Taare Zameen Par (Stars on Earth)
Review By: Joe

I just flew back to the economically unsound United States after a year away in the United Kingdom. I don't know why it had to be this way, but I'm sure I can't think of a better way to reimmerse myself within our fair culture from the getgo than by travelling with Air India. From France, no less. I'm going to have to assume the flight originated in India at some point, but it's slightly more amusing to not consider this and just stick with the basic information that Air India flies from France to the US for some unholy reason.

So, some of the lovely features of an Air India flight?

1. In-flight meal of either chicken curry or lamb, continental style. I've no idea what the latter is suppose to imply and I tasted nothing that struck me as particularly continental.

2. Sat next to an old Indian woman with arthritis who couldn't open her various plastic-encased food packets so she requested I open them all for her, at first with pleases and thank yous, but eventually elected to forgo any pretense of formal pleasantries and simply began to shove each item in front of my face.

3. Baggage claim took an hour because apparently Indian people (I've since confirmed this with one) take their ENTIRE HOUSE with them when they go travelling. Seriously, I saw a family of four and each one of them had a luggage cart with about five bags each. Comparatively, I'd just spent a year away and had only needed two bags, both on the outgoing and return trips, to contain the necessary components of my whole life.

4. Was asked by two different Indian ladies to take their baggage off of the baggage carousel for them because evidently I appeared to be the most strapping, not incredibly tired, and not exceptionally irritated that my bags hadn't come out yet man in the general vicinty.

5. The in-flight film (well, they also showed Prince Caspian) was a Bollywood production.

So Prince Caspian came on first and, while I couldn't be bothered to watch that, when Taare Zameen Par began, I thought, "NOW THIS IS MY CUP OF LASSI!" Now, according to IMDB, this film's English title is Stars on Earth, but when I saw it they displayed the Indian title and then put the phrase in English "Every Child is Special" underneath. Now, supposedly, this is just the tagline, so this implies they stuck the tagline underneath the title within the actual movie itself, which isn't exactly common practice, but then neither is a group of people who appear to be strangers suddenly breaking into a synchronized dance number. Anyhow, I was under the impression that the movie was called Every Child is Special and I was immediately wary of this because I know, just as everybody who isn't from India does, that this is not true and that most children are, in fact, little cunts.

To be fair, this movie actually does not have the bajillion synchronized dance routines one expects from a Bollywood production. There's only one, really, and it's not even all that synchronized. It does last about three hours though, I think. Furthermore, in place of dancing, there are several emotionally-charged, acoustic guitar-driven songs that accompany equally emotional montage sequences. These, evidently, truly are meant to replace the usually staple dance sequences because they all go on for-fucking-ever, as they say in the movie business. Also, subtitles translate the lyrics for you so you can sing along if you really hate yourself. Apparently, Indian people won't be satisfied with a film unless some music crops up to completely derail the plot for a good five minutes every half-hour or so, thus padding out the film to a nice, meaty thirty hours. Personally, I would immediately tear my headphones from my head the moment one of these songs began and allow myself to be moved purely by the inspirational subtitled lyrics.

Oh yeah, so what's the movie about, right? Well, it's about this ugly little kid with buckteeth named Ishaan who totally blows at school so they send him to boarding school and discover that he's still way too lame and that the kid with the fucked up leg is a lot smarter than him. So, because India isn't good, nobody makes an effort to see if maybe something's wrong with the little bastard (aside from his wholly unappealing face) and the solution of the teachers and Ishaan's father is to just keep saying "GOD, you suck! Why do you suck so bad!? Quit sucking!!!" to the point that it's briefly implied that he gets a wee bit suicidal.

BUT FUCKIN' WAIT!!!!!!!!!

One day Vishnu, or Ganesh, or both of them maybe I dunno how it works, smiles upon little bucktooth Johnny and murders (or something, I don't remember) his mean art teacher and he is replaced with AMAZING JESUS-LIKE TEACHER WHO SEES THE PROMISE IN ALL CHILDREN AND BELIEVES IN SELF-EXPRESSION AND WEARS SWEATERS IN CLASS!!!! So, long story short-- oh wait, sorry, we need to break for a song.

When life is a sandwich
And you are the meat
Do not put on too much mayo
Or you will grow very fat
Like a balloon on the winds of time
But with less floating
And more being fat
And you shall never be hungry again
Which I guess means there's an upside
Wait, what was I talking about?
Sorry, I lost my train of thought
Um, be true to yourself and stuff, all right?
You're a good kid
You're gonna turn out just fine.


GRAAH!!

