Monday, December 24, 2007

Taare Zameen Par : Amol Gupte's share of the lime light

I watched Taare Zameen Par, the new Aamir Khan film. It is the story of a eight year old boy who has issues with life. We later realize he suffers from dyslexia. With the help of his art teacher (Aamir Khan), the school and his parents realize his condition. The film is about letting kids remain kids rather than breeding them as race horses for the 'real' world. It is also about seeing children in their innocence and as differently-abled rather than as specially gifted or specifically challenged. An interesting and emotional (what else can one be except anguished at the way the world treats children)look at the carefree years. The feedback so far has been pretty zingy, everyone seems to be coming back from the theater with their own memories rekindled. It is the first film officially directed by Aamir Khan, it has been alleged in the past that he has ghost directed a lot more. And within that official history mode, it is a refreshing and unique film to mark one's directorial debut. Staying away from most of the glitzy hindi film props, it takes us deep into the child's world. Watch it, it may not be decidedly brilliant, but its sweet, its brave and it keeps you engrossed. Watch it also cause the kid playing the lead role is a genius.

I am not doing an elaborate review for a reason (this review of the movie captures its highs and especially some flaws). The movie was earlier to be directed by Amol Gupte, the person who wrote the film. But after a week of shooting, Aamir Khan who also produced the movie was unhappy and took over the mantle himself. I was able to find a piece by Amol Gupte on Passion For Cinema and while the spotlight is on Aamir, its only deserving that Amol Gupte gets his share of the adulation.

21st December 2007, Friday, Bakri-Id, Amol Gupte, Mumbai.

Taare Zameen Par is out. Deepa and I hung around theatres today to gauge the response. Entering the galli of Gaiety/Galaxy, barometer theatres for both viewing and for audience reaction, an old lady passes whispering ‘Taare Zameen Par… Dedh Sau Dedh Sau…’

At such times the pain seems worth it. Delivery.

Standing at the exit gate with sweaty palms… then the crowd comes down. Most people seem to have liked it. More importantly, when questioned about the film, almost all reply that its making them think and rethink about their children. Mission accomplished.

Cinema, the cannibal… It consumes you and expects you to do the same to those around you. So be it. I believe in processes and they give me the reason to exist with pleasure. Taare Zameen Par was born out of my need to spend time with children. I enjoy being with them, understanding life from their point of view, crouched on my knees.

Endless happy hours, the workshops with children from so many schools gave me insight into their mind that was their invaluable gift to me. My own 7-year-old son, Partho…there is so much of him in Ishaan. His rebellion, his spirit, his decision to break, but not to bend over smallest requests, his mad devouring of Dahl and Funke and his novel interpretation post reading. And his art… a circle drawn on a paper washed blue is an oncoming shark’s frontal long shot image. Flip the paper and the circle has grown large, now with jagged teeth – close-up of the approaching shark. I have loved watching my boy up-close.

Deepa and I have nurtured a study group of parents, teachers and children over the years. They shared their lives with us and that’s so personal. I am very grateful to them for that trust. There is a title card in the film that acknowledges their pivotal role without naming them. I thank them again and again.

I can’t write at the desk, need to step out and put my hands in the clay to understand textures, natures, characteristics and behaviours. Every time I hit a road block writing TZP, I went back to the children and surely the truth emerged.

The world of children is a transparent, pure world. It often tires me and drains me out; they have so much energy! Clearly cannot match their zest… But at the end of the day it is the sweet pain of experiencing honesty… as a parent, as an artist, as a chronicler.

I tried to stay true to the processes while prepping for TZP as its writer/director then. Cast all principal characters with unexplored actors, rehearsed and work-shopped with the cast.

I did not involve a casting director because I don’t believe in auditioning children. Would not like them to wilt or wither under performance-for-adults pressure.

I think a lot of children do get daunted when cornered and put under the scanner surrounded by DA, 1st AD, 2nd AD, 2nd’s 2nd, line-p, exec-p, lighting & cam unit, make-up etc all worshipers of ‘Action’ and ‘Cut’.

