Sunday, December 23, 2007

Taare Zameen Par - Plutoed Childhood

There was once a 'planet' called Pluto. One fine day, a group of astronomers decided that it did not meet their criteria of a planet. Suddenly, poor Pluto found its status downgraded to that of a poor cousin. It became a dwarf planet - a 'dwarf' that paled in comparison with its eight other cousins who passed the test with flying colours.

In Aamir Khan's Taare Zameen Par, nine year old Ishaan, through his fantastic imagination and above-average intelligence, finds the answer to a simple math problem in Pluto's story (brilliant conceptualization by writer Amole Gupte). While the 'cracking' of the problem gives him an extreme sense of achievement, little does he understand that he shares the same predicament - he is also being Plutoed by his family and teachers because he cannot live up to the exacting standards of normalcy defined by them. He is 'dwarfed' by his super-achiever brother.

Taare Zameen Par is a heart-warming tale of a young boy who is constantly labeled as an idiot or duffer (no reference to the dwarfish creatures from the land of Narnia, but that fits in quite well too) because he simply isn't like other children. While other children study hard and excel in their exams, he finds refuge in his extremely fertile imagination, which manifests itself in his ability to find beauty in places where most 'normal' people would find none. This is established right at the start of the film where a dirty water drain, when seen through Ishaan's eyes, takes the splendorous form of an aquarium - he sees fish where most people would see garbage.

To his teachers and parents Ishaan is an undisciplined brat who is just too lazy to study. After all, he's audacious enough to mouth gibberish when asked by his teacher to read a sentence from his book, he shows no remorse at being punished time and again, and, horror of horrors, he bunks school to avoid studies and then cajoles his Mr. Perfect brother to forge their mother's signature in the Absence Note. What no one realizes is that the real problem lies somewhere else. He does all those things because he has a genuine problem. He isn't cracking a joke when he says that the 'letters are dancing'. He has a real learning disability. He is dyslexic.

Actually, Taare Zameen Par is as much about dyslexia as No Smoking was about smoking. Dyslexia is no doubt a very important plot element in the film, but the point the film tries to make goes much beyond that. It's a lesson for parents who put the 'burden of their ambition' on the weak shoulders of their children, and for whom the definition of achievement is so narrow that they don't even realize that in asking their children to internalize their definition they're strangulating the creative minds that lie within those overburdened heads.

With Taare Zameen Par, Aamir Khan makes a fantastic debut as a director. He recognizes the demands of Amole Gupte's amazing script (one of the best scripts of 2007) and chooses a leisurely style of narration that gives ample time to the audience to get completely engrossed in Ishaan's world, and feel his trauma and helplessness. His penchant for evocative visuals is amply evident all through the film. Though he does get carried away with some of the visuals and special effects, he strikes the right chord most of the time. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy's thematically prefect music and Prasoon Joshi's lyrics (replete with Gulzar-esque abstractions) go a long way in complementing the director’s vision.

The real star of Taare Zameen Par, however, is Darsheel Safary. His portrayal of Ishaan is so realistic that it is hard to imagine he’s just acting. His mobile face is a bounteous repository of expressions - he doesn’t really have to speak to convey Ishaan's emotions.

Emotionally, the film is such an overwhelming experience that anyone who claims to have stayed dry-eyed all through the film is lying! One gets so emotionally involved in the film that it doesn’t matter that some parts of the film acquire a sanctimonious character with some heavy duty preaching and sermonizing by Aamir's character; it doesn't jar that all peripheral characters (with the notable exception of the mother) are nothing more than caricatures; it doesn't seem discordant that the school would teach heavy duty Hindi like 'nadi ka pratibimb' to third standard students; it isn't bothersome to see Aamir the star overshadow Aamir the phenomenal actor in parts of the film; and you certainly don't mind the manipulative nature of some of the sequences - especially the 'Maa' song - that are 'designed' to tug at the heartstrings. You’re on a high, too busy celebrating the possibility of Pluto being a planet again!