Taare Zameen Par: A film full of substance | Sunday Observer

Taare Zameen Par: A film full of substance

17 May, 2021

Taare Zameen Par (transl. Stars on the ground) is a 2007 Indian Hindi-language drama film produced and directed by Aamir Khan. The film explores the life and imagination of Ishaan, an 8-year-old dyslexic child. Although he excels in art, his poor academic performance leads his parents to send him to a boarding school. Ishaan’s new art teacher suspects that he is dyslexic and helps him to overcome his reading disorder. Darsheel Safary stars as 8-year-old Ishaan, and Aamir Khan plays his art teacher.

Creative director and writer Amole Gupte initially developed the idea with his wife Deepa Bhatia, who served as the film’s editor. Shankar–Ehsaan–Loy composed the film’s score, and Prasoon Joshi wrote the lyrics for many of the songs. Principal photography took place in Mumbai and in Panchgani’s New Era High School, and some of the school’s students make appearances.

The film made its theatrical debut in India on 21 December 2007, and UTV Home Entertainment released a DVD for Indian audiences in 2008. Disney’s later release of the international edition DVD marked the first purchase of distribution rights for an Indian film by a global company.

Taare Zameen Par has received numerous awards, including the Filmfare Award for Best Film for 2008 and the 2008 National Film Award for Best Film on Family Welfare. It was India’s official entry for the 2009 Academy Awards Best Foreign Film, but did not progress further to the short-list.


Child actors played a vital role throughout the film and real schoolchildren participated throughout the movie’s filming. Khan credited them with the film’s success, and was reportedly very popular with them. Furthermore, Khan placed a high priority on the day-to-day needs of his child actors, and went to great lengths to attend to them. The production staff made sure that the students were never idle, and always kept them occupied outside of filming. New Era Faculty Coordinator Douglas Lee thought the experience not only helped the children to learn patience and co-operation, but also gave them a better understanding of how they should behave towards children like Ishaan who have problems in school. Because filming at New Era High School occurred during the winter holiday, those portraying Ishaan’s classmates gave up their vacation to participate. To fill in the campus background, students from nearby schools were also brought in. A total of 1,500 children were used for wide-shots of the film’s art-fair climax; medium shots only required 400 students.

New to acting, the children often made errors such as staring into the camera, and Khan resorted to unorthodox methods to work around their rookie mistakes. For example, an early scene in the film featured a school assembly; Khan wanted the students to act naturally and to ignore the principal’s speech, but recognised that this would be a difficult feat with cameras present. First Assistant Director Sunil Pandey spoke continuously in an attempt to “bore the hell out of [them]”, and they eventually lost interest in the filming and behaved normally. A later scene involved Nikumbh enlightening his class about famous people who suffer from dyslexia, and the children’s responses to his speech were the last portion to be filmed. Having already spent 3–4 days hearing the dialogue the children’s reactions were ‘jaded’. Khan opted to film them while he recited a tale, and manipulated his storytelling to achieve the varying spontaneous reactions. The following scene had the children playing around a nearby pond. Horrified when he learned that the water was 15 feet (4.6 m) deep, Khan recruited four lifeguards in case a child fell in.

Khan found it important that the audience connect the film to real children, and had Pandey travel throughout India filming documentary-style footage of children from all walks of life. Those visuals were integrated into the end credits.

Art and Animation

While claymation has been used in Indian television commercials, the film’s title sequence—a representation of Ishaan’s imagination—marked its first instance in a Bollywood film. Khan gave claymation artist Dhimant Vyas free rein over the various elements. The storyboarding took one and a half months and the shooting required 15 days. The ‘3 into 9’ sequence, in which Ishaan delves into his imagination to solve a math problem, was originally conceived as a 3D animation. Halfway through its creation, however, Khan felt it was not turning out as he had envisioned it. Khan scrapped the project and hired Vaibhav Kumaresh, who hand-drew the scene as a 2D animation.

Artist Samir Mondal composed Ishaan and Nikumbh’s art-fair watercolour paintings. He held a workshop with the schoolchildren, and incorporated elements from their artwork into Ishaan’s. Mondal also instructed Khan on a painter’s typical mannerisms and movements. Gupte created the rest of Ishaan’s artwork and Assistant Art Director Veer Nanavati drew Ishaan’s flipbook. The art department’s designs for Ishaan’s school notebooks disappointed Khan, who had familiarised himself with dyslexic writing. Using his left hand, Khan instead wrote it himself.

Critical response

Taare Zameen Par received critical acclaim. On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film received an approval rating of 90 per cent based on 10 reviews, with an average rating of 7/10. Subhash K. Jha suggests that the film is “a work of art, a water painting where the colours drip into our hearts, which could easily have fallen into the motions of over-sentimentality. Aamir Khan holds back where he could easily resort to an extravagant display of drama and emotions.” Rajeev Masand of CNN-IBN argued that the true power of the film lies in its “remarkable, rooted, rock-solid script which provides the landscape for such an emotionally engaging, heart-warming experience.” Manish Gajjar from the BBC stated that the film “touches your heart and moves you deeply with its sterling performances. It is a film full of substance!” Jaspreet Pandohar, also of BBC, posited that Taare Zameen Par is a “far cry from the formulaic masala flicks churned out by the Bollywood machine,” and is “an inspirational story that is as emotive as it is entertaining; this is a little twinkling star of a movie.” Furthermore, Aprajita Anil of Screen gave the film four stars and stated, “Taare Zameen Par cannot be missed. Because it is different. Because it is delightful. Because it would make everyone think. Because it would help everyone grow. Because very rarely do performances get so gripping. And of course because the ‘perfectionist’ actor has shaped into a ‘perfectionist’ director.” In addition, filmmaker Anurag Kashyap stated that, “Taare Zameen Par took me back to my hostel days. If you take away the dyslexia, it seems like my story. The film affected me so deeply that I was almost left speechless. After watching the film, I was asked how I liked Taare Zameen Par. I could not talk as I was deeply overwhelmed.”

However, there were some criticisms. Jha’s only objection to the film was Nikumbh’s “sanctimonious lecture” to Ishaan’s “rather theatrically-played” father. Jha found this a jarring “deviation from the delectable delicacy” of the film’s tone. Although she applauded the film overall and recommended “a mandatory viewing for all schools and all parents”, Nikhat Kazmi of The Times of India believed the second half was “a bit repetitive,” the script needed “taut editing,” and Ishaan’s trauma “[seemed] a shade too prolonged and the treatment simplistic.” Despite commending the “great performances” and excellent directing, Gautaman Bhaskaran of The Hollywood Reporter, too, suggested that the movie “suffers from a weak script.” Likewise, Derek Kelly of Variety criticised it for what he described as its “touchy-feely-ness” attention to “a special needs kid’s plight.” Kelly also disliked the film for being “so resolutely caring ... and devoid of real drama and interesting characters” that “it should have ‘approved by the Dyslexia Assn.’ stamped on the posters.”