Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Taare Zameen Par - A Child's Review

There are films that make you laugh, and there are films that make you cry terribly. Having grown up in India, a country reputed for a film industry churning out either mindless laughathons or melodramatic sob-stories, it's difficult to get to watch the genuinely funny, or genuinely emotional film. And Aamir Khan gifts us both! Taare Zameen Par gives one lots of reasons to both laugh out loud and feel extremely sad. It's a story that relates to everyone of us in the world who have biologically grown up and yet never cease to look at the world through the eyes of innocent children: we can all see the Ishan Awasthi in ourselves, and with more or less intensity, we have all felt the same emotions cross our mind. And that is where TZP succeeds: it brilliantly connects with the viewers. While the antics of Ishan are sure to draw many a laugh (not through spurious rib-tickling humour, but the eccentricity which defines a fantastic childhood), his sobs are also quite certain to melt the hearts of those who have even a tiny morsel of love left in themselves.

To put the theme quite simply: this is the story of a dreamy boy. A boy who had the courage (and I don't say 'courage' because I don't find a better word) to look at the world through different eyes. Someone who could spend his day staring at a puddle of mud stuck in the craters of a road, or the birds flying high in the sky. Or even the little unknown fishes swimming in the drain by the road. This is a story of how the boy, inspite of his markedly different attitude towards life, still managed to attract criticism and wrath for being different. This is a tribute to the Apu-s blossoming in the jungle of bricks and amongst the 'racehorses' running life's 'race' in the cities of India (even if you think the parallel to Pather Panchali is too much, kindly wait till I end this post!). This is the story of Ishan Awasthi.

[Warning: I am revealing a lot of details about the film. So, forgive me for the spoilers!]
The story starts with all the teachers reading out the marks that the students have got in class tests held in Class III, St Xavier's School, Mumbai. And each time Ishan Awasthi manages to score the least of the lot! But no, Ishan isn't worried even a bit about his marks. The day at the school ends, and Ishan is by the drain outside his school, catching little fish using a homemade net, and putting them inside his water bottle! Ishan reaches home, discovers his favourite couple of dogs in his garden and without a bit of hesitation feeds them his test-papers! And that's just a little fun that Ishan has all throughout the day. And so he carefully pours out the fishes from his waterbottle into his personal collection of guppies, and then deliberately annoys his mother. Ishan's life is in complete contrast with that of his brother Yohan, the class-topper, avid sportsman and in short, Mr. perfect-son. But inspite of their differences, Yohan has a soft corner for his brother, whom he dearly loves. The only member of the family not happy with his less-than-genius freaky boy is Ishan's father-- who can't bear to think that while his elder son is everybody's favourite, his younger son is at the end of everybody's complaint: from teachers to neighbourhood parents. And while everyone in house is running about preparing for another day of hardwork, Ishan sleeps peacefully and blissfully in his room amidst an assortment of colours, paintings and toys.

Inspite of Ishan's mother's best efforts, she can't help her son with his studies because he easily forgets everything he learnt the previous day. Ishan can't follow his teacher's orders of opening page no. such-and-such and chapter no. such-and-such, which annoys her-- she thinks that the boy is deliberately pretending not to be able to follow her simple instructions. Worser still, Ishan can't read a word out of his English book! He's ordered out of the class, but given the 'bindaas' boy Ishan is, he takes the opportunity to indulge in his childish pranks. (Needless to say, punishments never perturb Ishan: he has grown both used to and rather fond of them!)

On the day his test-papers are distributed, Ishan cuts his classes-- roaming around in the streets of Mumbai by himself; staring at the pigeons flying, the ice-candyman spraying brilliant colours on balls of crushed ice, and even the most ordinary and common man making his way through the street. That night he cajoles his brother Yohan to write a false absence note for him. But Ishan's misdeeds are discovered by his parents, and when they visit school, they find a barrage of complaints against Ishan waiting for them. And hence Ishan's father decides that he'll have his son sent to a boarding school, in which one of his friends is a trustee. Ishan, of course, is quite angry with his father (brilliant expression of anger from Darsheel, by the way!), but nothing can dissuade his father now.

