As a kid, I grew up in a mostly Hindi neighborhood, and with that in mind, I fell in love with the culture, adoring my friends’ beautiful sahris, trading in my American junk food for some cold curry and rice, and watching the weekend variety shows on a local UHFstation that played all the Bollywood movies and music videos.
I always loved Bollywood movies, but the sucky part was reading subtitles too small for me to see. The music was catchy, but I couldn’t get into the movie as much as I wanted to.
That was until I stumbled across a movie that RJ found on YouTube called “Like Stars On Earth” or known in it’s Indian release “Taare Zameen Par” a 2007 film that chronicles the life of a young boy with learning disabilities. This movie was so well renowned, that Disney decided to purchase the rights to distribute it to the English speaking masses, the first time a Bollywood movie found such acclaim
Eight year old Ishaan Awasthi is the younger son of a successful business man and his wife and the younger brother of Yohan, a boy who excels in everything from sports to academics. Ishaan is the exact opposite of his big brother, he constantly finds himself the target of neighborhood bullies, doesn’t do so well in school, and is known to “bunk” school (what we call “play hookie” here in the states.)
Ishaan is often refered to as idiot or duffer by all his teachers and the adults in his life. After he is caught one day exploring the streets of his city alone and convincing his brother to write a fake absence note to cover himself, his father sends him to a boarding school in a last ditch effort to straighten him out and not have to send him to a special needs school.
While at the boarding school, he is befriended by a young boy with physical disabilties who becomes his friend and helper. When their art teacher leaves, he is replaced by Ram, a local teacher who also works at a special needs school nearby called Tulips. Ram takes interest in Ishaan and learns that despite what the other teachers have said, he is a bright young kid that just so happens to be Dyslexic…
Just like Ram.
Although the movie has a bit of an “inspiration porn” vibe on the surface, it actually keeps it’s focus on the thoughts of Ishaan as he navigates this tough time in his life. Even down to his daydreams, as the screenshot below shows him in a spaceship shooting down planets during a math test.
The movie’s musical numbers also focus on Ishaan’s inner thoughts, from wanting to be free away from his schoolwork and away from the adults who are always negative around him to his resentment towards his mother for agreeing to send him away. It’s a highly emotional journey for Ishaan as he finds himself and learns that he can overcome his disabilities with the help of a great mentor like Ram.
Although this movie is awesome, there are some things that irked me, but given cultural differences, it was easy to understand why. The father often refers to his son as mentally retarded and holds a lot of fears that Ishaan won’t be able to succeed like his older brother or function well in society. This is understandable given the caste system well known in Indian culture. Being able to work and be successful is a must in their society. It’s all or nothing.
They also show that in this modern society, children with special needs are still separated into different schools, such as the case of Tulips, the school Ram works at. Ram mentions his disgust for the way schools are still separated, stating that the local version of the IDEA act is supposed to promote inclusion for his students, but teachers are stuck in their own ways.
Whether the Indian School System still stays in their old ways or not remains the question, but watching this makes me believe that more needs to be done to spread inclusion and diversity in countries that haven’t grasped the concept most other countries have. This movie nails it on the head. It remains fun, yet stays serious. It’s beautiful story between a teacher and student reminds me of some of the teachers I had as a child. This is a beautiful gem out of Bollywood not to be missed. You can find the DVD here.
And although it has subtitles, it comes with a English dubbed version as well. My eyes are happy. Blind Bagged Approved. 😀