Right, so it turns out the kid isn't even retarded really or anything, he's just dyslexic, so saint-like art teacher (who also directed the movie, by the way) finagles some private teaching with the lad because he can tell he's actually quite talented at art (even though it's all subjective, really) and suddenly everything gets better and it turns out the kid is pretty great at life and whatnot.

Now, I've seen worse movies than this easily and there are aspects of this film that are totally decent. For example, it has a few animation pieces that clearly had a substantial enough amount of cash thrown at them. Also, the kid who plays Ishaan, though in need of a new face, is a pretty darn good little actor. Furthermore, and most importantly, in terms of plot structure (and as long as you ignore all those songs), it all moves along reasonably and logically enough, which is something I can't even say for some recent popular American films, mostly ones that are called Juno. The thing that's worth mentioning (so that I can make fun) is that, according to the infalliable Wikipedia, the rights to distribute a DVD of Taare Zameen Par in North America have been bought by Disney and that this is the first time an international studio has bought the video rights of an Indian film. Just think about that. Bollywood has been shitting out about two-bajillion movies a year, I think since India first opened its doors to the public and this is THE FIRST TIME THIS HAS HAPPENED. HOLY SHIT, THEY SUCK. The other thing about this is that, competent narrative though it may have, overall, a series of extremely overblown attempts at providing emotional, tearjerking moments very sharply make the film feel as though the people behind it were consciously attempting to emulate this elusive "drama" they've seen in successful Hollywood films.

Firstly, there's the introduction of the aforementioned BEST ART TEACHER EVER who enters the classroom in a clown outfit and dances around singing a song about letting your dreams come alive or something. He might as well have come into the room with a blinking sign around his neck reading "SALVATION FOR PROTAGONIST." Then we have the scene where the same teacher lectures Ishaan's father about how he should be nice to his kid once in awhile instead of being a ceaseless douchebag. First off, the whole scene just plays too perfectly. The father, who up until this point has proven himself not to be one to shy away from an argument, is immediately shut up and can do nothing but make a face that this emoticon actually represents more or less exactly right: :-o . Then, as though the father isn't ashamed enough, the teacher stops him as he turns to leave to relate a story to him about some tribe that, when they want wood (like, from a tree, you joker), they don't cut down a tree, they just form a circle around it and shout abuse at it and, in a day, THE TREE DIES ON ITS OWN!!! The father is all :-O!!!!!!!! and leaves the room in a tizzy! A TIZZY, I TELL YOU!!!

Then, of course, I must mention the best scene of all. After Magic Teacher touches young Ishaan in all the right places to make him behave like a real boy, he decides he will run an art competition that everyone can enter, students and teachers alike! Mr. Wonderteach paints his own picture for the competition as Ishaan paints his. Then! Ishaan shows his stunning masterpiece to Superteacher and, as Teacher of Glory examines the intracacies of the work, Ishaan has a peek at what Lovely McTeachenstein has been painting all this time.


MOTHER OF GOD!!!

Yes, he's painted a frightening rendition of Ishaan's horrific countenance. Seriously, this attempt to elicit emotion is about as subtle as it would've been if the actors had turned to the audience in the middle of the scene and shouted "YOUR DOG HAS JUST BEEN RUN OVER." The best part? I looked around the plane and discovered that several Indian people were overcome with emotion; one woman was just letting the waterworks fly and this father had his hand to his mouth and was clearly choking back tears. I could not help but smile broadly at all of this and I think the father saw me and got a bit embarassed, or maybe I read his expression wrong and it was one of horror at the fact that there was a heartless demon on board the flight.

I can't back this up, but I'd at least like to believe that the drama in the average American production has evolved to a point where something this overtly schmaltzy would never show up because, frankly, I think the average American moviegoer would just laugh at it. Okay, so we still have unrealistic dramatic dialogue and sweeping, string-based musical pieces in our movies, but I think we've achieved at least a slightly more subtle approach than this, which might as well have had the words "CRY NOW" blinking on the screen at every pertinent moment.

The other brilliant thing about this movie is how it wonderfully misses the mark entirely. The message here is supposed to be that every child is special, right? So how come Ishaan is the only one who's able to make some kind of robot (you heard me) out of a bunch of sticks and junk, while all the other kids can do is gasp in wonder? How come the teacher is so interested in Ishaan specifically and paints his picture (pedophelia jokes duly noted)? How come Ishaan wins the art competition (OMG SPOILER) and, I'm fairly certain, we don't even get to see what the other kids painted at all? The message here, in my opinion, is not that all children are special, but, rather, that Ishaan, the Bucktoothed Wonder, is the only special one amidst a herd of boring dolts.


FLY, ISHAAN, FLY!!!


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