And hence inspite of all his wishes, the little boy is sent to a boarding school. Ishan can't bear the pain of separating from his family, and especially his mother (the person he loves most). The scene where the family leaves Ishan behind is brilliant and full-to-the-brim with emotion: the viewer can feel, almost tangibly, the pain wrenching Ishan's heart. The song 'Maa' brilliantly brings out the emotions that swirl around in Ishan's heart-- and kudos to Prasoon Joshi, the lyricist, for immortalising the feelings of a child towards his mother (I think Shankar Mahadevan also deserves special mention for his excellent and soulful vocal performance on the track).

It's too much for a little child to resist the heart-break of staying away from the family, and when that is compounded with a feeling of desperation and extreme loneliness, Ishan starts feeling that his mother deliberately left him back. He cries every night in the hostel bathroom, but no one can help him. Ishan's reception at his new school is the same as his old one. He still can't follow lectures, obey instructions, or for that matter, even read out a few lines from his reader! During the hindi class, the teacher orders Ishan to sit beside the topper of the class Rajan so that the company of a 'good boy' may help Ishan with his studies. That, quite incidentally, is a blessing in disguise-- for in Rajan, Ishan finds a confidante and a friend who understands his needs. Moreover, Rajan realises that Ishan has an inherent ability to see beyond the ordinary-- the only problem with the boy is that he cannot properly comprehend or express everything. Ishan is still regularly punished by his teachers, most notably the one teaching arts, which of course complicates matters for the already gloomy and depressed boy.

All until one day when the arts teacher leaves for New Zealand and a stand-in man named Ram Shankar Nikumbh is brought in to temporarily fill in the role. And Nikumbh is none other than Aamir Khan! (Aamir shows us that he is more of a dedicated director in this movie rather than an actor, and that is why he chooses to enter the scenario only at intermission, placing the huge responsibility on carrying the first half almost entirely on Darsheel's shoulders: of course, a job that Darsheel more than ably accomplishes.)

Nikumbh is vastly different from the other teachers in the school. He is originally one of the teachers associated with the Tulip's school: an institution for the mentally retarded and physically challenged. While the other teachers are engrossed in their 'duty' to make 'racehorses' for life's 'race'-- Nikumbh understands that children must be allowed the freedom to imagine and make their own decisions. The role of the teacher is limited to that of a guide only-- children cannot simply be spoonfed some knowledge, or dry facts, and be expected to really shine in life! But above everything else, it's his attitude towards the students in which he is most different from others: he lets the kids have their share of fun, laughter, music and dance (another brilliant song 'Bum Bum Bole' actually expresses Nikumbh's feelings about education, Wordsworth-style!). The children are overjoyed to have such a friendly teacher, who not only lets them sing and dance, but also gives them the freedom to express whatever they want, in whichever way they wish to! But Nikumbh notices that a boy sits quietly throughout the arts period. Through his interactions with Rajan, Nikumbh comes to know about Ishan's problems with dyslexia and loneliness. Having been a dyslexic in his early life, he realises how suffocating the world must seem to Ishan, and therefore he sets foot on a mission to save the boy from emotional collapse.

Through a thorough study of Ishan's notebooks, Nikumbh spots a distinct trend in the mistakes the little boy commits. Since such a delicate matter needs the counsel of parents, Nikumbh himself reaches Ishan's house. Upon reaching, he is clearly dumbstruck. Firstly, he discovers the avid interest in art that Ishan has, and yet failed to show in the previous few weeks. And secondly, also more sadly, Ishan's father just refuses to believe that his son has learning problems: he still opines that Ishan must be seeking for excuses to skip studying. Nikumbh is much disappointed after his conversation with Ishan's parents, and especially his father: he discovers another one of those pathetic parents who are so concerned with (quite literally) cultivating/growing geniuses in their homes, that they forget the basics of human understanding and compassion. But Nikumbh does give a cheeky reply to Ishan's father before he leaves for his return back to school.

