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Film Review: Taara Zameen Par (Like Stars on Earth)
Tara Zameen Par is a 2007 Indian drama film directed and produced by director, producer and actor Aamir Khan. The film was re-titled as “Like Stars on Earth” for viewing by Disney International. The film plots the life story of an eight-year-old boy named Ishaan Awasthi who has a very vivid imagination. Although he excelled in arts, his academic performance was underwhelming. He always gets red marks in his exam papers. This led to his parents sending him to a boarding school, Tulips School, thinking that Ishaan would get his act together and stop being a naughty kid. However, Ishaan’s performance at Tulips School mirrored his performance at his previous school.
Meanwhile, a new art teacher, Ram Shankar Nikumbha enters the scene and confronts Ishaan’s struggles in his early life. He is annoyed when Ishaan can’t draw a single dot on his canvas when instructed to draw whatever they want. He tries to figure out Ishaan’s problem by asking Ishaan’s physically-disabled-but-brilliant friend, Rajan, and his fellow teachers, who think Ishaan is mentally retarded with nowhere else to go in life, to examine Ishaan’s past exam papers. and her red spots, and going to Ishaan’s parents’ house. During her visit, she discovers how Ishaan’s family loves to draw and paint with Ishaan’s disability. He referred to this as dyslexia – reading difficulties in phonological awareness, phonological decoding, processing speed, orthographic coding, auditory short-term memory, language skills/verbal comprehension and/or rapid naming.
On the other hand, Ishaan’s father denies the truth and says that Nikumbh was making excuses for Ishaan just like Ishaan excuses himself to study. Nikumbha then takes a box with writings in Chinese and asks Ishaan’s father to read the writings. Ishaan’s father says he can’t read because he doesn’t recognize the letters. Nikumbh here mocks Ishaan’s father to make him realize that Ishaan is actually dyslexic.
The next day, Nikumbh tries to reach Ishaan by telling a story which Ishaan nervously thinks is his story. Apparently in the film, Nikumbha says that the story was by Albert Einstein. Next, Nikumbha cites various famous names who were dyslexic or learning-disabled but still made it to something different. Before sending the kids out, Nikumbh draws Ishaan’s attention to tell him that there is another name he hasn’t mentioned – Ram Shankar Nikumbh – his name. It turns out that Nikumbh was also dyslexic and felt what Ishaan was currently feeling.
Nikumbh, who is eager to tell everyone, especially Ishaan’s family that Ishaan will not be treated “differently” and sent to a special school for mentally challenged children, talks to the principal of Tulips School. He persuades the principal to give Ishaan a chance to explore himself and regain the imagination he draws in his paintings, and lets him work to improve Ishaan’s problems in reading and writing (literacy) and other academic subjects. After some argument, the principal agrees with Nikumbha after quoting Oscar Wilde’s cliché – A cynic A man who knows the price of everything, nothing else.
Nikumbha enhanced Ishaan’s painting skills as well as his literacy skills. A few days later, Ishaan’s father visits Nikumbh and tells him that his wife has dyslexia. Again, Nikumbha makes his point through his example story of the Solomon Islands – In the Solomon Islands, when the tribes need to clear the forest to make way for fields, they don’t cut down the tree, they just gather and collect around it and abuse the tree, they curse it. Slowly but surely, after a few days, the plants begin to wither. It dies on its own. He convinces Ishaan’s father that his son needs care. Ishaan’s father, almost teary-eyed, runs away from Nikumbha’s office, and upon leaving there, he discovers how Ishaan has improved so much. From a distance, he sees Ishaan orally reading an announcement posted on the school bulletin board. Ishaan’s father runs away with tears in his eyes filled with shame.
The final moments of the film gave the painting event – a painting competition set by Nikumbha. Students and even teachers are welcome to join the competition. Lalita Lajmi, Nikumbha’s guru in Chitrashilpa, appeared in the scene as a guest judge. Nikumbha searched for Ishaan but could not find him. Ishaan’s friend, Rajan, tells Nikumbh that he left the hostel before dawn. After waiting for a few moments, Ishaan appears and Nikumbh quickly approaches him to paint a canvas. Ishaan moves to a more private space and starts painting.
