Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Worth Watching: Like Stars on Earth (2007)

Title: Like Stars on Earth
Director: Aamir Khan
Language: Hindi
Rating: PG

Like Stars on Earth poster

People who are markedly different are sometimes celebrated for the gifts they bring to the world. But most of the time, other people seem determined to crush them.

There's a Japanese proverb: "The nail that sticks out gets hammered down." Fit in, fall in line, and life will be easier for you; you'll find no understanding or accommodation from the rest of us.

Like Stars on Earth is set in a middle-class suburb in India and centers on Ishaan Awasthi (Darsheel Safary), a young boy who makes basic mistakes in math and writing, follows his drifting attention wherever it takes him, and also has abundant talent in art.

Darsheel Safary as Ishaan Awasthi in Like Stars on Earth

The movie has some colorful animated sequences, and one of them shows us his reasoning as he writes down 3 as the answer to 9 times 3 on an exam. Spaceships are involved.

His parents are distraught, though his mother is more sympathetic to him than his father, who sees his behavior simply in terms of disobedience. He has an older brother, also sympathetic to him, who's the model son: an excellent student, an athlete, the pride of the family. Ishaan, on the other hand, can't seem to get anything right, and no one understands him and why he has so much trouble at school.

Eventually he's sent to a different school, with stricter discipline, that's meant to straighten him out. There he lapses into depression, until a substitute art teacher (played by the movie's director, Aamir Khan) notices his plight and figures out how to reach him.

Ram Shankar Nikumbh, played by Aamir Khan, looks at some of Ishaan's artwork in Like Stars on Earth

Some scenes are overly long, and there are times when you can feel the filmmakers shamelessly grabbing onto your heartstrings and refusing to let go. I still think it's a movie worth watching, and Darsheel Safary is an excellent (and adorable) young actor who inhabits the role of Ishaan. The movie becomes a celebration of different kinds of human expression, with a focus on the voice and art of a boy who has dyslexia. The hope is that people will pay sincere attention to and understand those who are often lazily dismissed as troublemakers, idiots, and freaks.

*All images link back to their sources (Wikipedia, Flixster Community, and High Effective Habits).


Yvonne@fiction-books said...

Hi HKatz,

This probably isn't a film that I would go and see, however it does raise some important issues about the way we treat children (and adults) with learning and behavioural difficulties.

It is generally seen as acceptable practice to accommodate these special children in mainstream educational establishemnts, however I have often wondered if this is really in the child's best interests or not?

Mainstream teaching is so difficult given the size of classes these days and are we really expecting too much of teachers to recognise when a child has problems and to offer help and encouragement to the child if a problem is diagnosed.

On the other hand, do 'special schools' only serve to 'pigeon hole' children with issues and problems, rather than trying to bring out any latent talents and abilities which the child possesses?

Interesting film and review, thanks for sharing,


HKatz said...

Yvonne, you ask excellent questions. And there aren't always straightforward answers, as so much depends on the individual child and also on the resources available to the child (resources that are often lacking).

There are kids who can participate in public schools, and are doing so successfully, because they've received an intervention of some kind that helps them. Without that intervention, they don't work at their full potential and struggle unnecessarily, even though they may be quite intelligent and willing to work.

There are schools with learning environments geared towards children with ADD, dyslexia and various learning disabilities, and if it's a good school, they thrive there. But are the good schools affordable and widely available to students? Not from what I've seen.

In general, we have a dearth of good services for kids with various learning and behavioral issues (and psychological problems more generally). Which is a real problem, because these days we also know more about effective interventions. Often, the students who get the most effective interventions are the ones whose parents have more money and also more time to be their advocates (as well as being educated enough about the issues), so that they can fight the educational bureaucracy and get the services their kids need, within the school and/or from outside sources (such as a speech therapist or reading therapist).

I do think there's an enormous burden on teachers, and this includes special ed teachers who are often given too many students to work with as well, who all have different issues. I think the huge class sizes are a big problem both for typically and atypically developing children, because ideally all kids would be able to receive more individualized attention from a teacher, regardless of whether or not they have a particular issue.

Naida said...

Like Stars on Earth sounds worth watching. To echo Yvonne's comment, it does sound like it raises important issues about the way we treat children learning disabilities.
Those overly long, heart tugging scenes would probably make me tear up.
Great post.

HKatz said...

@ Naida: I teared up too at some parts, mostly towards the beginning, but I don't remember those moments as being the most forced attempts on the part of the filmmakers to get emotion from the audience. On the whole, I think to succeed the movie depended on consistently good acting from the kid, and he was great in this role.