Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Taare Zameen Par - The Review

The Disciple and his Guru

Rating: 4.0/5.0

Few movies evoke the kind of emotional upheaval that clean-sweeps you, that achieves the all-elusive emotional null that is very difficult to achieve. Taare Zameen Par is easily one such movie. It sweeps you off your feet and creates the kind of innocent, pure emotional ache that you must have experienced only as a child. Its a movie that is bound to leave your tear glands more than a little dry.

The premise is indeed very simple and completely believable. The story follows Ishan Avasthi (Darsheel Safary), a dyslexic boy whose inability to read and write and other behavourial anamolies is interpreted as a purposeful disobedience and non-conformance to societal strictures and school discipline. Thus, in school he is considered a nuisance and admonished regularly by unsympathetic teachers and is usually otherwise victimized by the system, which rewards conformers and castigates non-conformers. At home, he draws unflattering comparisons with his elder brother Yohaan, who is the quintessential mugger/topper of the class. His parents are routinely irritated by the vast chasm in academic performance between Ishan and Yohaan and tend to blame it as Ishan's incorrect attitude. They keep failing to understand all along that Ishan is unable to comprehend the written word and is hence unable to perform simple mathematics & grammar. His father decides to pack him off to a boarding school. Though Maya Avasthi (Tisca Chopra) is a loving mother, she chooses not to over-rule her husband - perhaps because, deep down she too believes that Ishan's problems are a result of indiscipline. At the boarding school, he suffers initially at the hands of stricter teachers, who do not take kindly to his lapses of attention and his inability to comprehend instructions. But his luck changes as a new art teacher 'Ram Shankar Nikumbh' (Aamir Khan) takes over. Ram notices the boy's reticence and his patters of behaviour and finds it disturbingly consistent with dyslexia. Ram, then informs Ishan's parents and sets him off on a course to improvement and recovery. The rest of the movie chronicles this process, which culminates in a much quieter Ishan.

Vipin Chopra as Nandkishore Avasthi (Ishan's father) plays the role of the typical male patriarch perfectly - he rises early, does his work hurriedly as he eats his breakfast, goes out on business tours and in whatever little way he can cares for his kids, often loading his ambitions & cumbersome expectations on his kids. Tisca Chopra as Maya Avasthi (Ishan's mother) gives a sublime performance as the doting mother, who can't bear to be separated from her child and yet chooses exactly that - her tearful reminiscences and subdued performance is proof of her proficiency as an actor. Sachet Engineer as Yohaan Avasthi (Ishan's brother) plays the rather bitter-sweet role of a caring brother, who unknowingly is the cause of much pain to Ishan. Aamir Khan as Ram Nikumbh gives another subdued yet solid performance as the art-teacher that transforms Ishan from a timid, reticent boy to a happy child. Finally, Darsheel Safary as Ishan is one of those rare occurences in the casting world - an actor that fits the bill perfectly. Darsheel doesn't act Ishan - he IS Ishan. As Ishan, he makes us an eye-witness to his life - making us laugh, making us cry. All along, we get to see the emotional vulnerability of this boy, who at first glance appears indisciplined and disobedient.

Aamir Khan has perhaps discovered his calling - he is an astute director, who captures the innocence and vulnerability of Ishan, along with his mischevious exploits. This creates for the audience a great sense of a 'conspirator' and a 'sufferer' - we are tickled by his mischiefs while emotionally touched at how society and family treats his genuine disability.

There are moments in the movie, when the triumph of the human spirit is beautifully captured - without pretense, melodrama and emotional manipulation. However, the movie does veer of in the end, a little towards the manipulative and cliche. The manner in which the results of a painting competition is announced reeks of saccharine and melodrama - a contrived, manipulative device to elicit tears from the audience. Save that scene, everything else is done tastefully and subtly.

Bottom-Line: This movie is an opportunity to let go. To rediscover the pure, naive insecurities that all of us must have had as kids or even as adults. Some of us still may have these insecurities and to such people, this movie would be a tool of rejuvenation. As CNN IBN critic Rajeev Masand said during his review, "Go watch TZP. You might just discover a little bit of you and your problems in Ishan and his"