Actor Aamir Khan’s directorial debut Taare Zameen Par is ready for release. A pet project of creative geniuses Amol Gupte and Aamir Khan, the film hopes to deliver an important social message – that of dealing with autistic children.
Taare Zameen Par is about eight-year-old Ishaan, who lives in a world radically different from ours. Unable to communicate his unique experience and abilities, he is labeled backward and packed off by his anxious parents to a boarding school. There, a new arts teacher, Ram Shankar helps Ishaan to dream and slowly coaxes him out into our world.
One in approximately 500 children is born autistic in India. This means there are about 1.7 million affected kids, most of whom live in far flung rural areas and are subjected to traditional medication, including exorcism, ritualism and ostracism. Some are even locked away and forgotten forever.
You will be surprised to know this, but India did not have resources to deal with autism till quite recently. Today, several agencies such as AAction, ASHA for Autism, Autism-India, Minds and Souls and others provide education, support and sensitization. Though the movement is slowly gaining popularity and momentum, it is restricted to affluent urban areas. Even in an urban setting, the care of special children is available only to a few and is often terribly expensive.
In that context, Taare Zameen Par will play an important role in publicizing the problem and its often simple solution. The film aims to teach you how to recognize and interact with autistic children. If it helps you pick up a little compassion for all special and challenged kids that would be a bonus.
But, will the film achieve its mission? Chances are it probably won’t touch the vast majority of sufferers, set as the film is in an urban background, with urban thought processes and solutions. While it may educate the multiplex crowd, it is unlikely, even if appreciated, to convey its message in the hinterland. I hope I am wrong.
Does that mean films with social messages needn’t be made? Or should they be made with a more universal appeal?