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Film review: Taare Zameen Par

Bottom Line: A somewhat weak script, but great acting and a bold theme tackled.

By Gautaman Bhaskaran

CHENNAI, India -- In "Taare Zameen Par" -- "Star on the Ground" being the loose translation -- Bollywood mainstream actor Aamir Khan has produced, directed (his debut) and acted in a radically different work from films where he made his name. Ostensibly about the learning disability dyslexia, Khan's film goes beyond this into the realm of India's education system. Raking in roughly $3.8 million in the opening weekend with 425 prints across the country, the film is targeted to young audiences.

Eight-year-old Ishaan Awasthi (Darsheel Safary) is a dyslexic boy, shamed and shunned by the world because he cannot keep pace with his class. His parents, Mr Awasthi (Vipin Sharma) and Maya Awasthi (Tisca Chopra), are at first bewildered because their elder son, Yohaan (Sachet Engineer), is a genius at the top of his class. Later, they get angry, particularly when Ishaan bunks school and gets his brother to forge a leave letter. When they decide to put him in a boarding school, things get worse for Ishaan, being away from the little support he got from his mother.

Ishaan soon gives up even what he loves doing best, playing with his pet fishes, painting or just daydreaming. He withdraws into a shell, refusing to smile or to talk to anybody. It is then that a new arts teacher, Ram Shankar Nikumbh (Khan), enters the school, understands Ishaan's problem and gradually gets him to reconnect with his surroundings. The end is disappointingly predictable, but Khan manages to convey the boy's trauma with wonderful sensitivity, telling the story by imaginatively using animation and music.

Khan keeps the narrative and the camera focused on Ishaan. In fact, the director first appears midway in the movie, and is admirably low-keyed throughout, letting his compassion for Ishaan turn into real affection. Acting honors clearly belong to Safary, who is brilliant. Completely misunderstood, he portrays the frustration of a child who cannot understand why the alphabets in his book dance or why his teachers and parents are so unfeeling. In stark contrast, we see him rejoice in his small private space with the joys of color. An avid painter, he creates a world where numbers and letters have little meaning.

Despite great performances, the movie suffers from a weak script. In this day and age, that teachers in the two reputed, upmarket schools that Ishaan attends are not aware of his disability lacks credibility. Worse, the teachers are made out to be monsters since Khan and writer Amole Gupte want to show the contrasting attitude of the new arts master. Such exaggerations mar what could have been an even greater work.

TAARE ZAMEEN PAR
Aamir Khan Prods./PVR Pictures
Credits:
Director/producer: Aamir Khan
Writer: Amole Gupte
Executive producer: B. Shrinivas Rao
Director of photography: Setu
Production designer: Shruti Gupte
Music: Shankar Mahadevan, Ehsaan Noorani, Loy Mendonsa
Costume designer: Priyanjali Lahiri
Editor: Deepa Bhatia
Cast:
Ram Shankar Nikumbh: Aamir Khan
Ishaan Awasthi: Darsheel Safary
Yohaan Awasthi: Sachet Engineer
Maya Awasthi: Tisca Chopra
Mr Awasthi: Vipin Sharma
Running time -- 165 minutes
No MPAA rating


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