Written by Amole Gupte
Directed by Aamir Khan
Running Time: 2:45
for thematic material,
brief violence and language.
Like Stars on Earth (Taare Zameen Par) was a sweet, if somewhat overly sappy, film that was a bit too long but ultimately rewarding.
Ishaan Awasthi is a sweet 8-year-old who has a tremendous imagination, but has a hard time in the real world. He's not good in school, and he is constantly picked on by those older and bigger than him. His teachers don't understand him. His father always yells at him. His only true allies are his elder brother and his mom. His mom doesn't know what's wrong with Ishaan and doesn't know how to react to him. His older brother is the smartest guy in school as well as being a top tennis player, which leaves Ishaan a lot to live up to. Finally fed up with what they consider his bad attitude, Ishaan's parents send him off to boarding school. But things are made even worse with the separation from his parents. Until one day a new teacher arrives, and he has the ability to see through the facade and finally understand what is wrong with Ishaan. If only he isn't too late to help.
Like Stars on Earth is being released in the U.S. by Disney, so the movie has got a lot of promotional power behind it. It's an interesting choice for Disney in that the film isn't a typical Bollywood film, even though it stars Aamir Khan, one of the bigger Bollywood stars. The film is very Disney-esque however in that it's one of those uplifting stories that is hard to watch but rewarding in the end. There is nothing really remarkable about the story, since this kind of movie has been done to death over the years. And in fact the story is a little more frustrating in this day and age. I found it very hard to believe that NO one up until the 'outsider' teacher was able to figure out Ishaan had dyslexia. I figured it out within the first couple of minutes of the film. I can understand his parents knowing but not knowing what to do about it, or hiding it because of the stigma, but no one was able to diagnose him? It makes for a better story of course to have this random person show up and suddenly figure out what no one else wanted to see, but it was a bit much.
The only other problem I had with the movie, as I do with most Bollywood films, was the length. At 165 minutes, there was absolutely no need to have that much film. The movie literally spent the first hour driving home the same point over and over again - Ishaan was misunderstood and spirally towards depression. I got it early on, thanks. What made me laugh however was that during the deleted scenes, Khan (who also directed) is introducing the scenes and saying sometimes the point is made so some scenes are unnecessary. I wish he had taken that more to heart and we could have had a slimmer and trimmer film that wouldn't have felt draggy at times. I also wish more time had been spent on the work the teacher had with the student. We spent nearly half the movie watching Ishaan spiral downwards, but his transformation with his teacher's help was reduced to a montage. I think more of the two of the working together, showing some struggles and eventual breakthrough, would have been more enticing.
It was beautifully filmed - one of the better looking imports I've seen. The acting was pretty good and surprisingly, not over dramatic. I've seen movies like this where people cry at the drop of the hat, or the music swells every few minutes. But Khan did a good job making sure the movie didn't get overly sappy, which was impressive considering the story. Visually he kept it interesting with inventive camera movement and editing, which again you don't normally see in standard Bollywood. There were no dance sequences, although there were quite a few song montages - a couple too many in my book. One moment that again I found funny was in a song about Moms. One of the lyrics said something about not letting the boy get lost in the city because how will he find his way home. Of course this happened a few minutes after Ishaan ditched class to wander around the city by himself and he did in fact find his way home without problem. I thought the boy who played Ishaan was pretty good for a very demanding role. Khan made sure the boy was the focus of the movie and not the teacher. But that meant Ishaan was front and center a lot and had a large range of emotions to work through. To his credit, he did a very commendable job. The rest of the cast was definitely in the background, but decent.
The 2-Disc DVD (sold here with a CD as well) came with a bunch of extras. There were deleted scenes, with director introduction. There was a making-of documentary, as well as a roundtable discussion on children led by Khan. Actually, the DVD had a lot more extras than a typical Hollywood movie does these days. What I thought was the best thing on the disc though, was that there was an English language track, so if you didn't feel like listening to the Hindi and reading subtitles, you could just listen to it in English. It's a little jarring at times to see the lips not match the words, but it worked. I pretty much went with the Hindi and subtitles, but would switch back and forth to get both ways.
THE BOTTOM LINE
So overall, I liked Like Stars on Earth. It was ultimately a sweet movie, even though it took a little time getting there. Not your typical Bollywood production, but a strong movie nonetheless.
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