MUMBAI (Reuters Life!) - A moving story about a special child's struggle to cope has set Indian audiences thinking -- am I my child's enemy?
Ostensibly, "Taare Zameen Par" (Stars on Earth) is about a small boy suffering from the learning disability dyslexia.
But it is also a commentary on a world in which heavy parental expectations and academic competition have meant a steady rise in depression, dysfunctional lifestyles and even suicide among Indian students.
In the film, eight-year-old Ishaan Awasthi inhabits a hyper imaginative world of colors, dogs and planetary wars, where he collects gutter fish in his school waterbottle and talks to trees, while his classmates toil for better grades.
A misfit who is humiliated and pushed around in school and shouted at home, Ishaan is packed off to a boarding school to be disciplined -- seen by him as a final act of rejection by his family.
There, he fails to improve, withdraws further into his shell and finally on the brink -- in one moving scene he stares down a cliff suggesting his suicidal inclination -- a chance encounter with a sensitive art teacher alters his life.
For film critic Nikhat Kazmi, the canvas of the film is so sensitive, vast and so meaningful, it includes any and every child in its ambit.
"So much so, Taare Zameen Par becomes the story of any and every child who is being robbed of his childhood by insensitive parents and teachers," she wrote.
AIMED AT PARENTS
"Taare" is a rarity from Bollywood, an industry that is known to churn out stereotypical, hyperbolic love lore or revenge sagas, but which now is being forced by a maturing audience to think out of the box.
As a result, more Indian filmmakers today tackle themes as diverse as dysfunctional urban lives and politics to crime and physical disability.
"Taare's" director, Aamir Khan, one of Bollywood's top screen stars who also plays Ishaan's sensitive teacher, hopes the film will enhance adults' understanding of children.
"It is aimed primarily at parents, and potential parents. Youngsters who in a few years will become parents," Khan, a perfectionist who is sometimes compared by critics to Hollywood's Tom Hanks, wrote on his blog to promote the movie.
"Taare" has opened to packed houses and trade analysts see it as a major hit in an otherwise dull 2007.
The film pulls at the heartstrings and leaves most viewers moist-eyed, as they relate to Ishaan's struggle to survive in an unrelenting world he cannot identify with and which spares him no understanding.
Critics have recommended "Taare" as a must-see for parents, wondering if many among the audiences were not guilty of quashing their child's dreams and turning them into assembly line zombies.
(Editing by Y.P. Rajesh and Alex Richardson)