Nikumbh talks to the principal about the boy's weaknesses and personally requests for separate examination procedures for the boy, at least for the time being. He persuades the principal with strong arguments: showing him Ishan's brilliant paintings, surely the sign of a boy with above-average intelligence! And finally he personally undertakes the responsibility to train the boy in developing good language and mathematical skills. Somewhat hesitatingly, the principal agrees. And hence begins Ishan's journey towards overcoming the problems that threaten to destroy the very essence of his life. As the days pass by, Ishan slowly and steadily progresses until he can read and write for himself. Meanwhile, Ishan's father comes to 'visit' Ishan: actually meaning to remind Nikumbh that as a parent he was doing his part-- how? He proudly declares that his wife has read every article about dyslexia on the net. To which Nikumbh gives a tongue-in-cheek reply: something that is too much for the shameless man to stand. As he is about to leave Nikumbh's art-studio, he discovers Ishan quietly reading out a notice from the pin-board. The man is so moved to tears at his own foolishness and insensitive nature towards his own son that he can't bear to stand there for even a second.

Meanwhile, Nikumbh arranges for an Art Mela. Open for everyone, especially for the school staff and students, along with the Tulip school-children. The teachers do attend, most of them with a wish to just show the principal that they had attended the mela, but something forces them to stay back (Shan't reveal what, for that'll take away half of the fun regarding the Mela!!). But Nikumbh can't spot Ishan. The boy arrives after a long time and willingly chooses a lonely corner of the place. And Nikumbh starts his portrait of his own reflection, a student he had seen grow up before his own eyes in a certain sense: his dear Ishan. Funnily enough, even the initially unwilling teachers have their share of 'art' (You'll laugh till your stomach aches as you see them draw, and that's a guarantee!!). Both Nikumbh's and Ishan's paintings are shortlisted as the best but Ishan is ultimately awarded. Ishan can't bear the emotions overwhelming his simple mind, he breaks down and embraces his teacher! And all I can say is, that was brilliant!! The film ends with Ishan going back home with a happy family with the promise that he'll return to school later. I think it wouldn't be unjustified to say that the footage accompanying the end-credits was truly excellent: an honest portrayal of childhood in all its innocence and glory.
Darsheel is the best child-actor seen in Bollywood in decades. I shall miss him in case he doesn't do more films henceforth. On the other hand, I shall also eagerly wait for Aamir to direct more films. This man never ceases to outdo himself as the days pass by! Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy get their due credit with a mighty nice soundtrack-- the songs were touching and very relevant to the essence of the movie.

Now the inevitable comparisons with Black. Aamir himself is much critical of the film, and going by the recent trend of comments on other blogs I visit, most people have rated Black as the 'greatest ham-movie of all time'. I disagree. Black shall still remain one of my most favourite hindi-movies inspite of everyone's verdict against it. For one, I believe in my own heart; and Black moved me really well (perhaps, more on the defense of Black later!). And so did TZP. The two stories compare because at the core of the matter, both are about student-teacher relationships. And both are about the triumph of human spirit against all odds: and as such, both are brilliant in their own ways.

Wait, I remember saying something about Pather Panchali back at some point in my post. I don't take that one back! Yes, Ray was much more accomplished a director than Khan is, but in both their debut films, these two men chose to deal with different and sensitive subjects: that of children losing their identity and imagination in this big, bad and insensitive world. Apu was born in Nishchindipur, Ishan in Mumbai: and yet both were kings in their own worlds of imagination. Both loved the mysteries of nature, and both were enchanted by the colours of life. And in that sense, Apu and Ishan are just two names for the same person: only the time and place have changed, nothing else has changed much! Interestingly enough, Aamir himself graciously accepts the superiority of Ray over himself: and if you ask me, I have no problem in embracing such honest and hard-working (should we also add 'perfectionist'?) an actor and director as Mr. Khan.
And finally let me end with an observation of mine. I'd been to the cinema to watch this movie and the guy sitting next to me went out with his cellphone ringing at least ten times throughout the whole duration of the film. At the end of two hours, he asked his girlfriend an all-important question: "darling, what is this film about?" :) And finally forty minutes before the film ended, the couple left altogether for good. That's what Indians come to the cinema for! :D

P.S.-- You may also like to visit the film's official site,


Suvro Chatterjee said...

