December 22, 2007
In Hindi Cinema, one of the signs of how big, a star is, can be determined by the position his/her name holds in the opening credits of the movie. Conventionally the order is determined in terms of seniority or by the saleablity of a particular actor. This order has also been sometimes controversially disputed in some cases. So when the opening credits of Taare Zameen Par started rolling, I actually sat up when Darsheel Safary’s (the child actor) name appeared before Aamir Khan. Undoubtedly Khan is the biggest star in the movie, yet it seemed to be an indicator of the intention of the movie. Often these days, the movies become self promotional exercises for the stars. Not this one though.
Aamir Khan’s directorial debut is a heart touching story of a dyslexic boy and his aspirations. Ishaan (Darsheel) is mesmerized by the colours and scenes of nature but cannot fathom the letters and numbers (which to him seem to dance) of his daily studies. Pushed constantly by the expectations of his father of excelling like his illustrious elder brother, he faces humiliation and further failure due to his learning disability. As a result his father takes matters into his own hands and Ishaan is packed off to a boarding school. The experience is a harsh shock for the little boy and he withdraws into his shell. His art teacher Ram, (Aamir) brings back the sunshine in his life and shows him his true value.
Aided by a strong script by Amole Gupta, it focuses on the mental condition of such children, parental pressures, apathetic teaching culture and acceptability among peers. But above all it highlights the intense competitive pressure and mindset in a society where a child’s worth is measured by test scores and academic distinctions. Earlier films on differently abled people like Black, Koi Mil Gaya, Sadma were mainly centred around a single character. TZP portrays the cause through the protagonist rather than vice versa. The opening shots show the innocence and curiosity in the boy’s eyes much like in Little Miss Sunshine.
Among the songs, the title track and Maa are the best. Shankar Mahadevan’s soulful rendition takes them to another level. The pace of the narrative could have been faster and the editing crisper as it slows down in certain portions. Darsheel Safary as an actor is much more mature than his age. Whether it is due to the intensive training he was put through or his natural talent is immaterial. He walks straight into the hearts of the audience with his performance. For Aamir this is merely an extension of his immense range, here under playing himself and providing the requisite comic relief as well. The audience would not have expected anything but a gripping performance on his debut in direction. Tisca Chopra also leaves a mark with her stoic performance as an anxious housewife- mother.
The locales of Panchgani provide a picturesque playing ground for Ishaan’s imagination and are captured beautifully. As in the case of Chak De India the sincerity of this effort needs to be lauded. In the times where juvenile cinema involving mature characters are common, TZP is mature cinema involving children. Thank you Aamir Khan and Amole Gupta for taking us back to our childhood.
- Suprateek Sinha