Ishaan Awasthi (Darsheel Safary) is your average eight year old. Or not. He is mischievous, naughty and given to pranks that you’d think were normal for his age. He loves to paint, and express himself. But at school, he has difficulty concentrating on his work and taking directions. And when the teacher asks him to read, he can’t. Why? Because, says he, “the letters are dancing”. Too intelligent? No. Dyslexic? Yes.
The film is about a little boy, who’s a little different from all the other little boys. Only the rest of the world can’t see his troubles, terming them “attitude” problems, or laziness. Even his parents, especially his dad (Vipin Sharma) won’t sympathize, packing him off to boarding school where “they’ve tamed wilder horses”.
Dyslexia is little recognized, I’d imagine, in an atmosphere where competition is severe, and tomorrow’s success depends on high scores in class today. We all must be toppers, so where is the space for little buck-toothed Ishaan? Ishaan’s elder brother Yohan (Sachet Engineer) is your average super-accomplished kid, excelling in studies and sports. Thus his parents are doubly disappointed in Ishaan’s red-inked class work, oft-repeated mistakes, and frequent complaints from school. Ishaan is lost in an internal world of misery, until an astute and empathetic teacher Ram Shankar Nikumbh (Aamir Khan) recognizes the symptoms and helps him out.
The film’s story is simple; it’s about Ishaan and Nikumbh - one helping the other. The film starts off depicting Ishaan’ problems in day-to-day life, and moves slowly – one wished for crisper editing. While the subject of the story would require a slower pace, and the need to delve into details, smarter editing might have prevented the movie dragging in the beginning. The film features some very interesting graphics and animation sequences; the letters which Ishaan claims are dancing, “actually” dance off the screen, the spiders that Ishaan imagines his books to be actually crawl out to threaten Ishaan. We get a glimpse into Ishaan’s creativity, by seeing the adventures in his mind’s eye, and his talent in choosing bright, vibrant colors in his artwork is depicted by moving, swishing colors.
Safary is a very good actor for his age, so I found Ishaan’s character believable, and I felt for him. Aamir’s role as Nikumbh starts pretty much after the interval, and although it was finely done, I found Nikumbh a little too smug in his righteousness. Aamir portrays Nikumbh with a self-consciousness – the self-consciousness of a person who knows how “good” he is being, and that takes away some of the emotional connection for me. I mean, I know he’s a good guy and all, and he’s the only one who’s really helping Ishaan. But taken just by himself, and without the sympathetic support from Darsheel’s character I’m not sure I felt as much for Nikumbh – he was too surely seated on his moral high horse. Still, he’s managed some heart-warming scenes with little Darsheel – scenes which left me mopping my eyes.
Ishaan’s parents’ story wasn’t every well developed – they kind of disappeared after Ishaan went off to boarding school, only reappearing as uncaring foils to Nikumbh’s super-sensitive soul. Seemed a little contrived in Nikumbh’s favor. Ishaan’s dad is depicted as a stick-in-the-mud authoritarian, and in the face of Nikumbh’s persuasion, very resistant to the idea of Ishaan’s being dyslexic, viewing it as akin to retardation.
Vipin Sharma as Awasthi appears angry and a little over the top, and anal, which he is, I suppose. He isn’t very subtle, that’s for sure. His mother Maya (Tisca Chopra), acts pretty well. Still, she who feels the most for him, lets him be carted away to boarding-school, which I found hard to swallow, since her character appears to care very much. Would even reasonably competent parents sit back complacently even after knowledge of a possible condition like dyslexia?
Taare Zameen Par features some very nice songs (Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy) which are beautifully worded (Prasoon Joshi). For a first film, Aamir Khan directs well, although he could have tightened the pace a bit. The dialogues are apt; children can be fairly amused by all the talk among the kids in the film.
There are very few ‘desi’ movies tailored to kiddies’ audiences, and even fewer still which deal with topics like dyslexia. Just by that factor alone, TZP earns a few brownie points. It would have earned more had it been a little more subtle, and sophisticated. So, although I’m not absolutely floored by it, it’s still a good film. And it has it’s heart in the right place. It’s earnest, and it tries to do the right thing – a ‘weepie’ worth the watch.