Saturday, January 05, 2008

Taare Zameen Par by Aamir Khan

Taare Zameen Par, Aamir Khan’s directorial debut, is about a challenged, misunderstood child, and how empathy and care finally redeem him.

Ishan (Darsheel Safary) is a mildly dyslexic child who is unable to perform well at school. His parents and teachers berate him without even a whiff of compassion (though the mother does shed a few tears). When Ishan bunks school one day and roams around the city, heedless of the danger and enjoying the sights and sounds, it proves to be too much for everybody. He is packed off to a boarding school. The boarding school looks like a juvenile institution out of The 400 Blows, where maladjusted kids are sent to be disciplined. Lonely, misunderstood and feeling let down by his family, Ishan slips into depression.

Then suddenly, the arrival of a new teacher, Ram Shankar (Aamir Khan), changes everything.

Ram immediately perceives the problem in the alienated and depressed Ishan. And with a friendly zeal, he brings Ishan back to his smiling, expressive self.

Films about compassion are difficult to dislike, or one is in danger of being politically incorrect. The recent films starring Aamir Khan have mostly been "message movies": Lagaan, Mangal Pandey, Fanaa, Rang de Basanti, and now Taare Zameen Par. Coupled with his known sympathy for the socially disadvantaged, his films showcase his persona as a caring, aware individual, having few faults. He is someone who confidently proclaims what is right and wrong, an angel of understanding and heart-warming sensitivity. Such roles in successive films, especially in TZP which is produced and directed by himself, are therefore open to the criticism of being expressions of a hardly subtle moral narcissism.

Sentimentality is a dish best served soppy. There are quite a few sequences in the film which make one’s eyes well up. One of the better ones comes in the ending, when Ishan is spectacularly redeemed. But one can’t fail to notice the flatness of the characters, and the too easy way in which Ram Kishan overcomes all obstacles.

Everyone in the film is shown so callous and cruel (except perhaps the mother) that the friendly bonhomie and the almost angelic understanding shown by Ram Shankar is a contrast which is too stark to be comfortable and realistic. The contrast doesn’t end there, however. While other teachers are crude, crass and dressed like bus drivers, Ram Shankar is shown wearing trendy, smart casuals, living in an amazingly chic home, having an ultra-high-maintenance haircut and having a comely partner in his evangelical pursuit to save the lost souls. One wonders if his ilk would be able to find fulfilment in the absence of suffering people around them.

The message of the film is probably fine, though simplistic. Isn’t it also true that care and individual attention in Indian schools is a luxury affordable only to the well-heeled? There are the KFI Schools, for example, but almost invariably the teachers in these schools are prosperous and highly literate and are there by choice (as Ram Shankar is in this film). Most teachers in Indian schools are paid a pittance. They are generally frustrated and hostile, burdened with the additional responsibilities of mid-day meals and election duties. One also wonders whether the film should have at least made a passing reference to wilfully precocious children. To its credit, the film is vocal about the appalling student-teacher ratios prevailing in Indian schools.

The editing in the film could definitely be better as some of the cuts seem too abrupt. There are too many songs, only a few of which are good. The performance of Darsheel is indeed noteworthy, though his tears and crying look artificial. Of others, the mother’s acting is perhaps the most natural.

I wondered whether the film was made for kids or for adults. It has elements for both, but is ultimately a moral tale for harsh parents.


Anonymous said...

Extravagant sentimentality is very common among the Tamil teleserials (women viewers demand them); and probably in other Indian TV channels too.

Sriram Naganathan said...


Have not seen the movie yet - couldn't get tickets! My wife, who is a special educator, says it is extremely difficult to get parents to accept that their child is a dyslexic one. Perhaps harshness is a result of helplessness and ignorance. If this movie creates some kind of awareness, it will have done a job.

As for individual attention to students, I agree with you on the plight of teachers. I live in Chennai, where a driver in a call-centre gets better paid than a senior teacher in a school. Why should anyone aspire to be a teacher unless one has already made money?

Therefore, shouldn't we look at a system where teacher becomes irrelevant instead of fighting to restore the importance of teacher? Aren't personalised education kits & more attention from parents the way out? Then one can send a child to a school only to be with other kids and have fun. Not for learning.

Ankur said...

As per my view, Most teachers in Indian schools (in metro) which are female are not working entirely for money. They like to utilize their education for greater good, earn money and have less working hrs so that they can devote time to families.

again appalling student teacher ratio is because of schools having large classrooms,,and the boards behind these schools trying to make more profits...

Anonymous said...

would you like to comment on this movie (Freedom Writers) ....?

Anonymous said...

hee hee....a very balanced review, if not a tad restrained. subtlety is obviously an alien concept to indian filmmakers. the movie was childish, insipid, and all in black and white like most hindi movies. other so called critically acclaimed movies like "black" and "page 3" come in the same category.

having a wonderful time exploring your blog. its nice to know we have people like you even in apna chandigarh.

Anonymous said...

A film I dare not find empty of meaning