Tag Archives: Taare Zameen Par

Streaming Video News: May 7, 2013

Three Bollywood movies make their Netflix streaming debuts today. One of the true must-see Hindi films — Lagaan — is one of them. Not only was Lagaan an Oscar nominee in 2002, but it’s a great cricket tutorial for those of us who didn’t grow up with the game.

Also new to the service are the 2008 romantic comedy Jaane Tu…Ya Jaane Na and Aamir Khan’s directorial debut Taare Zameen Par, which I didn’t care for.

For the latest news on what’s new at Netflix, check out Instant Watcher.

Peepli Live Fails in Oscar Bid

On January 19, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced its shortlist of nine films vying to be the five nominees in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 83rd Academy Awards. India’s submission, Peepli Live, didn’t make the list and is out of the running for the Oscar.

The recent comedy Tees Maar Khan jokingly referenced the perception that movies about poor Indians are guaranteed Oscar winners. Considering the subject matter of awards show success Slumdog Millionaire and India’s most recent Best Foreign Language Film nominee, 2001’s Lagaan, there’s a degree of truth to that belief. Unfortunately, that belief seemed to guide the decision to submit Peepli Live, even though it’s nowhere near Lagaan in terms of quality.

Peepli Live suffers from the same structural flaw as Taare Zameen Par, the Film Federation of India‘s unsuccessful submission to the 81st Academy Awards. Both movies — creations of Aamir Khan Productions — feature a main character in the first half of the movie who’s pushed out of the spotlight in the second half of the film.

The lead character in both films is an underdog: a poor farmer in Peepli Live and a dyslexic child in Taare Zameen Par. The first half of each movie establishes the dire circumstances that surround the very likable hero.

In the second half of each movie, both heroes largely disappear. The farmer wanders around in the background while TV news outlets fight over a story and an aspiring journalist tries to get a break. The dyslexic child cries in his room while his art teacher fights on his student’s behalf.

In both cases, the hero’s story arc is not resolved through his own actions, but through the actions of others. The hero only retakes an active role in his destiny at the very end of the film.

What’s disappointing about the Film Federation of India’s selection of an “issue” picture like Peepli Live is that it prioritizes subject matter over craft. There were a number of other Hindi movies more worthy of submission. The pool widens considerably when Indian movies of all languages are considered.

Movies eligible for selection needed to be released between October 1, 2009 and September 30, 2010 and complete a seven-day run in theaters. The primary language spoken in the film must not be English. The language rule likely eliminated The Japanese Wife from consideration. The same rule may doom Dhobi Ghat‘s chance for submission to the 84th Academy Awards.

Better candidates for nomination would’ve been Raavan, Ishqiya or the 2011 Star Screen Best Film award winner: Udaan. My personal choice would’ve been Road, Movie, which was the best movie I saw last year — Indian or American.

Marketing Hindi Movies as Art Films

Superstar actor — and up-and-coming director — Aamir Khan is reaching out to American companies in the hopes of forming new marketing relationships. Specifically, Khan wants to start marketing his movies in the U.S. as “art” films, similar to the way other foreign-language films are marketed.

Currently, Hindi movies are dropped into theaters with little promotion or fanfare. Indian production houses rarely screen their movies in advance for critics, so few get reviewed for newspapers. Fans in the U.S. must seek out information on upcoming releases themselves.

Without any promotion, mainstream American filmgoers likely scan past the names of Hindi movies on the theater marquee. At times, theaters may unintentionally steer people — especially those not obviously of Indian descent — away from Hindi movies. On several occasions, I’ve attempted to buy a ticket to a Hindi movie only to have the cashier say, “That’s a Bollywood movie,” or “You know that has subtitles, right?”

The shift to marketing at least some Hindi films like other foreign films is long overdue. U.S. theaters lump all Hindi movies together under the “Bollywood” label, evoking images of 3-hour epics full of romance, drama and action punctuated by flashy dance numbers.

Of course, those types of movies don’t make up the whole of Hindi cinema, even if they remain some of the most profitable. Just as the Indian film industry is shifting to producing more genre-specific films and away from all-encompassing epics, the industry is also producing films that American distributors would consider art movies if they were produced in other countries.

Some Indian directors, like Mira Nair, already have their films marketed in this way. But many of these Indian art movies, such as Deepa Mehta’s Oscar-nominated Water, are primarily Canadian productions.

Khan is a natural choice to forge this new marketing path in America. His recent efforts behind the camera have focused on smaller stories about specific issues, rather than mainstream blockbusters. Taare Zameen Par, which Khan directed in 2007, is about a boy with dyslexia. Peepli Live, which opens on August and is produced by Khan, is a black comedy about destitute farmers driven to suicide.