Superb review, Sudipto: and, on second thoughts, I wouldn't spoil it by carping over little details which did not go down as well with me as they obviously did with you and Abhirup (check out his 'evaluation' at, seeing that a) in broad details I agree entirely with both of you about how good, timely and essential the movie was; b) that I admire both of you for watching something good so closely and reflecting long and hard over it and taking pains to write coherently about it, not just shooting off your mouth, as most people are apt to do these days, so that words of praise sound as shallow and silly as words of gross abuse.

My real angst lies in the fact that most people either don't bother to watch mindfully at all (the kind you have mentioned at the end of your essay), or gush foolishly over it and promptly forget all about it in a week or two, so that nothing in their psyche is ever affected for the better (which, you will agree, is what every director wants most when he makes a movie with so much care), or take time out only to talk crap - as I guess someone already did on your blog, seeing that you have been forced to remove the earlier comment! This is why I, at my age, having tried so hard lifelong to make a difference, tend to believe now that nothing much is going to change for the better in this country. I shall draw your attention to what Nirad C. Chaudhuri famously said about India and Indians in his book 'The Continent of Circe'.

Sudipto Basu said...

Thanks for the kind words, Sir. Just one small thing: the last comment was by Sayantani, and I deleted it only because she personally asked me to do so (she has her own private reasons for that). There was nothing remotely crappy about the earlier comment..

sriranjani said...

A wonderfull review, sudipto:But i would like to point out that if a teacher makes his first appearence by dancing and singing, will he get his due respect in future? Is it logical thhat all the other teachers did not protest against this?Dyslexia is a nervous disorder so can only a few days of love and care make the boy completely fit?
Think over it.

Anonymous said...

that was realy a great review ,Sudipto: but i want to point out some imporant things which you have missed out. If a teacher makes his first appearence by dancing and singing will any student give him the due respect?
Another thing, can a serious disease like dyslexia be cured only in some days? Afterall Nikumbh sir is a human being and not a god who would make mirracles possible.

Sudipto Basu said...

Considering that the 'anonymous. comment was from you, Sriranjani, let me try to answer your questions.

What is wrong with singing and dancing? Does that necessarily portray that a man is a freak, or too volatile to be a 'serious' enough teacher? I think not-- on the contrary, the likes of Nikumbh are/were always more serious about teaching than the non-singing-and-dancing likes of the other teachers portrayed in TZP. No one among the latter lot really understood the meaning of education-- that of the blossoming of one's soul-- and it doesn't matter even a whit that they didn't resort to singing and dancing... Fact is that anytime we would ourselves prefer teachers like Nikumbh in our lives!

Moreover, kids can instantly relate to songs and dances-- and it does make a welcome change if a teacher interacts with children the way they like it, rather than being pretentiously 'serious' and strict. And if you noted the song Nikumbh was singing, I'd say that it wasn't a bit lesser than what great poets like Wordsworth opined about education.

Now, if you ask me whether dyslexia can be solved in a few days, I would say 'possibly yes'. If not months, it can surely be overcome in a couple of years, with determined and well-directed methods of overcoming learning problems. Anyway, no one, including Aamir Khan, wanted to emphasize on the time-factor: he wanted to show that with sympathetic behaviour and dedicated hardwork, the severest of problems can be solved. Of course, TZP worked on a lot of other levels as well, but I am focussing solely on the beating-the-odds thing now!

Suvro Chatterjee said...

My apologies to both Sayantani and you, Sudipto; that was a misunderstanding. But otherwise, I stand by everything I said.

Sayantani said...

An amendment to my previous comment:

Dear Sudipto,

Quite an exhilarating and a lucid review, friend!
Children have a world of their own which can never be comprehended by the so-called ‘adults’. From my own experiences, I realise that I didn’t think as complexly when I was a child as I do now. I thought very little. All I had were a pair of big eyes to look around my little world in wonderment, a warm beating heart and probably some basic animal instincts. Like Ishaan, I also enthralled in the smell of sketch-pens and pastels in my childhood (and actually even do now) and loved to draw in all my long lazy leisurely hours. And also, since I myself have memories of my own waywardness of childhood, I can well understand what Aamir tried to convey though his film. Thanks to Aamir to remind us all of the irrational, incalculative yet perhaps the most important essence of life (precisely the way life should be lived) with such intensity and poignancy.

