They were childhood friends. Shahid Kapoor and Ahmed Khan. The latter directed the former in Paathshaala , easily one of Shahid’s best from the early phase of his career.

The style behind Paathshaala is in its inner conviction. The obvious artlessness of presentation with the students and teachers of an imaginary school behaving with a bluntness that replicates the dialect of television talk- shows rather than the realism of cinema, must not come in the way of our wholeheartedly accepting the film for what it is. An unconditionally sincere effort to understand why the country’s educational system pressurizes children into performance anxiety.

While Basha Lal’s cinematography is free of poetic flourishes the Ae Khuda track just sweeps you off your feet. That is not the effect this grounded and sensible film and its unhurried pace strive to achieve otherwise.The storytelling is suffused with sensitive pockets. To cite some examples… in one sequence the veteran sports teacher(played ably by Sushant Singh) gets together students to climb on one another to make a human pyramid for the sake of media coverage. The callousness of the freelance journalist as he talks into the cellphone while the students sweat it out in the sun, smothers your cynicism about such manipulative drama in the narrative.Elsewhere a little boy (Dwij Yadav) is made to stand in the sun for not paying the school fees. And then that decisive moment where a crass ad-maker reduces a little kid (Ali Haji) to choked tears, just chokes you.

Shahid Kapur pays tribute to his favourite actor Aamir Khan by playing a teacher who helps a group of troubled young students in his new movie Paathshaala.The similarities between Taare Zameen Par and this film are striking.

Choreographer-turned-producer and Shahid’s close friend Ahmed Khan didn’t deny the fact that Taare Zameen Par has made a huge difference to the way we look at movie entertainment and at the parent-child relationship.”I would happily admit that Paathshaala is inspired by Taare Zameen Par, except for the fact that Paathshala was conceived and written a year before. It’s about a sensitive teacher’s interaction with a group of kids.”

Interestingly, Ahmed selected some of the most extraordinary child actors to come into the film industry in the last couple of years.

“And on top of that, let’s not forget I was once a child actor myself in Mr India. Shahid too was a child actor. So we were all putting our minds into making a film about the mind of a child and the child within the man.”

There is an inherent wisdom in the homilies that Paathshaala serves up so sincerely, The narration is so laidback and de-toxicated you often wonder if the director believes that the inherent harmony of real life can only be captured in leisurely grace.Though flawed and at times failed, the overview of the educational system in Paathshaala is macro-cosmicin its own right.The plot meanders into various issues that plague the educational institutions before negotiating itself into a clumsily ‘epic’ climax where the whole country’s media becomes interested in the politics of the school where the plot unfolds.

The unevenness of pace notwithstanding there is no mistaking the film’s earnestness of purpose. Every actor young and old pitches an honest and transparent performance. The stand-out (or considering the low-key pitch, should we say stand-in?) actors are Saurabh Shukla and Anjan Shrivastava. As for the children, let’s not discriminate among them. They are all utterly charming.The film’s comment on the corrosion and corruption of education makes space for little-little flirty romantic liaisons among the older students. Cute!

Shahid Kapoo says his Hindi lines as though he just though of them and expresses his connectivity with the kids with a warmth and effortlessness that makes the other superstars teachers on celluloid look rather put-on in-comparison.

So why did the Shahid-Ahmed friendship go bust? Here is the true story behind the dost-dost-na-raha narrative.Choreographer Ahmed Khan,a close friend of both Ranbir and specially Shahid Kapoor, was caught in a very uncomfortable situation when both the Kapoor stars required Khan’s choreographic acumen. Ahmed was the regular choreographer for both the Kapoor star-kids. He was slated to choreograph two songs for Shahid in Kunal Kohli’s film when suddenly Ranbir Kapoor decided he wanted Ahmed to be a part of the short feature-film that Ranbir directed for a brand of automobile that he endorses(Nissan).

Finally Ranbir got Ahmed’s coveted dates while Shahid to whom Ahmed Khan was committed had to shoot two of his songs with a substitute choreographer Chinni Prakash, leaving the situation rather helplessly unsavoury for all the three parties concerned.

Though ultimately Ranbir bagged Ahmed the choreographer was very unhappy about letting his childhood friend down. Ahmed and Shahid go back a long way. They’ve known each other from childhood .When Ahmed turned director with Paathshaala Shahid was an integral part of the project. Letting Shahid down left Ahmed feeling very unhappy.Shahid never forgave Ahmed.