Last night my wife and I watched a gentle film called Like Stars on Earth. This Indian work by director Aamir Khan tells the story of an 8-year-old boy, Ishaan, who suffers the abuse of classmates, teachers, and even his own parents for his inability to do what most other children learn easily. Besides poor spelling, inverting letters, and difficulty with math, he has trouble with simple tasks like tying his shoes and buttoning his shirt.
Accused by his father and teachers of being disobedient and defiant, he is sent to a boarding school where the faculty there treats him even more harshly than the treatment he had received from his father and his school back home. Although Ishaan’s loving mother and brother sustained him at home, his heart shriveled when he was separated from the two people in his life that truly loved him. His vivid imagination and talent for painting and drawing languished, and he withdrew into a tiny shell.
Enter a temporary art teacher at the boarding school who also works as a special education teacher in a nearby school for children with disabilities. Through his unconventional teaching methods and graceful presence, as well as his diagnosis of Ishaan’s learning disability, he wins over Ishaan, encourages him to paint and draw, and uses methods which help his learn. By the end of the film, even Ishaan’s harsh father sees the inner beauty and talent of his son.
Several songs in Hindi add to the charm of the film, whose dialogue has been dubbed masterfully in English.
Like Stars on Earth embraces the inherent value and giftedness of all people. Too often films and TV shows characterize people with disabilities as fools, victims, villains, freaks, or “triumphs of the human spirit,” not as agents in their own right. As viewers experience the world through Ishaan’s eyes, we remember that not just Ishaan, but all other individuals we see in the film, disabled and nondisabled, also are subjects with their own dreams, capabilities, desires, hurts, and strengths.
Besides, I am married to a special education teacher and have appreciated the special ed. teachers who have taught our daughter Nicole. Any film that features a special education teacher as its hero is top-notch in my book.
An evening set aside (2:45 hours) for Like Stars on Earth will give you a gift that few films give, a deeper empathy for other people.