Now, to a child I know:
Without caring if my comment sounds irrelevant (so, this is NOT to the people who are sitting there just to read something dryly ‘rational’ and ‘sensible’), this is to a very close and an important person in my life who considers he is not worthy of so much love because he has a lot of ‘dark thoughts’, I say that I’ve immense respect for him that he gave up his self-esteem so simply and effortlessly to admit this (men can’t do that easily, really! I’ve enough experience to say this). Lots of warm regards to the child in my friend. Because he sounds so much put-down about it, I’ll add this bit to my comment: all I’ve realised in my little lived and highly insignificant life is this that maturity has it’s own beauty (with lots of love to our childhood) – we human beings are born as carbon which needs to be polished and burnt to be converted into diamond. That’s all about a steady purification. My self-introspection continues and I know I have my friend with me in this.

So, I think this comment is coming from a child and is gifted to another child with love :) (a very unperfected gift, really)…

Sayantani said...

@ Suvro Sir's comment:

Dear Sir,

That’s quite okay, I think. Yeah, I was a bit shocked to see your comment before, but soon understood that it was this stupid net’s ‘karshaji’. Sudipto was great in clearing up this bad confusion. No problem, really… Actually, it’s a fact that I never talk quite sense or practicality as opposed to what my most peers (not Sudipto though) view about life. I am quite a bore frankly, but a few people like you have been really kind enough to shower their blessings on me. So, your apology has touched me very much. I am a very insignificant person to be given so much of importance…

With high regards,

sriranjani, in search of a true meaning said...

Dear Sudipto,
With due respect to your comment don't you think there are many other ways of seriouse teaching than singing and dancing? For instsnce both , you and are sSuvro sir's students and Ithink he has been a perfect teacher for over 27 years without dancing or singing.And I think he is a complete teacher in all aspects.
Another thing which Suvro sir pointed out in our class was that the movie would creat a great problem for the teachers. The students would submit notebooks ful of mistakes and say that they are suffering from dyslexia.
My point of view is that dancing and singing are the last thing a teacher can do in a class and yes dyslexia can be cured in months
if only both the student and the teacher are super talented and have great willpower which as you know is one of the most wanted things among todays generetion.
Iam sorry that i posted two similar comments on your blog. i would be highly gratified if you remove my anonymous comment.

Sudipto Basu said...

Surely there are many ways of seriously teaching, and doing that excellently, other than singing and dancing. But I still don't think that a dance would be a bad way of endearing a group of students who, if you remember, were previously terrified of their bestial arts teacher. Doesn't that help the students get closer to their new teacher? And besides, as Nikumbh says, kids ARE meant to enjoy life and see it's various magnificent colours. Considering this, I think that there is no harm done in teaching the (very young) students the way they like it. Maybe a different age-group could deserve a different treatment! That's all I have to say on this matter.

And Suvro Sir has rightfully pointed out that students may now submit notebooks full of mistakes and claim that they are suffering from dyslexia. But given the huge amount of unsympathetic and moronic teachers around (the likes of those portrayed in TZP) many will soon learn that it's better not to pose as dyslexics. Of course, the student who really suffers from learning problems can do no better unless some sensible people (like Suvro Sir, or any real-life Nikumbh) help them out. And then again I must say-- it is not that dyslexics just commit mistakes. Their mistakes, as shown in the film, have a very distinct pattern in them.

P.S.-- There's no need for your anonymous comment to be deleted. After all, you asked a little bit different question in the second post...

sriranjani, in search of a true meaning said...

Iam surprised that you have not pointed out one mistake in my comment.Actualy Nikumbh did not cure Ishan awasti's dyslexia but tried to encourage him and make him understand that he was not different and even he has the right to live in this world with due respect.

Besides he also brought out Ishan's hidden talent of a great painter.

I think Nikumbh sir was like a guide to Ishan and his parents.

I would like to ask you a personal question, are you studing in DAV?

Sudipto Basu said...

Firstly, yes I do study in DAV at the moment-- switched over to it from Xavier's after my high school boards. And this is my final year in school-- rather a few months left now (feels a li'l strange seeing that I still remember my first day at Xavier's vividly, and that was 13 years back!).

