Taare Zameen Par
Aamir Khan has been quite the bastard-at-a-family-reunion figure in Bollywood circles lately. He refuses to pander to the press, boycotts award shows, and is said to interfere on film sets. He declined to be part of the ‘Deewangi Deewangi’ star smorgasbord in ‘good friend’ SRK’s Om Shanti Om, and pooh-pooh-ed Madame Tussaud’s request to ‘wax’ him. And finally, horror of horrors, he dared to cross the Big B by dissing his award-winning film Black for being insensitive towards the disabled – two years after it came out. So it’s probably safe to assume that there were industrywallahs who were gleefully awaiting Khan’s first directorial venture in order to rip it apart. Well, sadly for the naysayers, they will, for the most part, be disappointed, for Khan’s auteurist effort, while no instant classic, is still a respectable debut.
Taare Zameen Par tells the story of 8-year-old Ishaan Awasthi (Darsheel Safary), a problem child whose behavioral and scholastic failings contrast sharply with his bright spark of an elder brother. He gets regular corporal punishment from his exasperated father (Vipin Sharma), and afforded some precious few indulgences from his equally frustrated mother (Tisca Chopra). His slap-happy teachers are at their wit’s end, and soon enough, little Ishaan is sent packing to boarding school where, it is hoped, the strict disciplinary environment will put his attitude straight. Instead, the continuing cycle of smackings and humiliation only serves to isolate him further from his surroundings. Enter (what else?) art teacher Ram Shankar Nikumbh (Aamir Khan), who recognizes Ishaan’s severe learning difficulties as stemming from undiagnosed dyslexia. Nikumbh sets about rehabilitating his ward, and also delivers several pieces of mind to those who had written the kid off, especially his parents.
There is much in TZP that is worth a look-see, if not for anything else but to remind oneself just what a complicated time in life childhood can be, when grownups, who are supposed to be oh-so clever, just don’t understand you, and teachers seem to be in a perpetually pissed-off state. Bollywood is notoriously clumsy when it comes to films about kids (remember King Uncle? I didn’t think so), but TZP often communicates quite exquisitely the complex world of the child, and gets the viewer’s waterworks going in the process. Surely only twisted little overachievers will fail to see themselves in Ishaan at various points in TZP. That is perhaps the greatest strength of the film, along with its potent damning of educational (and social) systems’ penchant for blind conformity.
The other ace up TZP’s sleeve is buck-toothed Darsheel Safary who is that rarest of child actors – utterly natural, genuinely likable, and very, very talented. From his searching gaze and endearingly pronounced overbite, to his infectious exclamation of “Bindaas!” – Safary pretty much carries the whole film on his width-challenged shoulders, with nary a trace of the artifice that usually taints cloying ‘child stars’.
The weak link performance-wise, is, ironically, Khan himself. Long acknowledged (and rightly so) as one of Bollywood’s best actors, here he proves, however, that he is no multi-tasker. The dual role of actor-director seems to have overwhelmed the thespian in him, for he puts on a singularly lackluster show. It doesn’t help that his character is saddled with the most club-footed lines in the script, each overly earnest gem falling with a thud! where the dialogue should have been subtle as a morning breeze. Instead, we get one too many grating moments that are about as subtle as being hit over the head with a mallet, not least of which are some of the musical montages that spill over from moving to aggressive manipulation.
But such quibbles aside, Taare Zameen Par has to be commended for, much like its protagonist, daring to be different. In an age populated by showy Yash/Raj/Johar extravaganzas, by Krrishes, and Krazy Kiya Res, TZP is a much needed reminder that more is often just too much, while less can be just right.