After finishing his painting, which is of a child looking at himself in a pond (Ishaan painted himself), he goes to Nikumbha to show his painting. Ishaan walks by to see Nikumbh’s painting and cries himself seeing that he is the one whom Nikumbh has painted on his canvas so happily.
Before the film ends, it shows a brief scene of Ishaan’s parents regarding Ishaan’s progress at Tulips School. They found that Ishan made great improvements in his literacy skills. Ishaan’s father, who is still on the verge of disowning Ishaan for his lack of care as his father, thanks Nikumbh for what he has done for his son. The film ends with Ishaan returning to Nikumbh before Tulips leaves school.
The power of film
The strength of the film runs from the screenplay to its direction and production to the performances of the actors in the movie. The film is absolutely two-thumbs up. Initially, the script was written extensively. Appropriate words are used to embellish the context of the picture. The film uses various famous names to emphasize the point of the movie – Albert Einstein, Thomas Alva Edison, Leonardo da Vinci and Oscar Wilde. It also used proverbs and stories that clicked to further embellish the film’s purpose – Nikumbha Tulips, the principal of the school, quoted Wilde’s thoughts on cynicism. In another, he told Ishaan’s father the story of the Solomon Islands.
Music production was also done extensively. The music of the film gave a lively presentation as the movie progressed. The lyrics fit the scenes of the film, in particular, the song depicting children with special needs and being compared to “stars on earth”.
Aamir Khan’s direction and production of the film deserves a five star rating. He thought a lot about the scenes that would be created that would emphasize the purpose of the film and make an impact on its audience. Most of the scenes shown in the movie were not laugh out loud funny but left almost all the viewers with tears in their eyes.
Finally, the film owes its huge success to its actors. The minor characters in the story, especially Ishaan’s parents, are well acted. Ishaan’s father, Mr. Awasthi, has done a great job playing a father who is arrogant and doesn’t care for Ishaan. Ishaan’s mother, Mrs. Awasthi, also did a great job playing the role of a mother who cares for Ishaan despite his mischievousness as an eight-year-old boy. On the other hand Darsheel, who played the role of Ishaan Avasthi, gave a brilliant performance. Actually, Darsheel is a normal kid who is very different from Ishaan, but in the movie, he seems like a kid who is mischievous and playful and has special needs. The way Darsheel acted, from his eyes that spoke of a child who was neglectful or indifferent to his actions which is evident only to a child suffering from mental disabilities, deserves a loud applause.
Aamir Khan, who was also the director and producer of the film, also did not fail to make the film a huge success. Aamir Khan was undoubtedly multi-talented as an actor. Like Darsheel, Aamir Khan also plays how a teacher, who was formerly dyslexic, should respond to the needs of a child with special needs. He delivered his lines brilliantly enough to emphasize his point as Ishaan’s (played by Darsil) teacher. Same with Darshiel, his eyes gave the movie something to pull the eyeballs of the audience.
Overall, the film was excellent, from the production, and of course, to the performances of the actors.
Weaknesses of the film
Even if there were weaknesses in the film, it wouldn’t be much to say that the flaw(s) would affect the matter or the production of the film. On the other hand, movie critics had at least one flaw that the movie didn’t have. That is the highlight of the other characters of the film. Ishaan and Nikumbha, the main characters, should not have focused on the development of the film between them.
The movie was absolutely two thumbs up. It achieves its objective as indicated in its title that “every child is special”. It wasn’t just a film for children. Rather, a movie for everyone, especially teachers who are seemingly forced to deal with students with special needs. The movie, too, can metaphorically pinch and itch the hearts of people who judge children with special needs and treat them as “indifferent”. The movie gave children who like Ishaan, mentally challenged, expect to be treated like normal children and given proper and adequate care.
The film should have also highlighted other characters who participated in the development of upshots of the film’s events.
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Rate: 4-5 stars
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