Full disclosure, I have to admit that I was really reluctant to watch Taare Zameen Par again, on the occasion of the Disney release of the film on DVD last week, now containing an English track and a director’s commentary plus other extra features.
I had purposely avoided Mr. Khan’s pet project when it was first released, but relented and finally watched it almost a year ago on a 16-hour Air India flight to NY. I had already cycled through the start of an awful Bengali film they had on their Regional Cinema menu, and watched most of a (sadly) really disappointing Prakash Raj film called Vellitherai which started out promisingly enough but seems to have suffered at the hands of the Air India film censor. (Yes, they have one! They cut out the mention of Bebo’s character being mistaken for a pro in Jab We Met, so one can only imagine what they did to the stellar Prakash’s work”¦”¦)
I had to do something to keep myself amused, and I will admit, while watching TZP a few stealth tears made their way down my cheek (but then again, a persistent dislike of flying coupled with a fear of turbulence and a reliance on champagne or rum to mitigate the first two make me more emo when traveling anyhow.)
Here’s the thing”¦.the incessant canonization of Aamir by the Indian press really drives me barmy, and it heated up to an unbelievable level when TZP came out, with folks going on about what a great and sensitive father he was, all while this rumor still hovered in the air about the paternity of a certain little boy in the UK, and those two things seemed rather dissonant and contradictory to me, and just added to my resistance to His Holiness’ work.
Well, all that aside, I have to admit that the Disney release of TZP as Like Stars on Earth is WONDERFUL! The director’s commentary track alone is worth the price of the whole thing.
It’s long been a big complaint of mine that so few Hindi movies contain a commentary track, a feature that I adore, as they can add so much to the experience of seeing the film several times, and better yet when they include one or two of the main actors as well. (Two favorites are Emma Thompson’s Sense and Sensibility and the Christmas-themed British romcom Love Actually; both are informative but also quite funny thanks to the inputs of Emma Thompson on the former, and Hugh Grant and Bill Nighy on the latter. I’m praying that when Hirschbiegel’s Five Minutes of Heaven comes out in a few months time, it will include the track.)
The only other mainstream Hindi movie in my collection that I can think of which contains the director’s commentary is Taxi No. 9211, and it was great to have it, hearing about the difficulties of shooting a particular scene on a Bombay street and about making a film with Nana Patekar. On the subject of Nana, Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay has a similar track and it really enriches the viewer’s appreciation for the movie.
In fact, every time I interview a director about a recent work or an upcoming film, I always ask hopefully if they’re going to do one, and so far, no has said “As a matter of fact, I am!”. The response is usually some variation of “Hmm, maybe. We’ll see.” I guess for many, they don’t see any value in taking the time to do it. I WISH Mani Ratnam would do them on his films, and I don’t know if Farhan or Zoya Akhtar have, but I wish they would too, and my God, I certainly would LOVE to hear the director’s commentary for Naan Kadavul!
So, as you listen to Aamir talk about TZP/LSOE, he introduces the whole track by saying that he’s not going to narrate the action taking place before our eyes in any given scene, but rather, discuss behind-the-scenes info and how a particular take was shot, and this is very good news.
Fair play to Mr. Khan, he even makes the opening (animated) credits interesting, revealing that this was the first time Claymation had been used in an Indian film. In discussing the young lead Darsheel Safary, who plays Ishaan, Aamir tells us that the child is terrified of dogs (something rather problematic, if you recall the opening scenes of the movie), but that they were able to shoot around it. Occasionally, he speaks with the insight of an actor about how some the scenes are hard for any actor to do (e.g. the scenes where Ishaan has been punished and stands alone in the hallway at school, and the fight scene with the neighbor boy at the start where Darsheel had to keep the momentum going all the way up to when he runs to the roof alone and cries his angry tears).
A lot of what I loved about the commentary is when Aamir shares with us how they overcame technical challenges. When shooting the school scenes in Bombay over the weekend, they got great natural light in the classrooms, but they had to find a way to deal with all the street noise (solution: a transparent sheet of some plastic type material over the outside of the windows). He also discusses how the water where Ishaan gets his tadpoles proved to be quite taxing to shoot, as the least disturbance led to the whole tank getting muddy and cloudy. And on and on.
See it or skip it?
All I can say is, get the DVD, it’s a fascinating experience to walk through the movie with the director next to you.