Ground-breaking starsAamir Khan is no stranger to heart-racing climaxes that culminate film competitions, having successfully pulled it off in films such as “Jo Jeetaa…” to “Lagaan”. But to see him execute, as actor and story-teller, a quietly exhilarating end to “Taare Zameen Par” in step with the story’s rhythm came as another step in his evolution as a man of the movies. As with the ending, there were several creative decisions by the debutant and the film’s main creative force, Amol Gupte, which could have easily gone awry. But to their enduring credit, most of these decisions came off with a flourish matched by Ishaan and Nikumbh on their respective canvases.
The result is a film of a rare kind. Take its music (Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy), which finds a harmony with the story-telling in a way few other films have achieved. From the sparkling harmonica riff to the guitars accompanying the evocative lyrics (Prasoon Joshi), it had the right amount of rebellion and longing. Its actors allowed themselves to be awkward and uncomfortable, painting middle-class mindsets through the unsure mother (Tisca Chopra, seen so often on TV before, and wonderful to see her do such a fine job here) and the all-too sure father (Vipin Sharma, who's slightly unidimensional at time), not to forget the rare cinematic sight of a clever AND sympathetic sibling (Sachet Engineer). The film scores in its refusal to take the easy route out in painting easy villains. Instead, it tries to replace them with a bunch of people in grey-scale: conditioned, overworked, and unquestioning of life, just like most of us.
It was good to see a mainstream Hindi film that took imagination seriously. Amol Gupte’s hands make magic, first on the blue walls of Ishaan’s room, and later in the various art-ifacts that dot the movie, ending with *that* Ishaan portrait. Not a pixel of the opening credits sequence or of the Spaceman Spiff sequence goes wasted – clearly the film is a greater blend of various artistic talents than we may realize. Consider the genius of the choreography in “Jame Raho”, and you’’ll know what I mean.
The film does flicker occasionally, threatening to fall prey to that great enemy of good intentions: the ‘preaching’, such as Nikumbh ticking off Mr. Awasthi who meekly caves in. Thankfully, like Ishaan, whenever the makers stumble across this line, they get right back up. Often, the rescue is led by fine cinematography (Setu) who, along with his director, captures the slow descent of a paintdrop, is wonderfully mobile in following Ishaan into puddles, and is confident enough to attempt a Vertigo-zoom to capture a moment of fear for Ishaan.
What I liked best about the film was how well it captured the sense of loneliness that comes from not being part of the mainstream. Anyone who’s felt “atypical” should recognize the sense of yo-yoing from arrogance, helplessness, denial, and frustration. Such are the ideals of academic meritocracies that they can sometimes ruthlessly cull anything that doesn’t “fit”, which is why it was good to see the teachers at the Mela experience the feeling of being awful at a skill.
What will happen to the obviously talented Darsheel Safary when the buck teeth fall out and life catches up? We’ll wait and see. Just cherish the lad for what he is right now. As for Aamir Khan, full points for not stealing any thunders. My usual complaint about him playing the same kind of strong-willed, confident, sensitive, earth-moving personalities holds. Wonder if directorial success will give him the impetus to play more diverse types rather than just diverse occupations. But he remains a filmmaker (we can use that word now) to watch out for. But let’s not pass judgment on his skills just yet. I’d wait for a film which completely belongs to him without an Amol Gupte to do the groundwork.
Back at the end. Usually, I’m left alone reading the end-credits. But this time, I wasn’t. That, and the spontaneous applause tell a tale of their own.