Local and Global Tango: Taare Zameen Par

Taare Zameen Par, the Bollywood 2007 blockbuster, did more for India than boost the economy. The tale of a dyslexic child and an art teacher has reached audience’s ears with a message. Stars on Earth, the translation of Aamir Khan’s masterpiece, has touched both local and international audiences. In doing so, the film walked away with the 2008 Filmfare Best Movie award: the most prestigious Hindi movie honor (The 51st Filmfare Awards). The film itself is entangled in a combat of local and global images however the plot’s universally binding pathos has pushed the film to prestige.

Considering the slur of culture present throughout the film, did global audiences find an alternative moral meaning? How much did the cultural images affect the overall understanding of non-native watchers? Are the emotional connections throughout this film strong enough to be called universal? Only an examination of the film’s content within a global sphere will tell.

The emphasis on implicitly global images in Taare Zameen Par makes the film feel closer to home for all individuals. In every frame and camera angle there are familiar international symbols. Busy roads, children in school buses, silver watches and snack vendors are sprinkled throughout the film. With every additional global trait, international audiences become more at ease.

The most obvious appeal to global audiences lies in the film’s overall production quality: it mimics Hollywood’s shine. The entire movie was shot in proper lighting, high quality cameras were used, and makeup was abundant on every character. The most convincing production quality Taare Zameen Par had to offer was the cinematic cut scenes reflecting a child’s creativity. Praveen Fernandes from the India Times claims we enter a “world which adults are unable to see” (Fernandes 1). Particularly, the introduction offered beautifully rendered 2D animation reminiscent of most Hollywood openings. At two other points in the film animation was again relied on. This barrage of modern, computerized graphics and color gives the film an international feel. Additionally, the five music tracks (each choreographed to dance) add substantially to the overall production quality.

“Everyone wants a doctor, engineer, or lawyer,” is a quote from Stars on Earth people relate with. The film’s plot is consumed by references to pre-college education; something most international viewers can connect with. Elements such as high school lockers, sports clubs, midterm exams and elementary schools are the setting for a majority of Taare Zameen Par. Procedural teaching methods play a familiar role as well. In many school systems much emphasis is placed on simple memorization and not understanding. Watchers of this film sympathize with Ishaan as his thoughtful analysis of a poem is crushed in favor of a dry, mechanical textbook answer. Students in an art class ask, “but what do we paint sir, there is nothing on the table” showing a saddening lack of creativity. The inclusion of these common traits of education makes Taare Zameen Par capable of reaching out to a global audience.

Another piece of internationally approachable content is the street. Roads flooded with cars, buses, road signs and even hitchhikers are found in Stars on Earth. The Indian roadway has many parallels to those found throughout the globe lending a familiar feeling to the setting of the film. Billboards are stretched across skylines. Crowds span an entire sidewalk: overflowing into the road. Street vendors give a taste of familiarity as well. During the film a shredded ice vendor on a street corner makes Ishaan’s home seem like New York in the summer. In particular, the double-decker bus system Ishaan travels on supplies a very industrial and global touch to the film by reflecting London transportation. The environment of Taare Zameen Par is very global.

If the comfort of a familiar setting is not enough evidence of Taare Zameen Par’s global appeal, the film devotes a three-minute sequence, complete with music, to the effects of globalization. Father is leaving for a business trip. Mother irons the clothes. Mother cooks while Father reads from a laptop. The older son wakes up to study while Mother prepares more food and cleans up after Father. And so on. This scene is sped-up and segmented to dark music that lends an unnatural, mechanical feel to the shot. The fast-paced, high-intensity life pictured in this scene is recognizable to audiences throughout the world. Similar sequences appear though the film reflecting a globalized lifestyle associated with big cities like Bangkok and Los Angeles.

The majority of the content within Stars on Earth can be seen in a worldly context. The emotional connections, while set in India, prove likely to reach the audience. Ryan Gilbey, from the New Statesmen, had this first impression of the film: “Taare Zameen Par is… sentimental” (Gilbey 1). This makes the viewing and accepting of the film simple for an international viewer. However, while the film is easy to digest, there are several elements of Taare Zameen Par that appeal to only an informed local audience. Does this nationalistic content detract from the overall understanding of the film?

The first distracter in the film is the radically apparent sexism. There is no effort to hide the double standards that the movie’s characters set forth. In Taare Zameen Par, women ride in the backseat of cars when males are present and the only visible female jobs consist of housewife and teacher. Neither of the elementary schools in Taare Zameen Par have female students. In fact, the only shot of a female pupil entering a school plays for fewer than one second as a herd of high schoolers run to class. The void of inequality present in this film should spark activity among the already expanding feminist movement in India. Foreign watchers will likely look over the double standards in Aamir Kahn’s movie, however a minority of viewers may be taken aback.

 The second truly foreign element of Taare Zameen Par is the lacking sense of safety. The film contains several scenes in which safety regulations present in modernized countries are shattered. The vivid panorama of a painter ascending a building on wooden scaffolding without a harness seemed foreign. Ishaan, the eight-year old lead, extends halfway out of a moving bus while traveling on an expressway. A school bus attendant hops in and out of the bus on a busy street. Shoeless children play in alley strewn about with barbed wire and broken glass. These may be commonplace activities in the heart of India, but they should seem exotic to—at least—an American audience. The vivid sense of danger exposed by this film is pungent: it detracts from several of the film’s key cinematic scenes. However, this effect does little to change the overall emotional command of the film.

Other small, local details speckle the brunt of this film. However, it seems Aamir Khan’s appeal to pathos is universal. The suffering of a child and the struggles of a teacher are understandable in most cultures around the globe. This morphs Taare Zameen Par into a unique tango of local and global images that is acceptable in most cultures.

Taare Zameen Par’s persuasion hits audiences on every shore. The calls to globalism are strong within this film despite the localized content. The weight of international messages wins over the local impressions. An executive Bollywood movie producer was quoted, “Looking at the response of the film we are certain that it will be one of the top four Hindi films from India in the US,” after only two weeks of Taare Zameen Par’s box office release (‘Taare Zameen Par’ Shines Overseas). The films emotion appeal hit home even harder: local educators were required by mandate to watch to the film because of potential positive influence (TAARE ZAMEEN PAR EDUCATES TEACHERS). The 2008 Filmfare Best Movie award was given to Taare Zameen Par for good reasons.

Works Cited

“‘Taare Zameen Par’ Shines Overseas.” Business Line, Chennai 4 Jan. 2008. ProQuest. Georgia Institute of Technology. 23 Feb. 2008. 

Fernandes, Praveen L. “Taare Zameen Par.” India Times 20 Dec. 2007. 4 Mar. 2008 <http://movies.indiatimes.com/moviereview/2638519.cms>. 

Gilbey, Ryan. “The Elephant in the Foyer.” New Statesman 18 Feb. 2008. EBSCO. Georgia Institute of Technology. 23 Feb. 2008. 

“TAARE ZAMEEN PAR EDUCATES TEACHERS.” The Statesman 20 Feb. 2008. LexisNexis. Georgia Institute of Technology. 23 Feb. 2008. 

“The 51st Filmfare Awards.” India Times. 4 Mar. 2008 <http://filmfareawards.indiatimes.com/>.



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