And I didn't point out your 'mistake' because it wasn't so. No doctor (or more aptly, psychologist), if you ask me, 'cures' any patient-- he/she just prescribes a few things that the patient must do, a few medicines he/she must take, and at most, counsels the concerned person. Almost all disorders are ultimately upon the patient to 'cure'. But we still deem psychologists the people who 'cure' patients, don't we? Similarlty, Nikumbh....

And if you ask me, yes, Nikumbh was much more than a mere psychologist (a dear friend and guide is a much better way to name the relationship): in fact he was better than Ishan's father on almost all counts. In that sense, we just cannot dismiss the man as a mere 'curer' of Ishan's diseases. All due credits to Nikumbh for discovering the hidden master painted in Ishan: a pity that so few 'teachers' these days know of any talents beyond cramming a few books and being able to solve a few problems.

Also, shall be glad to know from where you came to know of my blog. Do tell me. And kindly check my other posts-- not all are good, but still...

sriranjani, in search of a true meaning said...

Friend,this is the third time I am writing the same thing. every time i try to post it,my net gets disconnected.
Anyway; i came to know about your blog from Svvro sir.This time i completly agree with you.
I am a student of std 11 studying with humanities in carmel school.
True, the first day in our almamater is something which we can never forget no matter how many years pass by and how many educational institutes we attend in future. The memories of our childhood are the sweetest ones. Our first punishment, first excitement of topping an examination, our first fight,(and for some of us)our first crush all is experienced in these 12 or 13 years. But we all have to leave these preciouse memories behind and move ahead in life. Some lucky ones like me are bleesed with the golden oppurtunity of completing our plus two from our almamater before stepping out in the real world where everything is new for us- the residents of a small town like durgapur.
I have been reading your other posts but did not comment on it because I was too lazy to do so. But I cannot help apreciating your writing skills. you are a wonderfull writer. your post on sexuality and Pakistani politics was worth appreciating.
Have you read the book 'A Thousand Splendid Suns' by khaled hossaini? Pease write a review on it if you have read the book.
Now its your turn to reveal a bit more about your self, as I have told a lot about myself and my interests.
Keep your fingers busy typing and your mind ragging with such wonderfull ideas which would make even dull and non-thinking people like us think! A BIG THANKS TO YOU !

Sudipto Basu said...

No, I haven't read the afore-mentioned Hosseini book: but I have heard a lot in it's praise... Maybe I'll get the chance to read the book in near future. Currently, I am into Oscar Wilde's The Picture Of Dorian Gray. You can expect a review on that in some days from now-- but since I have a lot of board assignments, projects and practical-related stuff hanging on my head now, I have a dearth of writing-time at the moment. But that shall be fine in some days. Also, must thank you for appreciating my small and insignificant work.

I personally think that my post on Pak-politics was among the poorest of the lot (as pointed out by Abhirup-da, a much better writer than myself). I am thinking about writing a much more comprehensive take on that matter.

Well, as for myself, I have said a lot already: in bits and pieces, here and there. If you insist, I'll reproduce the self-introduction I wrote on orkut; but beyond that I have little to say. If I had to say just a single line about me, I'd write the same thing that is there just beneath my blog's name.

With warm regards,

Abisanka SInha said...

You are a gem indeed, I feel myself like a moron in front of you. Anyways, a fantastic review on the movie. I feel Ishaan had been quite lucky to get a teacher like Nikumb Sir, there are many in this world who are not so fortunate... Don't you think we should also play an integral role in helping kids who need some love and affection, rather than shoving them into a lonely corner.....You may differ on my views but after seeing the movie at least i felt so..

Sudipto Basu said...


Don't get me wrong, but I suspect that you didn't read my post and comments carefully enough: why should I differ on the point that children with learning problems should be given special care and attention, rather than mindless abuse and scoldings? I meant quite the same-- and that was evident everywhere in my writings.

I happened to go through your comment after many days, since allowing it some weeks back. And here I noticed this slightly-disturbing fact-- next time, if you visit, do understand what I want to say. Otherwise, it feels somewhat bad!

