By Rohini Mohan
There are some incredible people who have supreme confidence in themselves. They are totally secure in their abilities and require no accolades from those around them. They feel no need to promote themselves. They quietly let their work do the talking. And they always deliver. Aamir Khan is from that genre. Taare Zamin Par, Aamir’s first directorial venture shines as brightly as Lagaan and Rang De Basanti. Easily one of the best films of the year, it is simply not to be missed. It will touch you to the core.
Dyslexia. A very challenging subject to deal with, especially in the Indian context. In a society that has a low threshold for deviation from the norm, children with special needs are not only misunderstood and ridiculed, they are constantly made to force fit their minds into a box. Their resultant frustration and confusion are mistaken for misbehavior and lack of focus, the only cure for which is more punishment, emotional and corporal. Spare the rod and spoil the child, because it is a tough world out there and there are no second chances. It is the duty of the parent to arm his child for the rat race and if the only way to do that is by doling out some brute force, then so be it. Ishan Awasthi (played sensitively and superbly by Darsheel Safary) is one such victim of tough love. Plagued by dyslexia – congenital word blindness, his mind begs to wander free, but is unfortunately held prisoner in the confines of the third grade classroom. Words get jumbled up in his brain, letters dance constantly and numbers are a horrifying challenge that cannot be overcome. What comes naturally and easily to other 9 year olds is an insurmountable obstacle to Ishan. His resentment at not being able to control the fact that he is different, manifests itself in all sorts of misdemeanors. His mother is his ally but she defers to his dad who insists on sending him away to a boot camp like boarding school so he can get over his ‘tantrums’. Enter Aamir, the temp art teacher who also happens to teach at another school for children with special needs. He recognizes the symptoms of dyslexia and confronts the parents. The rest is deliciously predictable, but I would have not wanted it any other way.
Aamir has managed to extract some amazing performances from his actors. I knew those people on the screen – I met them all when I was growing up. The competitive dad, over ambitious for his children, wanting them to be on top in everything all the time, incapable of accepting any semblance of ‘failure’. The sweet and sensitive mom, torn between her husband and her kids, a little unsure of her judgment, who cannot find it in her to stand up to the man of the house. The overworked, insensitive teachers who have no qualms in writing off a child, and who constantly compare siblings.
As Ram the art teacher, Aamir is exceptional. Darsheel as Ishan steals the show and deserves the top billing he is given. The script by Amole Gupte is pure poetry. The subject is dealt with subtly, with the right amount of compassion, emotion and humor. Some words may sound harsh and offensive but they hit home. We need more cinema that deals with issues such as these, because India, for all the strides she is making seriously needs a wake up call in some areas. Dyslexia is not bad behavior, it is a neurological disorder. According to Ram, Einstein, Edison, Agatha Christie, Leonardo Da Vinci and our very own Abhishek Bachchan all suffered from some degree of dyslexia as children, and they turned out just fine as adults. The film brings home the message that sometimes brilliant minds come disguised. The only way to uncloak them is through patience, understanding and sensitivity on the part of parents.
Because every child is special. Every child is a star.