It hurts to say this, but what Taare Zameen Par needed was a good director to make it a true masterpiece.
In story-telling, the ends do not justify the means. And when your story lasts 2½ hours, the means are the ends. Taare Zameen Par is a noble effort, messed up in narration. It's like being on a poorly-maintained amusement park roller coaster that suddenly slows down just when the ride is beginning to get exciting, reaches the first sharp curve slower and later than it should, plods along for a while from there, and then takes a short cut to make it to the end in time, skipping most of the promised track.
So what you went to see, you don't get to see - what you get to see, are just its beginning and its ending. This was supposed to be the tale of a gifted teacher who helps a dyslexic kid work with this world and possibly even excel at it. There is, unfortunately, too much description of the problem, and too little of the solution.
And that makes this one a triumph of show-off over substance - the sequences showcasing the child's disorder, if we may call it that, are admittedly well-written, but that appears the writers' comfort zone. So it plods on and on - Aamir Khan isn't even there in the first half, and the movie self-indulgently shows scenes upon scenes and songs upon songs of the child's life and his world-view. And when the real challenge, the resolution, presents itself, it's glossed over simplistically: the cure to dyslexia is being gentle and appreciative.
Indeed, that's it. Those of you who did not know this, please put your hands up, we want to see what you look like.
There's a chance we're being uncharitable - the film will certainly change the way a lot of parents who watch it bring up their children, it will increase sensitivity to the condition, and it might even result in increased enrolling in NGOs. However, this is still a feature film promising entertainment, a tale well told, and not a documentary. And that leaves the other 50% of the movie to contend with. For, you've gone seeking a payoff.
TZP deals with Ishaan Awasthi (Darsheel Safary), a kid with problems in working with alphabets and numbers, and struggling to live in a world that just thinks he's lazy, slow, idiot, duffer. When he's finally sent off to boarding school by his parents after his city school gives up on him, he's put through further torment by teachers there. All this takes the entire first half, and while for most adults watching it it provides memories of school life, it quite overstays its welcome.
A temporary art teacher, Ram Shankar Nikumbh (Aamir Khan), then lands at the school, and, himself dyslexic in his childhood, immediately empathizes with Ishaan's situation, and starts a process of trying to reinstill confidence in him and help him learn. Only, that's not as romantic in execution as it sounds.
For starters, Mr. Nikumbh cries at the kid's condition - and once too many times - and that affects your judgement of the film. Then, he puts too many fundas in a few sequences, which, in a movie that used subtlety right until then as the preferred mode of communication, juts out obliquely. And finally, the treatment of the condition, which you'd gone to the movie for, lasts less than 10 minutes, and has nothing innovative in it.
The film, of course, has a fairy tale ending, which, in tales of triumph over human adversity, usually helps gloss over several sins. And it's up to you to decide if that fairy-tale ending actually misses the point - so is the film finally about a gifted child who can win competitions? But unless you are seeking too much of reality, the ending is just what makes for a lifetime of hope.
TZP showcases several pieces of good writing in the first half's characterization of Ishaan. The songs are superbly written, rendered and shot. And the actors are almost all top-notch. Darsheel Safary delivers a performance that is almost certain to bag some top awards. Aamir Khan is, of course, Aamir Khan. Tisca Chopra and Vipin Sharma, as the troubled parents of the kid, put in moving efforts. The family and school scenes all stroke plenty of association or déjà vu, as the case might be with you.
Taare Zameen Par is still worth a watch for what it has - it'll certainly help you be a better parent. It's never too late for that ...hopefully.