If Khan is successful, it could pave the way for other Indian directors to reach a much larger American audience. There are a few directors in particular whose films deserve this kind of treatment.

Vishal Bhardwaj’s movies are tailor-made for American fans of arthouse cinema. Westerners could consider Bhardwaj an Indian Kenneth Branagh. He’s already adapted two of Shakespeare’s plays into modern Indian stories — Maqbool and Omkara (MacBeth and Othello, respectively) — and he’s currently adapting a novel by Ruskin Bond for the big screen.

The criminal underworld of Uttar Pradesh provides the perfect setting for Bhardwaj’s updated classics. And since he broke into the industry as a composer, his have excellent soundtracks.

Bhardwaj’s frequent collaborator, Abhishek Chaubey, recently directed his first film, the atmospheric and charming Ishqiya. I can only assume that Chaubey’s future efforts will also deserve the arthouse promotional treatment.

Another obvious choice is director Mani Ratnam. His films are known for heartbreaking stories and stunning visuals. In keeping with tradition, he includes elaborate dance numbers in many of his movies, which add a surreal element.

Though it may take extra effort on the part of American distributors to determine which Indian movies are art versus simple popcorn flicks, it’s past time to stop grouping all Hindi movies under the Bollywood umbrella.

Links

India Out of Oscar Race

Taare Zameen Par, India’s official entry into the Oscars’ Best Foreign Language Film category, wasn’t chosen as one of the final five nominees. I’m not surprised. By selecting Aamir Khan’s domestically popular film about dyslexia, India’s selection board passed on two other films that would’ve had a better chance at being nominated by the overwhelmingly American Academy.

The problem with Taare Zameen Par is that it’s not as socially or emotionally relevant to audiences in the United States as it is to audiences in India. While the film may have drawn much needed attention to the disservice still being done to students with learning disabilities in the Indian educational system, public schools in the U.S. have been offering customized learning opportunities for special needs students for decades.

As a product of the U.S. public school system, I recognized little Ishaan’s reading disability within the first thirty minutes of the movie. I then had to wait another hour before any of the characters in the movie did. I imagine many of the Academy voters watching Taare Zameen Par were as frustrated by the slow pace as I was.

Considering the cultural background of the Academy Award voters who nominate movies in the Best Foreign Language Film category, here are my suggestions for two films that would’ve had a better chance of earning a nomination:

Jodhaa Akbar — A beautiful epic with gorgeous music, this seemed like the most obvious choice to represent India, especially since director Ashutosh Gowariker’s equally accessible Lagaan was nominated in 2002.

Black & White — This might’ve been the boldest movie to come out of India in 2008. Its sensitive handling of the issue of Islamic terrorism would’ve given Academy members an opportunity to show that Americans have a more nuanced understanding of terrorism than the “destroy the evildoers” mentality that our government has exhibited for most of this decade.

Here are links to my reviews of Taare Zameen Par, Jodhaa Akbar and Black & White.

Best Bollywood Movies of 2008

In 2008, the Indian film industry proved that it’s still the most reliable source for romantic comedies. International settings made Dostana and Kismat Konnection stand out from the crowd, while Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi closed the year on a high note.

Taking a slightly more serious tone, U Me Aur Hum effectively combined comedic and dramatic elements in a touching story about love and responsibility.

Beyond the romantic comedy genre, historical epic Jodhaa Akbar featured gorgeous cinematography. Rock On!! took the movie musical format in an exciting new direction. And Black & White thoughtfully addressed the subject of terrorism. I only wish it had been India’s official entry into the Oscar competition for Best Foreign Film, instead of Taare Zameen Par.

But the most accomplished, satisfying and entertaining Hindi-language movie of 2008 was another romantic comedy: Bachna Ae Haseeno. The high quality of the acting, cinematography and story-telling gave the film universal appeal. Actor Ranbir Kapoor redeemed himself after an awkward debut in Saawariya, and Deepika Padukone’s charming performance demonstrated that she might be Bollywood’s best young actress.

Movie Review: Taare Zameen Par (2007)

1.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

Eight-year-old Ishaan is punished for his poor performance in school, until a caring art teacher realizes that the boy is dyslexic. Aamir Khan, who plays the teacher, uses his directorial debut to criticize the Indian educational system’s treatment of special needs students. Taare Zameen Par is overly long and treads no new ground for anyone who has even a passing familiarity with learning disabilities. But Khan at least does a credible job of showing the world as seen through Ishaan’s eyes.

No Rating (violence, language); 164 minutes; The movie’s title translates to “Like Stars on Earth”

This review originally appeared in The Naperville Sun on December 27, 2007