Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Taare Zameen Par DVD: A treat for film fans

One of the most important things about acting is that you should not act." Advice, among the very first in Aamir Khan's first lecture to the 60 or so children of The New Era High School (the boarding school in Panchgani) who gave up their winter break to appear in Taare Zameen Par (2007). I'd been looking forward to the Taare Zameen Par DVD set because after the Lagaan DVD set (which I absolutely loved, as discussed here), it was the second collector's edition offering by the actor/singer/director/producer. The T-Series release (notes here) is all that's available and only in India -- a friend was kind to send it my way (there's more on the DVD format/release below). And was it worth looking forward to or what?!

The case is shaped like a textbook. Its durability in the long term warrants some concern, but that's minor when its contents are considered. This is how the discs are packaged:


A booklet introduces the characters. Full marks to whoever designed the cover for reminding us of our notebooks and how we were required to present them. It's very nicely presented from the inside too, here (right) is a sample page (click on image to enlarge):


There's Ishaan's flipbook, which I'll stay away from for fear of playing spoiler to those who haven't yet seen the film. And this is perhaps the only still image of the Taare Zameen Par pencil on the internet, which could mean one of two things: 1) Bollywood-themed pencils just aren't very popular; or 2) I need to get a life :o)


There are replicas of two beautiful paintings (I'd estimate they're about 8.25 x 10.5 in) by 'eminent watercolourist Samir Mondal made especially for the film'. If you've seen the film, you know how beautifully they were used. (If you are a fan of paintings, samirmondal.com has some fine examples of the artist's work.) Here's a sample:



Disc 1: The film, and director's commentary


The commentary lasts the length of the film, and is in English! Aamir makes it clear at the outset it has to do not with describing the scenes, but in sharing the challenges faced in the filmmaking process -- what they liked, what they disliked and edited out, and what they disliked but kept (and why). It's a gift for fans of film -- and it's amazing to learn even bits of the detail that went into every little shot. To learn that the background score was often played live by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy on the sets. Or that Aamir sought help from the Maharashtra Dyslexia Association throughout the project. Or that it took eight evenings to shoot a five minute long sequence in twilight. Or that the song Kholo Kholo Darwaaze was almost edited out (no!). Or that the final scene had over 1200 children. There are countless such examples. There is even an interesting story behind Darsheel Safary (Ishaan Awasthi), Sheru and Johnny!


What was great about the commentary was that there was no hesitation to identify flaws and accept mistakes. It's not the typical fluff we find elsewhere. Think of Aamir's criticism as almost a lessons learned session for him and his crew, and an eye-opener for some of us who know very little (if anything) about filmmaking. The commentary also includes references to his past works and what he learned from them that he incorporated in his work ethic as director, which is a real treat if you've seen the films he mentions.

Aside: About the only thing he did not discuss were the posters/pictures of two sports icons -- Sachin Tendulkar and Roger Federer -- in the kids' room (click the image to enlarge). If you've been reading his blog, you'll know he has dedicated posts to each of his favorites (on Sachin, on Federer)! Should have been brought up :o)



Disc 2: Making, Deleted Scenes, Panel Discussion, Stills, Trailers

a. The making is fascinating. You can watch it (at these links: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3) thanks to fellow Aamirian SkorpionChik! It was amusing to hear Lalitha Lajmi (Guru Dutt's sister, her role in the film mentioned in this post) say, "I became like a teenager when I saw him."


They didn't mention this in the making, but this sequence, not related to the film, was hilarious. I'd bet the dance steps by Tanay Chheda (right, he played Rajan Damodaran) here are adapted from Rangeela (1996). Hilarious!


This bit reminded me of Aamir in the song Hosh Waalon Ko Khabar Kya in Sarfarosh (1999 -- reviewed here) and Mangal Pandey (2005 -- reviewed here).


Just like they did with the Lagaan DVD, they have footage here from the narration of the script. Here are Aamir and his wife Kiran responding to "Tom and Jerry ka baap kaun?"


b. The seven deleted scenes are a treat too. Hosted by Aamir (sporting his Ghajini look this time, complete with the haircut and following the workout routine for the film). Much better than the deleted scenes in Lagaan, I'll admit. Some of them were rather short (even less than a minute long), enough to question them being edited out. There was even a scene with a qawwali! This is also where the original title of the film is shared -- it was to be in English, and had nothing to do with 'stars'. If you cannot wait to know, I wouldn't mind giving it away.

c. The stills gallery was a welcome surprise. It has scores of images from the sets, with some really good captions (reminded me of Bollyviewer!). Sample this:


d. Aamir moderates a discussion (in Hindi/Urdu) on dyslexia, its symptoms, approaches to combating it, where to go for help, and some generic parenting advice, with a panel comprising: Medha Lotlekar, Educator; Vrajesh Udani, Child Neurologist; Masarrat Khan, leader of the Maharashtra Dyslexia Association; and Dr. Harish Shetty, Clinical Psychologist. The discussion is much more direct in raising awareness of dyslexia and other conditions. It is very welcome (especially for teachers and parents in India -- the issues aren't often discussed head-on), because it is the source of inspiration for the film. The best advice for parents might just be to encourage children to foster a culture of inclusion, and to not be disillusioned by the stress of competition -- move forward, but take others along.

It is here that Aamir shares his views on the ineptitude of academia in India to deal with learning disabilities. Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and their differences, are discussed in fair detail. So are autism, down syndrome, and other mental challenges. And it is here that the film's tagline -- Every Child is Special -- is applied using even more real medical and academic frameworks.


Disc 3: Background Score
As noted in this post, I'd written to Aamir the day after I saw the film, requesting a background score release. Maybe several thousand did, or maybe it was intended all along. Whatever the case, it's great that they released it, because the score is brilliant, and carries a narrative of its own. In that, it is to me as good as the soundtrack. If you haven't seen the film and get your hands on it, maybe you could try listening to the score first to see if you can guess the progress of Ishaan's many moods through the film?! That'd be a fun exercise. Nikumbh Ishaan Montage is by far my favorite track. It's very, very well done, and the harmonica, guitar, piano and drums are all beautifully combined.

In Disc 2 (part 'a' above), Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy discussed how cool it was to play live on the sets. Must've been fun, and very challenging. Here's Mr. Loy:



A note on the DVD formats
If you do not have a region-free DVD player or cannot connect your computer to your television set, I suggest you wait for the U.S. release (the first ever of an Indian film by Walt Disney) which should make it by the end of the year. The Disney DVD release calendar doesn't yet have the information. I've always wanted to sound like an official correspondent, so I can finally say that a Disney Films representative who was contacted for more information declined to comment (read: never replied to my e-mail :P). A search for 'Taare Zameen Par' on the website returned no results as of 10/11/2008.


And finally
I'll hope to have more information on the U.S. release as we move forward. This T-Series release in India is, as the U.S. release will be, a welcome addition to any film collection. The special features and director's commentary make the set well, well worth experiencing. For its primary audience, the Indian market, it is perfectly compiled, and we can only hope that our local release will have as many goodies. Thank you for the treat, Aamir bhai!


Set Rating: 4.75/5 (Excellent!)
I cannot stop singing praises for it :)

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