And do take back that 'gem' adjective. I consider myself to be what has been said just below the huge name of the blog on the homepage. Beyond that, I refuse myself to be acknowledged as anything else! :)
And there's not the slightest need to call yourself a 'moron'. Everyone is moronic to differing extents, after all. :P

Sayan said...

To Sudipto,
I entered your blog through the link provided on Suvro Sir's blog and this is the first essay of yours that I have had the good fortune to read. First, let me congratulate you for watching the film so closely and with such acute and dedicated observation, a quality that even an 'expert' film critic would be proud to possess, and then penning a most brilliant essay. It is utterly ungrateful on part of a reader not to leave a comment, so I thought the least I could do was to write a few lines for whatever little they might be worth.
As you have rightly noted Ishan's character makes one feel happy and sad both. On the one side it reminds us (with some regret) of our own childhood days, perhaps
the only time in our lives when the vagabond spirit in us was the strongest, the urge to see beyond the commonplace most intense and imagination limitless. As we grow up our minds become so entangled and enslaved by day to day matters and so enchained by nescience, that the wonder and awe we once felt at nature gradually fades away and is replaced by servile compliance to the banal. The downward tug is very strong and sometimes even the most discerning of men find it hard to keep their heads above water. Ishan’s story is also a poignant reminder of the insensitive world we live in and the hardships a person not willing to conform to common tastes faces. It is not at all surprising that Ishan's parents and teacher's were the way they were. Most parents are like that- they give in to the utterly parochial and exploitative mentality of creating 'racehorses' out of men. A parent's incapability of providing emotional support to a child who thinks differently from the common herd can be attributed at least in part to fear (If my son doesn't get into IIT he is certain to die of hunger!) and in part to the 'status symbol' mindset (good marks make great ornaments!); while most teachers behave in the way they do because having been very mediocre (I don't mean in terms of marks) students themselves, they are petrified of finding a potential Galileo or Tagore in class who has nothing but disrespect for their foolish authoritarian rules. Don’t get me wrong; rules are important. But rules by themselves are meaningless unless they serve as a tool towards the accomplishment of some higher purpose. Most of the rules that we come across in society are meant only to inculcate fear. Obey me without questioning (the power to question has been the basis of all progress, mind!), respect me even if I do not deserve respect is all such ‘teachers’ mean by rules.
As has been shown in the movie, most of us do not realize that all men are born with different sets of abilities and people who are supposed to know better (parents and teachers) should not prevent children (if they cannot help them) from choosing their own path to bring to fruition their full potentials; and all efforts to judge people by only one set of rules (our examination system) is but a futile exercise. The movie does depict the victory of the human spirit against all odds, however it is worthwhile to remember that while Ishan was lucky to find a caring, sensitive and understanding teacher in Nikumbh, not many of our promising youngsters have such a luxury and are fated to be suffocated to death by a world populated mostly by philistines.
As you have rightly noted, Sudipto, TZP is certainly a very good movie and one that is rare in Indian cinema considering the sub standard films that the Bollywood churns out year after year. All the actors performed superbly – Darsheel’s performance deserving a special mention. The only point where I thought the movie lacked a little was it’s rather too simplistic view of societal problems and it’s depiction of things as black and white with a little disregard for the places where they overlap to form shades of gray (this is precisely the reason why I think a movie like ‘Mona Lisa smile’ scores over TZP). But in essence and substance TZP was certainly a thoughtful, rare and well made movie.
Congrats once again for writing such an exceptionally good review, which forced me (and I hope other readers) to think and reflect.
Sayan Datta.
P.S :- I will feel grateful if you kindly provide me with your email i.d. Mine is

Sudipto Basu said...

Dear Sayan da,
Thanks a lot for your comment, and for encouraging me with your honest compliments.

I've already said what I had to about the film in my review, so without repeating myself, let me say that your observations are true. Our society so unfortunately and foolishly tries to bind 'success' (never mind that in most cases, such 'success' is quite inconsequential in the macroscopic scale!) to a narrow spectrum of professions: all of these supposedly secure, and quite tried-and-tested. To break that stereotype, it seems, is nothing short of blasphemy: a sign of sure-madness. But this is not where the sadness ends; I feel that the graver problem is that an overwhelming majority fails to even perceive this unfortunate stereotype: would you believe that even after watching the film, a vast majority of parents (and I say this from very bitter personal experience!) refuse to acknowledge the most important angle in the film-- that every child is different, and that everyone must be allowed to follow his/her heart! Of course, the ever-decreasing standards in teaching and parenting only add to the huge pile of gigantic woes.

