Like Stars on Earth (Taare Zameen Par)
Taare Zameen Par (Every Child is Special) is a 2007 Indian drama produced and directed by Aamir Khan. It has been released for international edition DVD by Walt Disney Studios for Home Entertainment in 2010 with the title Like Stars on Earth.
This is a heart-tugging movie about an 8-year-old boy named Ishaan Awasthi who performs poorly in school, especially in the subjects of reading, writing, and math. At school, he struggles with learning. He fails at his exams, he fails at reading, at spelling, and at math.
Ishaan is a normal boy who loves to play with his dogs. He loves his mother, his father, and his older brother who excels academically and who is into sports. He looks up to his brother and perhaps in his young mind, he wants to be like him but he just can’t.
Due to his poor performance in school, he gets kicked out of the classroom by his teachers and gets laughed at by classmates. He is labeled lazy, idiot, and a boy with a bad attitude towards his studies. He dislikes school but he tries his best even if his interest lies somewhere else. He loves to draw and paint at home which may have helped him forget about school.
He struggles inside but hides it from his family. Sometimes, he releases his pent up emotions by fighting, by acting out. In one scene, he gets into a fight when a boy calls him a moron. No one understands him. He feels so alone in his struggles.
One time, he tells his teacher that he cannot read because the letters are dancing but he is forced to read them aloud. He could not read them properly so he is sent out of the classroom.
In his desire to discipline Ishaan, his father who believes that Ishaan’s problem is his attitude towards his studies sends him to a boarding school where his life becomes more miserable. Added to his school work is his separation from his mother and his family.
On his first night at the boarding school, he cries his heart out in the bathroom. The scene is heart-rending. The following days, he has to endure physical punishment and insults by the teachers. He is ridiculed by his classmates. His frustration is mounting. When his art teacher hit his knuckles five times, he gasps in pain and when he goes back to his seat, he tries to control his tears. It is heartbreaking to see a little boy try so much not to cry. He is called all kinds of names from idiot, lazy, and crazy.
He tries his best because he knows he is sent to the boarding school as a punishment for his poor academic performance but try as he must, he can never learn the stuff that his classmates have no trouble learning. He can’t even march with his classmates. His coordination is not as good. He cries his frustration out, he cries because he misses his Mama and as the days pass, he becomes more despondent and retreats into his own world. He stops talking to anyone. When his family visits, he hardly said a word. He did not say a word when they left. It seems that he has hardened his heart and shuts everyone out of his life. The depth of his despair is seen when he has not spoken a word to his mother and his brother when they call him by phone.
A temporary art teacher named Ram Shankar Nikumbh takes over Ishaan’s art class. He is not conventional in his approach to teaching. He teaches special needs children and he immediately notices that there is something wrong with Ishaan who does not participate in class. Nikumbh notices that Ishaan is depressed, does not speak a word, and his eyes look like he is asking for help. He feels that Ishaan looks scared most of the time. Then he learns that Ishaan always gets punished and has red marks all over his books. He looks over Ishaan’s school work and finds that Ishaan shows symptoms of dyslexia which must be the cause of his poor academic performance. Nikumbh is reminded of his own struggle when he was a kid like Ishaan, and vows to help the boy.
He visits Ishaan’s home and talks to his family. His father believes that Ishaan fails in school because of his attitude. He is mischievous, disobedient, rebellious, and does not listen to a word they say. Nikumbh tells them that all those are the symptoms of an underlying cause. He tells them that Ishaan may be suffering from a learning disability called dyslexia.
Dyslexia is a learning disability which causes difficulty in reading, writing, spelling, or math. People with dyslexia have their brains wired differently, and it is difficult for them to break the letters or written words into the distinct sounds of their language. Children with dyslexia may appear to lack motivation, they seem to have emotional or behavioral problems, and sensory impairment.
In Ishaan’s case, he is having trouble recognizing alphabets. He can’t read the words, therefore can’t understand them. In order to read and write, the sound of alphabets, their shapes, and the meaning of words need to be understood.
Sometimes along with dyslexia, children can have other problems like difficulty in understanding multiple instructions, motor skills such as problems buttoning his shirt or tying his shoelaces.
