Director: Siddharth P Malhotra
There is nothing original, nothing surprising, nothing even remotely unpredictable in Hichki. This Rani Mukerji starrer about a teacher who employs unconventional methods to get through to her class of tough, rebellious kids is formula filmmaking to a T. Even the fact that the teacher in question has Tourette’s – a neurological disorder that causes her to break into loud, involuntary noises – works as a trigger to push the cliché that who better to recognize the potential in a bunch of misfits than someone who’s been misfit all her life.
Yet it’s a testament to the winning performance of its leading lady that the film doesn’t collapse under the weight of that predictability. Despite borrowing ideas from a slew of films including Dead Poets Society, Dangerous Minds, and Taare Zameen Par, director Siddharth P Malhotra somehow manages to give us characters that we care for, and a story that offers comfort in the familiar.
After being passed up for jobs routinely because school authorities are skeptical of her ability to handle students given her condition, Rani’s character, Naina Mathur, a trained and qualified professional, finally lands a job at a fancy school. But she’s assigned to a class comprising students from the nearby slums; a clutch of unwelcome, disinterested kids who earned their seats due to the Right to Education mandate, but who’d rather spend their time betting, smoking, picking fights, or playing pranks to drive their teacher away.
Naina has her work cut out for her. She’s got to win over the students, find an alternate way to teach them, plus she’s got to convince the school authorities – particularly an elitist colleague (Neeraj Kabi) – that the misfits from Class 9F don’t deserve to be written off without giving them a fair shot.
It’s a film overstuffed with good intentions and multiple messages. Some of these are communicated with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Like a scene in which Naina visits the slums where her students live, a revealing exercise which puts things into perspective for her. Other ideas, like the stigmas and the embarrassment attached to a condition like Tourette’s are conveyed, frequently without the crutch of dialogue, through the relationship between Naina and her father (Sachin Pilgaonkar).
You could argue that conflicts are resolved a tad conveniently, and that everything ties up too neatly in the end. It makes for rousing montages and a bunch of lump-in-your-throat moments. But make no mistake this is broad-brushstrokes filmmaking. Surprisingly, it works. And much of it is because Rani Mukerji is in solid form, cutting a convincing portrait of an empathetic young woman who knows what it’s like to be unfairly given up on. She never turns Naina into a victim, while portraying her condition with great sensitivity. Watching her bring the character to life is one of the film’s great joys.
Hichki is inconsistent but well-intentioned. More than once I found myself tearing up during the film. That kind of manipulation, I’m willing to live with. I’m going with three out of five.