Saturday, December 22, 2007


Taare Zameen Par

Aamir Khan's first film as director is a brave, well-intentioned effort. It's clear than Khan (and his writer Amole Gupte) are passionate about the subject—probably also inspired by 1984 TV show Backwards The Riddle of Dyslexia.

The plot of Taare Zameen Par is the classic 'triumph of the underdog', blended with 'good teacher working a miracle'. Every time it's done (Khan's own Lagaan, Black, the recent Chak De India), it strikes a chord, simply because life is so unfair, you want unlikely heroes to win at least in films.

In Taare Zameen Par it's nine-year-old Ishaan (Darsheel Safary), who marches to his own drummer (as Prasoon Joshi's song says in soulful words). His teachers and parents (Tisca Chopra-Vipin Sharma) despair of his low marks and cheeky behavior, but he'd rather live in a world of his own—wandering the streets, catching fish in the gutter, talking to his dogs and jumping into puddles. In a world ruled by marksheets, Ishaan is an "idiot" and "duffer", while his older brother excels in everything.

Today's aware parents and teachers (at least in elitist schools) would seek help for a child like that, but since Khan wants to create an oppressive situation, so that he as the miracle worker Ram Shankar Nikumbh, can rescue the child, a weeping Ishaan is packed off to boarding school—where his heart-breaking sobs in the solitude of the bathroom, wring tears from all watching eyes.

The adult world is astonishingly ignorant, it takes Nikumbh to educate them about dyslexia—because he suffered from it himself. So did, he tells the other kids (and us) Albert Einstein, Agatha Christie and Abhishek Bachchan. Ishaan needs special attention and not be dumped into a school for mentally retarded kids—where Nikumbh also teaches.

The gradual breaking of the shattered Ishaan's sullen silence, his bond with the teacher, the flowering of his talent are all beautifully portrayed and moving. What did need some reining in was the teacher's self-righteous lecturing to everyone, as if he was the one to have discovered dyslexia.

Perhaps to underline Ishaan's suffering, and deftly manipulate the viewer's emotions, Khan depicts all adults, except himself and an unnamed female companion, as stupid (the parents) or mean (the teachers). The only kids who empathise with Ishaan are his brother and a physically challenged classmate. Still, Khan's direction handling of the theme is sensitive, even if it's impractical in the Indian scenario and over-idealistic.

Little Darsheel Safary with his limpid eyes and expressive face is perfectly cast and a terrific actor,—and kudos to the manner in which Khan draws out Darsheel and the other kids, who look completely natural and at ease. He gives himself a coxcomb hairstyle and sympathetic manner-- the rebel who will never run the rat race.

Well shot (Setu) with fabulous animation, pleasing music (Shankar Ehsaan Loy) and heart-tugging lyrics, make Taare Zameen Par a edifying watch, hopefully, the film's target audience won't mind its lack of entertainment.


Current Bollywood box-office dictates that comedies are in. Comedies that star Akshay Kumar and Paresh Rawal are even better. Throw in some more big names and at least a great opening is assured. Anees Bazmee’s Welcome is more an attempt to cash in on a trend than a film of any singular merit.

Rajeev (Akshay Kumar) is an art auctioneer (that comes from Mickey Blue Eyes—Bazmee can’t even give the hero an original profession!), who falls in love with a gangster Uday Shetty’s (Nana Patekar) sister Sanjana (Katrina Kaif—pretty showpiece part). Because of some vague promise to Rajeev’s mother, his uncle Dr Ghungroo (Paresh Rawal) is determined to get him married into a respectable family, as a result of which the poor, obedient nephew has been forced to reject 500 girls. And now he is in danger of being hitched to a gangster’s family, that’s Bazmee’s sense of irony for you.

Still, the first half of the film is funny and moves like a breeze—and never mind the lapses in logic by which a man doesn’t ask his beloved’s full name, so doesn’t know that Sanjana is a Shetty! The humour that could be squeezed out of the pledge-to-mother idea is exhausted in the overlong pre-interval portion. After that it gets annoyingly brainless and over the top, ending with an ‘everybody gather at one spot and freak out’ climax, which is a Priyadarshan signature. Not that Bazmee ever makes claims of originality.

Rajeev decides that if his dead mother’s wish is to be respected, he will have to reform Shetty and his main henchman Majnu (Anil Kapoor) and have to get them both out of the clutches of big don RDS (Feroz Khan—better retired than ridiculous!). It takes him a lot of time, and the audience a lot of patience to come to the inevitable ending, that could have been brought in at 120 minutes and saved everybody a great deal of boredom and anguish. It would also mean doing without Mallika Sherawat’s guest appearance which has no sizzle, since she doesn’t even get an item number! That dubious honour goes to Malaika Arora, whose dance number is inserted without the director even bothering to create a situation for it.

Akshay Kumar, today’s comedy king, unfortunately sleepwalks through this one, so does Paresh Rawal. Anil Kapoor has a lot of fun strutting around with his collar up in slow motion and pretending to be cool. Nana Patekar is amusing too, as an aspiring actor, who curtails his own hamming by saying “Control, control.” Why didn’t somebody say that to Bazmee!


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