Ishaan Nandkishore Awasthi (Darsheel Safary) is an 8-year-old boy who dislikes school and fails every test or exam. He finds all subjects difficult, and is belittled and berated by his teachers and classmates. But Ishaan’s internal world is full of wonders that he is unable to convey to others, magical lands filled with colour and animated animals. He is an artist whose talent is unrecognised.
Ishaan’s father, Nandkishore Awasthi (Vipin Sharma), is a successful executive who expects his children to excel. His mother, housewife Maya Awasthi (Tisca Chopra), is frustrated by her inability to educate her son. Ishaan’s elder brother, Yohaan (Sachet Engineer), is an exemplary scholar and athlete, which Ishaan is frequently reminded of.
After receiving a particularly poor academic report, Ishaan’s parents send him to a boarding school. There he sinks into a state of fear and depression, despite being befriended by Rajan Damodharan (Tanay Chheda), a physically disabled boy and one of the top students in the class. He even contemplates suicide by climbing up the fence in a terrace, which Rajan manages to save him from.
Ishaan’s situation changes when a new art teacher, Ram Shankar Nikumbh (Aamir Khan), joins the school’s faculty. An instructor at the Tulips School for young children with developmental disabilities, Nikumbh’s teaching style is markedly different from that of his strict predecessor, and he quickly observes that Ishaan is unhappy and contributes little to class activities. He reviews Ishaan’s work and concludes that his academic shortcomings are indicative of dyslexia.