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Every Child is Special, with an original Hindi title Taare Zameen Par, and reissued as Like Stars on Earth, is an Indian drama film produced and directed by the noted actor Aamir Khan. The script is beautifully crafted by Amole Gupta with his wife Deepa Bhatia, who served as the film’s editor. The story gets its inspiration from the childhood of Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, who did not fit into the school stream.
Its theatrical debut in India happened on December 21, 2007, and UTV Home Entertainment released a DVD for Indian audiences in 2008. Disney’s later send out of the international edition DVD marked the first purchase of distribution rights for an Indian film by a global company.
After its release across different countries, the movie was a box-office hit receiving numerous critical acclaims from various award-giving bodies for its one of a kind story offering. Among were the Filmfare Award for Best Film and National Film Award for Best Film on Family Welfare (2008). It was also the country’s official entry to the 2009 Academy Awards Best Foreign Film.
Not only does it fascinate its viewers with insights on child psychology, but also it has moved many hearts as it unveils the tormented life at home and at school of a dyslexic young boy, Ishaan Awasthi (enacted by 8-year old Darsheel Safary), and his artistic feat upon meeting his art teacher, Ram Shankar Nikumbh (enacted by Aamir Khan). It’s worth to note that the theme and topic revolve around Dyslexia, overcoming the stigma and some societal issues. Every child in its mere sense is special just like a canvas - waiting to be painted with love, treated with patience and delicate care.
Eventually, Every Child is Special becomes a way of understanding the why’s of some children not being able to conform to a conventional educational system, and the how’s of teachers in transforming the lives of students.
Although depicted as fictional characters, their stories are too real - all the pains of a child who endures as well as the burning passion of a teacher who truly cares.
Set in the modern day India, is the heart-wrenching narrative of an eight-year-old child who is losing his self, his soul in a dreadful, heedless society with parents, teachers and peers who neither recognize nor understand his dilemma.
This gifted young boy is Ishaan Awasthi. He cannot read. He can hardly write. He suffers from a learning disability called dyslexia (the child is not able to read the letters and recognize them. Also cannot calculate the speed and velocity with which the object is approaching the child). He becomes withdrawn and depressed after repeated failures in academic arena. None recognizes that he is a slow learner. Ostensibly, Ishaan isn’t the only one who struggles but his parents too and even his school. They see the symptoms, but not the cause.
Time comes when complaints on him start to pour in. Ishaan’s parents decide to send him off to a boarding school hoping it would make any difference, a positive change. But it turns out just the same in there – oppressed, down-graded by his teachers and laughed at by his age-group. Away from his family and without the comfort of a “home”, he feels even more miserable, rejected and inferior… finding it tough to cope with his situation.
Standing up for a child and believing who he can become is a complex process and Teacher Ram (Ram Shankar Nikumbh) shows how it should be done. He is an epitome of a passionate and inspiring teacher whose character encapsulates more fully what a real teacher needs to be and to do.
He is a temporary art teacher at the boarding school. His style of teaching is far different from others. Doing away from the definite norms and practices, Teacher Ram makes children think out of the books, outside the four walls of the classroom and paint their imaginations. Such actually yield better results. Every child in his class can be seen with great enthusiasm except Ishaan. Teacher Ram is bothered and so, he makes an effort to know Ishaan and understand his problems. He reviews his records and previous works. He concludes that Ishaan has dyslexia. Exactly the same case that he went through. He lets Ishaan’s parents, other teachers and the principal realized that he is a special child with talents of his own. Fruitfully, he’s able to help Ishaan overcome his inabilities and win back his confidence.
The movie opens with an interesting presentation of Ishaan, describing him as a playful 3rd grader with low academic standing but very creative, has an immense love for animals and is an impressive artistic talent. Then gradually progresses to a brief narration of his family’s background.
One example is the scene showing the typical mornings of Awasthi family that mirror the human struggles with the social reality.
Ishaan and his brother share a loving relationship with their parents only that they are both career-driven. The father represents those who always thrive and battle against every single day. They are too occupied with so many concerns to closely observe or notice Ishaan’s hurdles.
Because Ishaan’s brother, Yohaan, does well in his studies, in fact a tennis champion and top of his class, he often faces comparisons with him. Good thing it doesn’t affect in any way their friendly bond. His character personifies the outstanding students in school who do exactly as told and who firmly believe that falling behind is not an option.
Most of the film’s highlights happened in the academic settings. The storyline is commendable for presenting the struggles with the social reality and matters underlying the educational system.
A little element of fantasy is balanced with the dramatic events that truly hooked the viewers. That integration does not create monotonous plot. It brings out the child within the audience’s heart (not purely drama), in such a way that people from all walks of life can relate.
It shows how the director and the writers brilliantly tailored and layered down the scenes that are supposed to be serious but were brilliantly made light, captivating and humorous.
The film has a distinctive cinematography incorporated with fanciful fictive animations and a coordinated musical scoring. The music accompaniment is a trademark in many parts of it. As the plot develops, a change in melody of the song takes effect depending on the character focus.
These techniques are effective in capturing and connecting the audience to the characters and scenarios of the film. They add to the overall entertainment factor aside from their affective appeal. As I have observed, musicality casts up most of Indian films, hallmarking it their identity.
Besides aesthetic value, these components complement Ishaan’s magical universe and creativity of his borderless imagination. One instance from the movie is when he is solving a problem during Math exam being in a mission in the solar system. It also communicates his love for art and painting.
There are other particularly heart rending moments like the whole initial boarding school sequence – set to the song “Tujhe Sab To Pata Hai Na Maa” which conveys the silenced emotions of a child separated from his mother when he most needs her.
Just like other Hindi-films, some parts are delivered through singing and dancing.
The dialogs and actions of the actors also supplement to the mood of the scenes and most importantly, they are given justice that makes the movie more natural and realistic. Just when Aamir Khan’s role wanted the viewers to feel how he empathizes on Ishaan’s condition - his eyes, his smiles and his actions.
How about when Ishaan’s parents leave him at the boarding school? Darsheel’s amazing act of a vulnerable kid who felt nothing but helplessness, the realization of being left alone is brought out so effectively that one couldn’t help but surrender to his condition.
The casts’ costumes are traditional Indian dresses, example, uniform of a teacher and a student in India. They fit on the place they are in - in the house, work or school (like the clown costume used by Teacher Ram in the classroom).
Overall, the movie will surely move anyone to tears especially towards the end. It is worth every second and you don’t want to miss a portion of it. I don’t see any flaws on it as I’ve just enjoyed the whole thing and if there is any, I guess such has already been upheld and overpowered by the superb acting, heart-warming story line and impressive cinematography.
Indeed, one of the best and remarkable few movies to have had its debut flourished and up to this date really makes a huge impact in education and society is Aamir Khan’s Every Child is Special.
This amazing film is for all types of audience. It is more than just a drama movie. It is an eye-opener regarding dyslexia as a phenomenon that many aren’t familiar with and the dimensions affecting it such as bullying, flaws in educational system and family issues. Definitely, this movie will continue to be relevant until accepting every child as special becomes a norm in our society. Its essence and influence are immeasurable in educational landscape and in family perspectives.
It is a must-watch movie filled with life-lessons. Its emotional connect that once made me drown in tears on more occasions or perhaps in its entirety, still lingers in my memory. If I may suggest, movies like this must be mandatory viewing for schools, students and parents.
© 2022 Sangie Ceneta