Saturday, December 22, 2007

Taare Zameen Par

Striking the Right Cord

Barely missing the movie on one of my most hectic Saturdays in recent times, I am glad that I finally made it to Regal cinema and watched this masterpiece called 'Taare Zameen Par' (TZP). The movie takes a sympathetic look - or rather the way it should be looked - at dyslexia. Young Ishaan Awasthi (Darsheel Safary) cannot study like some of the other kids, he is poor in Maths, his language and vocabulary does not make sense nor can he make sense of it all, he does not show his red-inked report card to his parents, does not do homework and bunks classes. Fed up by his antics and his teacher's constant complaints, his parents, especially Daddy, banishes him to a boarding school, much against the little one's wishes.

Enter an angelic arts teacher Ram Shankar Nikumbh (Aamir Khan) who observes and identifies Ishaan's problems and mental agony. He takes it upon himself to set things right for the little one by creating a conducive atmosphere for the children and of course Ishaan, simultaneously educating Ishaan's ignorant parents, teachers and principal of the school. The little one slowly comes out of his shell and jells with the 'outside' world.

Neither TZP is a documentary on dyslexia nor it its pace documentarish like Swades'. Though I quite liked Swades and was disappointed it didn't work. But TZP is among the new breed of off-beat Hindi films told in a mainstream manner that unshackles us, raises a stir amongst us, and urges us to rise to the occasion, such as Rang De Basanti (RDB). For the record, I wasn't referring to the assassination in RDB, it was about making a difference in a positive manner despite one's stature and size. TZP's pace is entertaining, at the same time not deviating from the subject. It takes us right into the mind of the troubled Ishaan to show us his hidden brilliance on one hand, and agony on the other of, for instance, what goes in his mind when told to read a line from the textbook.

The movie does take certain liberties and is not without flaws. For instance, I felt the teachers on a whole have been portrayed in a poor light. Yes, some teachers are most certainly like the ones portrayed here, especially the knuckle-hitting nerd teacher (Saluja Singh of Physics and Pingle of Algebra were those teachers for me at my school Hindi Vidya Bhavan), but certainly all teachers can't be so insensitive. The boarding school hostel warden is also unnecessarily stern. I do not think anybody in his position would threaten a fresh boarder and remind him of how 'rowdy' children before him were tamed.

TZP captures many nuances of a typical aspirational family quite well. The constant comparison to the excelling elder sibling, parental pressure to perform, score high marks and forcing their ambitions of becoming a doctor, engineer, etc on their children and 'training' them like as if they were some assembly-line products, are just some of the incidents thrown at you. It reminds us of our own childhood to a large extent.

The good part is that TZP balances entertainment and education evenly and manages to strike the right cord in you. Performances are excellent. The kid Darsheel who plays Ishaan is a rare find. It is to TZP's director Aamir Khan and creative director Amol Gupte's credit that they zeroed in on Darsheel to play the part, out of thousands who had applied for the audition. His performance is flawless, he makes you laugh and cry all along the way, his mannerisms, his fear, his happiness, his confusion, his agony, his plight, he just takes you alongwith him, all along. His is one of the best performances I have seen in a long, long time. Aamir Khan is as usual brilliant and gives yet another winning performance, though gladly this time he takes a backseat and lets Darsheel paint the entire canvas on his own, taking charge.

TZP is a must-watch. It's one of the best movies I have seen in recent times.

Rating: * * * * *

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