Monday, 24 December 2007

Stars on the ground...

I've never been much of a Bollywood fan, but this weekend I went to see Taare Zameen Par (Stars on the Ground) an off-the-beaten-track Hindi film directed by veteran actor and debutant director Aamir Khan. Taare Zameen Par, released worldwide on the 21st of December is written by creative director and writer Amole Gupte.

I thought this was one for the kids; there's not a lot you can do in the mid-December weather in London - a movie would be a good way to entertain them for a few hours. Easy night out.

I had no idea...

The story revolves around Ishaan (played by Darsheel Safary), an 8-year-old boy who looks at the world with wide eyed amazement and wonder; fish, birds and the explosion of colour around him. Highly sensitive to the harsh emphasis on good grades, homework and achievment, Ishaan also happens to be dyslexic.

Rather than admitting his inability to understand letters and numbers, Ishaan refuses to comply, thinking that "I won't" will land him in less trouble than "I can't". It does however get him into enough trouble for the parents to send him off to a boarding school to be 'straightened out'.

Unable to cope with the trauma of being separated from his parents, Ishaan withdraws completely into himself. Life in the boarding school is no different and he is the subject of ridicule from teachers and students alike for being 'stupid' and a 'duffer'. Enter Ram (played by Aamir Khan), a temporary art teacher who recognises the child's dyslexia and takes him under his wing. There was not a single dry eye for the next hour of that film - my two kids, all of 8 and 13 years, sobbed uncontrollably.

Not a word was spoken during the drive back home. Once at home, over dinner, the awkward silence was broken. We had our discussion, making eye contact with some difficulty - no one wanted to let the others know their eyes were welling up. This is a first for us; we're usually a Hollywood blockbuster familiy - we learned a great deal about ourselves, parenting, dyslexia, art & expression and how we underestimate the intelligence of our children. I also learned that there's quality cinema coming out of Bollywood.

The main thing that struck me however, was the impact dyslexia had on Ishaan's development, his motor skills and his social skills. He was 8 years old, already withdrawing into a world of his own, shutting everyone out. Adults with dyslexia have had to put up with the trauma for longer. How would it have affected their life chances? Ishaan got help when he was little, but what about the others we deal with on a day-to-day basis as advisers? And not just dyslexia; what about other disabilities? How does it feel growing up with something that is not your fault?

The textbooks, Equal Opportunity Legislation and Company Policies simply tell us. And we understand - of course we do. We just don't feel. Taare Zameen Par makes you do that.

Click here for the film's official website.
Released in the UK with English subtitles.
The film may appear slow in the first half, don't hold that against me! The second half makes the wait worthwhile.

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