene in which Ishaan's mother discovers a flip-book he made which reveals just how vulnerable he's been feeling.
It's not just the little moments that stay with you, but also the film's crucial scenes, which are handled with such rare maturity. Like the one in which Aamir, playing art teacher Nikumbh, recognizes that Ishaan has dyslexia when he takes a closer look at the boy's notebooks and identifies such obvious symptoms as poor handwriting, inconsistent spelling and mirror-image writing - it's a big revelation scene and it's filmed in such an inclusive manner that we as the audience make that discovery with Nikumbh.
And then there's that other scene which I consider the most important in the film - the one in which Nikumbh visits Ishaan's home and explains to his parents what exactly is the problem with their son, and how they may have damaged his confidence even further - it's a poignant and delicate scene because Nikumbh is at once confrontational, admonishing, comforting and hopeful, and it works also because it's performed so instinctively by Aamir and the actor playing Ishaan's father.
Lest you be mistaken, let me make it clear that although it's centred around a dyslexic protagonist, Taare Zameen Par is not a film about dyslexia. Nor is it a film about any disease or disorder. It's a film about parents and children, about the pressures we put on our kids, about how we push them into becoming assembly-line products instead of encouraging them to find their own unique strengths. It's also about finding our heroes.
In that, it is a noble film. It's well-intended and sincere, and it goes about its business with utmost earnestness. Of course Taare Zameen Par has its fair share of hiccups, but then which film doesn't. At times snail-paced and repetitive, it takes its own sweet time to unfold. It also rushes through Ishaan's whole "learning process" in the end, a portion where a little more patience and detail might have helped.
But such nitpicking aside, Taare Zameen Par is an accomplished effort - it's that rare film that carries an important message and tells a sensitive story, all within the Bollywood-movie format. Yes don't for a moment forget that this is no niche film, it's a film meant for all, and hence the commercial trappings.
Few films have innate goodness within them and Taare Zameen Par is one such film. It tugs at your heartstrings, it urges you to introspect, it makes you look at children differently. How many Bollywood films achieve all that? Simple in the truest sense of the word, it's a film that wins your heart because it's such a relatable story - Ishaan could be your friend, your child, who knows he could be you.
You'll recognize the other characters too, they're all flesh and blood people you know only too well, even though the actors who play them are mostly anonymous faces. Vipin Sharma and Tisca Chopra who play Ishaan's father and mother respectively, make their characters instantly relatable by approaching their roles instinctively.
As Ram Shankar Nikumbh, Ishaan's well-meaning teacher, Aamir Khan is expectedly brilliant, delivering a mature, sensitive performance, adding those little touches that make a difference. It is to his credit as an actor and director that he never once over-shadows the real star performer - Darsheel Safary, who steals your heart as Ishaan Awasthi. Darsheel is a revelation as an actor, he's spontaneous and lovable and carries this film completely on his shoulders.
Taare Zameen Par benefits enormously from Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy's inspired score, which is original and unconventional, and complements Prasoon Joshi's lyrics perfectly. As a director, Aamir Khan makes a solid debut, turning a fantastic script into a fantastic film.
Never once falling into that trap that most debutant directors cannot escape, Aamir doesn't feel the need to show off with fancy camera angles and stylish storytelling tools. He lets the drama take its own course, keeping a simplistic, accessible style at all times.
When he does use ingenious tools, it's in keeping with the scenes' requirements - like those excellent animation and claymation portions used to convey Ishaan's wildly imaginative thoughts. With no hesitation at all, I'm going with four out of five and two big thumbs up for Taare Zameen Par, it's easily one of the finest films you'll see in a long time.
The film's success is the result of both Amole Gupte's tremendous script, and Aamir Khan's nurturing supervision. Neither could have achieved this without the other. Be prepared to shed tears, not because it's always a sad story, but because it's such an overwhelming experience.
Rating: 4 / 5 (Very Good)