And yes, I do concur that the movie simplistically portrayed the stated problem and mostly divided the world into black and white: the most stark contrast being between Nikumbh (white) and Ishan's father (black). I'd go even further to say that the role of Ishan's father as an insensitive parent was deliberately over-the-top: but Aamir Khan resorted to this only because (and this is only a guess) he wanted to make the movie more digestible for Indian audiences, who generally prefer to see the world into good and bad (recall all old-day Bollywood films: Sholay being the grandest example!). This psyche stems from the age-old cinematic tradition of portraying our dream-world in films: an attitude markedly different from that in foreign lands, where the emphasis is generally more on making realistic films. But yes, there wre subtle shades-of-grey characters too: Ishan's mother being one (while she was sympathetic towards her son, she failed to protest vehemently against her husband's unjust behaviour), and to a good extent, Yohan.

And my mail id, as given in the blog itself, is:

P.S.-- "Mona Lisa Smile" is a brilliant film indeed. Just watched it a few days before on Zee Studio.

Sayan said...

Another thing I wanted to say (I had forgotten all about it in the earlier comment of mine) :
There is a great value in absolute and pure nonsense. It is often that the unreasonable and illogical that is appealing (and other worldly in a sense) and can be used as an instrument to stimulate and provoke thought especially for children who have not yet been bitten by the bug called logic(which is a superficial word for most people- true logic never dismisses arguments in favour of deep seated prejudices):why else would characters like Mr. Bean and Charlie Chaplin be so famous. Aamir uses this concept in his entry song at least partly. If someone things otherwise I would urge the person to watch a movie titled 'Patch Adams' in which Robin Williams plays the main role.
Sayan Datta.

Kiran said...

Why do you write so much, but anyway, I think we share the same thoughts about the movie

Manoshij Banerjee said...

You deserve adoration. If your review were converted into a contemporary western mode, it would at once be recognized as a triumph of psychology. Perfect description, go on...
check out my blog, do post comments, here is the link:

Sudipto Basu said...

First of all, I beg pardon for not replying to all the comments pouring in. I was in a mental fix, and suddenly lost the appetite to write. And so, here are the replies to the comments:

@Sayan da

You are quite right. Sometimes apparent nonsense can make a lot of sense, even more than "serious stuff" actually! Lewis Carroll is a standing testimony to all this-- and so while all his works are apparently completely insane gibberish to the layman, analysts have often found very deep meanings in them. Reportedly, some people have even discovered mathematical theories hidden in the puzzles of Alice In Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass! Not to mention scathing social criticism too.
A nice lesson in life is: nothing, even the most laughable and trivial matter, is without it's significance and importance. All we need to do is delve deeper.

@Kiran (a.k.a. I-know-who! :D)

I don't believe in writing half-baked reviews where one has to hide the story to make the review completely spoiler-free. By the way, I have avoided mentioning the subtle nuances. Those are left for the reader to watch, find out and understand.

@Manoshij Bannerjee

Thanks a lot for the compliment. Shall check your blog.

kiran_asha said...

hi sudipto.this is kiran!my!it was a wonderful review and i share your views of the singing and dancing teacher(which i yearn to be one day).i know i am new to this blog but i am an old pal of sayantani.i religiously feel you guys are doing a wonderful job together.i have never come across people who share my views of life more closely than you two.i wish to write dangerously more but i want to make sure i am getting a response from either of you.

Sudipto Basu said...


If I am right, you are Sayantani's old pal Rashmi. Anyway, thanks for the encouraging comment. I can assure you that you are absolutely welcome to write in whenever you find it right. As a blogger, I surely do appreciate reader participation. :)

Write back soon. We'll reply whenever we have scope to do so.

Best wishes.

sanjay said...

Very nice songs and movie ...this is one of the favorite best movies... i like it...