Nikumbh explains how frustrating it must be for Ishaan who is only 8 years old not to be able to read, write or do normal everyday activities that other children his age can do effortlessly. His self-confidence must be completely shattered and he may be trying to cover up his shortcomings by being openly disobedient and rebellious. He is keeping all his frustration and struggles inside. He does not want to admit them to his family, and to the world.
Nikumbh learns while at Ishaan’s house that the boy loves to draw and paint but he never draws or paints at his art class. His spirit which has already been crushed at his former school has also been crushed all the more at the boarding school and he has stopped painting completely.
Nikumbh takes Ishaan’s case to the principal who after some convincing agrees to his suggestion to help Ishaan. Nikumbh tries hard to reach out to Ishaan and takes it upon himself to help the boy read and write. With his unconventional method of teaching, Ishaan slowly starts to speak and smile, especially when he learns that many of the famous figures in the world had difficulty learning in school when they were young. He makes a lot of progress in his reading and writing and even in his math, with Nikumbh patiently teaching him away from the classroom.
The highlight of the movie is when Nikumbh organizes a painting contest at the end of the school year to be participated by all students and teachers. Nikumbh has invited an art guru who is his own art teacher to judge the contest. When all the paintings are turned in, the judge finds two outstanding art works, the paintings of a teacher and a student. The judge chooses the student’s work over the teacher. Ishaan win first prize and Nikumbh who has painted Ishaan’s smiling face wins second.
The movie makes use of symbolism when Ishaan falls on the last steps as he comes down to receive his prize and Nikumbh catches him. It shows that Nikumbh is always there for him to catch and hold him up. The ending also uses a good symbolism. As Ishaan is about to leave with his parents for the summer holiday, he turns around and runs toward Nikumbh who takes him in his arms and tosses him up into the air. It is such a beautiful picture as Ishaan spreads his arms in a flying motion and the screen freezes. It seems to say that now he can fly on his own with Nikumbh propping him up. Now he can face the world.
The watercolor paintings shown in this film as the artwork of the characters Nikumbh and Ishaan are painted by Samir Mondal, a noted Indian watercolor painter.
Interesting Lines from the Movie
“Once there was a boy who could never read or write. No matter how hard he tried, he could never remember that x came before y. Alphabets were his enemies. They would dance before his eyes, moving and twirling, jumping and prancing, they would give him a very hard time. Reading and writing exhausted him but who could he share his troubles to? His brain was crammed, his starter jammed with all this ABC disco. Then one day the poor boy failed, the pressure of studies defeating him. People call him a loser and a fool but he put up a brave front, never losing his cool. Then one day, the boy struck gold. When the world heard his theory, they were all bowled. Tell me can you guess his name?”
“On the Solomon Islands, when the tribes need to clear any part of the jungle to make way for fields, they don’t cut down the trees, they simply gather and collect around it and hurl abuses at the tree, they curse it, Slowly but surely, after some days, the tree begins to wither. It dies on its own.”
“Art gives expression to our innermost thoughts and feelings. Feeling happy? Your hand automatically reaches out for bright colors. Didn’t enjoy lunch? Drab, dull colors find their way onto the paper.”
Taare Zamen Par Trailer
The following famous dyslexics are mentioned by Nikumbh in the movie:
Albert Einstein – genius scientist
Leonardo da Vinci – inventor and painter
Pablo Picasso - painter
Walt Disney – creator of Mickey Mouse
Neil Diamond - singer
Agatha Christie - writer
Tomas Alba Edison - inventor
Abishek Bachchan - Indian actor
The movie has received awards which include:
2008 Filmfare Best Film Award
2008 National Film Award for Best Film on Family Welfare
It has become India’s official entry to the 2009 Academy Awards Best Foreign Film but has failed to progress to the nominations short list.
This movie has not only raised awareness for dyslexia in children but can also teach parents and school authorities how to deal with children who do not conform to the standards for academic excellence.
This is a movie that shows the importance of caring. One child who has lost all hope finds assurance from someone who really cares, the assurance he did not get from his parents.
Children must feel that their parents are there for them, whether they slip or mess up. They have to have that assurance that the parents really care, that they can tell their parents everything that is happening to them.
This is a good movie for parents, teachers, and school authorities. If you have about 3 hours to spare and looking for a movie to watch, I recommend Taare Zameen Par. There are English versions that you can see or you may even look for that Disney international version DVD. This is a very heart-warming movie. Kudos to Aamir Khan!