Hichki movie cast: Rani Mukerji, Neeraj Kabi, Harsh Mayar, Ria Shukla
Hichki movie director: Siddharth Malhotra
Hichki movie rating: 3.5 stars
There have been several films before on the difference a teacher can make to the lives of underprivileged students given up as lost causes in schools. Almost always, as they capture the transformation of these students on screen, the films work.
Hichki does well in placing this story within a uniquely Indian context: of an old, establishment school being forced to take in children from the slums next door out of sheer need for space; of a well-meant law such as the Right to Education Act coming up against the stark, unsaid reality of class difference; of the meritocracy-determined hierarchical system that can be as rigid, in a society driven by competition; and of small aspirations that die within those walls every day.
Is the added layer, of the teacher (played by Mukerji) hindered by an encumbrance of own, needed? Perhaps not. But in how Hichki handles teacher Naina Mathur’s Tourette’s Syndrome — for the most part — it at least doesn’t take away from the film’s central premise. Director Malhotra also avoids other temptations, such as the usual romantic entanglements or songs, get in the way — so that despite Hichki being Mukerji’s ‘comeback vehicle’, it doesn’t feel or play like one.
For that matter, neither does Mukerji, who dresses down and ordinary, sometimes even more than her colleagues. That and her Scooty open many doors for her in the slums that her students inhabit. While Mukerji is good as always, the actors who play the students are also natural and without any artifice, with the film cleverly dodging stereotypes just when you suspect one around the corner. Ria Shukla, who was so good in Nil Battey Sannata, is one of those faces in that crowd.
Naina Mathur enters into their lives when, after 18 rejections of own from schools where she applies for a teacher job, she finds an opening in her former school. The schools are understandably sceptical of Mathur’s ability to handle students, given the nervous tics, including hiccups, that she breaks into because of Tourette’s. However, it is unlikely that any school in this day and age would handle her condition or application with the insensitivity the film displays.
But again, in a break, Mathur has a supportive mother and brother who stand behind her, and she handles the rejections with aplomb. Interestingly, the parents are separated, and it’s another running theme in the film, without drama or comment — in what may be another first for a mainstream Bollywood film.
In the school, Mathur is assigned ‘9F’, the class comprising students from the slums nearby, who find themselves at St Notker’s due to RTE and the school’s need for a playground. Needless to say, 9F does everything it can to drive her away, till Mathur turns matters around.
Along the way, by keeping its gaze focused on the children and overcoming the initial stumbles, Hichki earns itself an ‘A’.