Revisiting Rani Mukerji in Black

Rani Mukerji is returning on the silver screen with Hichki after a short sabbatical. The actor will bring to the audience the life of a specially-abled person as she essays the role of a teacher Naina Mathur who suffers from Tourette’s syndrome. Despite suffering from speech impediments, Naina is the one who is determined to live her dream of becoming a teacher. Her spirit to serve a section of students is not deterred by the hiccups that disrupt her speech often and makes her a butt of jokes.

Hichki, a Yash Raj production, is a film based on the real-life success story of Brad Cohen, an American motivational speaker, teacher and author who has severe Tourette syndrome. Hichki is an adaptation of Cohen’s Front of the Class: How Tourette Syndrome Made Me the Teacher I Never Had. The film is not Rani’s first attempt at bringing to the screen the story of those struggling with physical impairment.

The sensitivity with which Rani is dealing with Tourette’s syndrome in the trailer of Hichki takes me back to her impeccable performance in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s superhit film Black. In 2005, Rani gave Bollywood an unforgettable character in her dumb, deaf and blind girl Michelle McNally. Her portrayal of Michelle in Sanjay Leela Bhansali directorial Black often brought a smile on our faces and even left us with a lump in our throat. Touted to be one of Bollywood’s masterpieces, Black was inspired by the real-life story of American author Helen Keller.

The opening scene of the movie, where a visually impaired Rani feels the snow falling on her hands, seems surreal. And as she runs towards her teacher Debaraj Sahai (Amitabh Bachchan) an Alzheimer patient whom she finds after a lot of efforts and prayers, we can’t help but be in awe of Rani’s talent. If she is the one who leaves us with moist eyes when she breaks down on knowing about her sister’s jealousy with her, she is also the one who makes us dance in the small joys of life which comes to her from her teacher who has given a new meaning to darkness. Just like the interviewers, you too want to root for her as she defines ‘knowledge’ in her university interview.

Rani Mukerji herself agrees that Black is her breakthrough performance.

To select a particular scene and tag it as the best or a favourite from the movie is an injustice to both Rani and Amitabh’s flawless performances. Every single frame in which Rani appears on the screen, she talks and emotes through her silence. With her stupendous performance, Rani made it loud and clear, that she is a mature and a well aware actor who knows what she is delivering on the screen.

Rani not only manages to make her audience realise the unbearable arduousness of living with physical limitations but also presents the idea that Bollywood too can deal with ‘disabilities’ without arousing a stereotypical feeling of pity towards the disabled. Instead, she put across the idea that if the specially abled are guided by the right hands, they blossom to great heights. Amitabh Bachchan during the promotions of Black back in 2005 was effusive about his co-star’s work as he said, “Rani’s given a magnificent performance. She has outdone all that she has done before. I’m sure she will agree that this has been one of the most challenging roles in her career.” Rani reached the pinnacle of her acting career with this beautiful piece of art created by Bhansali. “If I had to make Black a hundred times, it would be with Rani each time,” director Sanjay Leela Bhansali had said about her.

A still from the movie Black starring Amitabh Bachchan and Rani Mukerji.

Not only Amitabh, Rani herself agrees that Black is her breakthrough performance. In a recent interview with Anupama Chopra, she said, “If somebody tells me to do Black again, I don’t think I will be able to do it. With my other films, I can have a 100 issues with how I could have done the scenes. But with Black, I don’t think I will redo any shot differently from what I did at that time. I don’t think I ever rehearsed for these scenes, they were all spontaneous, mostly one take-scenes. I think the maximum retakes I have given for Black was three.”

Also read | Rani Mukerji pens a heartfelt note on her birthday

Rani Mukerji got applauded for her iconic performance in Black.

The film was screened at the Casablanca Film Festival and the International Film Festival of India and won the National Award and Filmfare Award for the Best Film. Time Magazine (Europe) selected the film as one of the 10 Best Movies of the Year 2005 from around the globe. The film was also premiered in the Marché du Film section of the 2005 Cannes Film Festival.

Rani started her film career when she was 16 and has come a long way since then. The actor who turns 40 today has had an illustrious career with a wide range of movies to her credit. She has been careful about the characters she essayed on the screen for she is someone who believes in portraying only those characters which are relatable and she herself would like to watch.

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