So I went from school to school looking for my Ishaan. I conducted free art-and-theatre workshops with the children and tried to look for my hero without announcing the search in the workshops. The idea was to give some pleasure to them even as I looked for my protagonist. I searched elsewhere too. Shiamak’s Summer Funk, Smart Potato, Rael Padamsee’s, KEC, Summertime at Prithvi, MDA…

Darsheel, the ‘Ustad’ I found sitting in the backrooms of Shiamak’s Summer Funk classes.

Sachet, who plays elder brother Yohan, came to pick up his younger brother from a Campion school Worshop… one look at him and Deepa grabbed hold of him. I had got my Yohan.

Tanay, who plays Rajan Damodaran, is an angel recommended by Rael. Tanay’s rehearsal, where he wept for the scene, is imprinted in my mind…it was so special. Vipan, who plays the father, is an old colleague from my guru, Ketan Mehta’s film Mirch Masala. He had been in Canada for the last many years…kind of dug him out.

Bugs Bhargav, I have loved as an actor since JCS. I wrote him in as Mr. Sen and the grammar soliloquy is specially written for him. One of the finest human beings on the planet.

Music and not musac. The song situations with their English lyrics were always a part of the bound script. With SEL, common ground… Mumbai, end 70s beginning 80s…shared love… America, Floyd, Shrinivas Khale… ‘still abloom, the garland of cranes in the sky’ – enjoyed jamming with SEL and Prasoon to create the TZP songs, they were a pleasure to work with. Bonded specially with Shankar and Loy over mutton and music. My pot of thanksgiving is now simmering… got to take it to Purple Haze.

I want to thank my direction team, particularly Ritu Bhatia, Amol Gole, Tanmay Mohan and Shikha Rahi. They were pillars of support that kept me alive and sane in trying times, AND Nakul Kamte for his sound sensibility, Shruti Gupte for being a truly creative art director, and my Deepa for guarding my vision of the film in her edit.

A lot of people are curious about what happened between Aamir and me. It doesn’t seem relevant at this point. All I want to say is that no parent gives up her/his baby by choice. No parent. And I never abandoned my baby. I lost my right to call it my own, that’s all. I was onboard on shoot and I ensured the safety and well-being of my baby. Moreover, Aamir told me that in 17 years as an actor no one had guided him in his performance as I had. That is a huge compliment from such a powerful brand.

By agreeing to play the part of Nikumbh Sir (the name I have given Aamir’s character is the name of my art teacher and Hansraj Morarji Public School Principal, Late Shri R. S. Nikumbh, a tribute to my dear departed teacher) Aamir has done children a great service. It would not have been possible without him to take this message out to the nation. It is unfortunate that it turned out the way it did between us.

Four years ago I wrote an article in the brochure of Tulips School, talking about my work with children. I wrote then that I began this journey with children for the film. The film was the goal and the children the means. But somewhere that changed. It is the film that is the means to the real end which is a better future for all children. By that yardstick, I feel no sorrow.

I lost something, yes, but if I remind myself of my goal, then I feel no sense of loss. An escape to only victory.

A pound of flesh each, they all claimed

A pound of flesh their very aim

Many pounds lighter now

Happy am no heavy weight

Back to school

Waiting for buddies

At the gate

1 comment:

avi said...

Dear Amol,

Read ur blog! A very genuine and candid write! I watched 'YOUR' TZP, a master-piece creation, thought provoking and very sensible movie made in bollywood...a rare phenomenon. You know, I was curious to know why did you leave (or forced to leave?) this movie and was searching for some information on the internet. And I found this blog! This has helped me know you a little and I completely agree to the fact that TZP is your baby. And I also believe, not just me but lot of people believe the same. Don't wanna go much in details of the rift between you and Amir Khan but feel that this shouldn't have had happened! I congratulate you for the phenomenal success of such a brilliant movie and appreciate your brilliant efforts!

Looking forward to see more such creative and sensible movies from you!

Cheers mate & Good luck!