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“Taare Zameen Par:” Exploring the Perspective of a Misunderstood Child

Join 9-year-old Ishaan Awasthi as he embarks on a journey facing multiple challenges during school.
Cover Image for Taare Zameen Par

“Taare Zameen Par” (or “Like Stars on Earth” in English) is a multi-award-winning film directed by the famous Indian actor Aamir Khan, who also plays the optimistic teacher, Ram Shankar Nikumbh, in the film.

The film made its release on December 21, 2007, and is currently available to watch on Netflix. Most Indian movies don’t often catch my attention since they usually have long and repetitive plots. In Taare Zameen Par, the plot revolves around a young boy struggling with learning disabilities and how a teacher helps him discover his true potential. This is when I figured that this is a must-watch.

I always find Indian teachers, especially in the movies, very strict and they always have high expectations from their students. There is a rare chance that any Indian school would have a teacher like Nikumbh.

The story begins with a third-grader, Ishaan Awasthi (Darsheel Safary), struggling to surpass third grade for the second time due to his learning disabilities. He shows no signs of improvement and continues to repeat the same mistakes. His parents are struggling to do whatever it takes for him to perform better in his academics.

Despite Ishaan’s poor academic performance, he excels in his painting skills and is very creative and imaginative. He has many drawings of him flying through space, along with sharks and fishes on his walls. He also shows his brother his painting talents, leaving his brother impressed. However, he can be quite a troublemaker by fighting with his neighbors and breaking their property.

Ishaan also fails to do classwork and doesn’t pay attention to his teachers. He still performed poorly on his exams and refused to show his parents his results. Multiple notes were also sent, but Ishaan would always have the street dogs tear it up, along with his homework.

Ishaan doesn’t have many capabilities compared to other kids his age, especially with his poor reading and writing skills. We can also see Ishaan is afraid to show his parents the notes and exam papers because he knew he would get punished.

Eventually, Ishaan’s parents received various complaints from his teachers about how he was performing in school and avoiding his homework. They send Ishaan to a boarding school, to get more discipline.

This is where the story gets more serious. Ishaan was getting more anxious than usual since he was going to be away from his family. The background color also gets grayer to better build the serious tone of the story and the impact of Ishaan’s emotions.

During Ishaan’s first day, he still struggles to pay attention and perform basic skills. He gets depressed and almost attempts suicide by jumping off the school rooftop. Thankfully, Rajan (Tanay Chheda), a new friend Ishaan made, saves him.

Rajan walks Ishaan to their art class, and this is where the fun begins. The background gets brighter, now that the story shifts to a happier tone. A new teacher, Ram Shankar Nikumbh, who replaced the previous art teacher, enters the classroom wearing a clown outfit, playing a flute, and he then sings and dances with everyone in the classroom. Ishaan doesn’t participate since he is still angry about his struggles

Seeing how Mr. Nikumbh came in and started to have fun with the students shows that he is significantly different from all the other teachers in the school.

After the dance session, Nikumbh gives the students blank sheets of paper to express themselves through painting, but Ishaan doesn’t participate.

During lunch in the teacher’s lounge, Nikumbh is teased about his unconventional teaching methods. One teacher reveals that Nikumbh also teaches at a special-needs school, leading others to think he is conducting an experiment.

Unlike Nikumbh, the other teachers have a traditional approach to prepare their students under strong discipline. Nikumbh disagrees with these concerns and leaves. He then finds Ishaan outside the classroom door, still anxious but unwilling to confide in Nikumbh. Nikumbh starts to worry and seeks answers from Rajan, who informs him that Ishaan struggles with reading and writing and is marked harshly in his books.

I love how Nikumbh is striving his way to see if he can help Ishaan improve in his academics. It shows that he is someone who genuinely cares about the well-being and potential success of his students.

Nikumbh returns to the lounge and finds Ishaan’s books. He learns that Ishaan has dyslexia. No one in the school knew why Ishaan was performing poorly. Nikumbh feels that Ishaan’s family doesn’t know about the condition either, so he travels to Ishaan’s house.

When Nikumbh arrives, he starts to discover Ishaan’s unique painting talent when a paper fell from one of Ishaan’s old books. He then looks around the house and sees all of Ishaan’s other paintings and projects.

Afterward, Nikumbh returns to the family and explains dyslexia, and how it has been affecting Ishaan. The family initially didn’t understand. Nikumbh then shows Ishaan’s predicament of his inabilities when he has Ishaan’s dad read Chinese words on a toy box. Nikumbh persuades them that it is not Ishaan’s fault that he is performing poorly in his classes. Yet, the parents still expect some improvement and discipline once Ishaan finishes boarding school.

After the conversation, Nikumbh returns to the school and tells his class stories of famous dyslexics (Albert Einstein, Leonardo Da Vinci, Walt Disney, etc.) and how they all succeeded despite their poor reading and writing skills. Nikumbh then reveals to Ishaan privately that he also suffered from dyslexia.

This scene is very significant for both of the characters because they both want to understand each other. Nikumbh saw much of himself in Ishaan, so he decided to tutor each week after the school day ended.

He provided unique methods to help Ishaan read and write better. He lets Ishaan paint letters and listen to audio tracks to improve his reading. Furthermore, Ishaan does more hands-on activities to strengthen his handwriting and academic skills. Over time, he gradually improves and his teachers are more satisfied with his performance.

As the movie concludes, Nikumbh organizes a schoolwide art competition, giving Ishaan the chance to reveal his true talent. Before the competition begins, Ishaan takes a walk outside to gather inspiration for his painting. He chooses to depict a serene scene by a lake with fish, birds, colorful trees, and a cloudy sky—a reflection of his love for water and collecting fish. Ishaan seizes this opportunity to express his thoughts through his favorite hobbies, as Nikumbh had encouraged.

Ishaan’s artwork surpasses all the others, leading him to win the competition and have his painting featured on the school’s yearbook cover. This scene really showed all students and teachers that Ishaan can accomplish in his own right, and he still has a lot of unique skills to show.

On the final day of school, Ishaan’s family arrives to pick him up, expressing their gratitude to Mr. Nikumbh for his transformative impact.

Overall, “Taare Zameen Par” exceeds in showing their audience how each child can still succeed, no matter how much they struggle in their education. Everyone still has an exceptional talent to offer. We can’t just rely on academics itself. I find Ishaan a very relatable character for those who have trouble with certain subjects and difficulty adapting to new areas. I also love Nikumbh’s imaginative and optimistic personality and how he’s different from most Indian teachers. This movie really provides a great theme to its audience, and it is absolutely a worthwhile watch.

10/10. A remarkably stunning masterpiece!

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  • Zohaib QuadriJul 18, 2023 at 9:00 am

    Wonderful synopsis! I watched this movie a long time ago when I was a kid but only truly got to understand the greater themes of the story as I got older. It feels nice to once again recall those memorable thoughts, and it’s all thanks to this read! Thanks!

    • John ChirayilJul 18, 2023 at 2:20 pm

      Glad you found this a good read, Zohaib! 👍