Mumbai, 23 Mar 2018 14:43 IST
Director Siddharth P Malhotra's film deals with how a teacher with Tourette Syndrome overcomes a major hiccup in her life.
Based on the movie Front of the Class, which was adapted from Brad Cohen's autobiographical book, Front of the Class: How Tourette Syndrome Made Me the Teacher I Never Had, director Siddharth P Malhotra's film Hichki tells the story of a school teacher with Tourette's Syndrome. The condition is a speech defect that causes involuntary motor tics (which sound like hiccups) and grunting sounds. But that's where the similarity ends.
After being rejected by several schools and struggling to land a teaching job for five years, despite her multiple degrees, Naina Mathur (Rani Mukerji) finally finds work at St Notker School, where she herself had studied and learned to accept herself.
The grown up Naina Mathur, even with her moments of self-doubt owing to her childhood struggles, is a confident and driven woman — someone who doesn't look at her speech defect as a disability.
She is hired specifically to teach class 9F, which constitutes of 14 notorious slum kids, who have been rejected by the elite school's teachers and students as a bunch of unruly good-for-nothings. It's perhaps her understanding of how it feels not to be accepted by society that drives her to transform them into good students.
After ragging Naina Mathur several times, the students have a reflective moment when they see their teacher stick her neck out for them. Naina Mathur's fun and out-of-the-box teaching methods seem interesting on the surface, but the screenplay doesn't fully prove how they work. After several hichkis aka hiccups, the students come around, leading to an expected climax.
All the young actors playing the role of students do a commendable job.
In one scene, a long uncut shot, the camera follows Naina Mathur walking down a passage way, with uncontrollable sounds and tics before she finally breaks down, expressing her anger and frustration. It proves the acting ammunition that the actress has stacked up over the years.
Rani Mukerji creates a likeable character with an undying spirit, an underdog you want to cheer for. Her sassy, confident and consistent performance as someone with Tourette Syndrome is the shining light of the film. It's also the most well-written part in the film.
Same cannot be said of Neeraj Kabi's convenient antagonist, Wadia, a snobbish teacher. Mukerji quotes the often used phrase at one point: 'There are no bad students, only bad teachers'. And Neeraj Kabi's Wadia is brought in to play the bad one so that light can shine on the good teacher. His constant disapproval of Naina Mathur and her students feels convoluted at times.
The film has some positive and inspiring moments — when Naina Mathur teaches her students to cut fear out of their lives and fly freely or when she makes them realise that they cannot make their unfortunate circumstances their crutches. The light-hearted tone works and some moments stand out.
But, despite its idealism and inspiring narrative, Hichki is a predictable underdog story. Ankur Chaudhry, Ambar Hadap and Ganesh Pandit's writing is simple and straight forward.
The subplots exploring the inner life and motivations of Naina Mathur are missing. The depiction of her relationship with her parents — Sachin Pilgaonkar and Supriya Pilgaonkar — is superficial and takes away from the depth of the protagonist's character. Unlike the book, Hichki does not explore the important role that the protagonist's mother played in shaping her up.
Director Siddharth P Malhotra also does not invest in the students' stories that much, making it difficult for the audiences to do so too. Even though you feel for the teacher as you at least have a glimpse into her childhood and adulthood struggles, you don't engage with the students that much, as their back stories are brief and functional. Therefore, the bond formed between the teacher and her students also feels designed.
A few more laughs and some complexities in narration could have done the narrative a whole lot of good.
For these reasons, the breezy narrative, despite not having any fatal flaws or major hiccups, falls short of being excellent.
While the film may be predictable, Rani Mukerji's performance is predictably good and won't disappoint you.