"There are no bad students. Only bad teachers." This statement forms the core of Hichki, a film that talks about the principles of good teaching and a balanced education system. At the heart of the film is Rani Mukerji—in her most vivacious and striking form—as Naina Mathur, a school teacher with Tourette syndrome, and her tryst with a bunch of obstinate, puckish Class 9 students from the neighbourhood basti. They are admitted in an elite institution, but kept at a distance from the rest of the school—in a division specially marked for them, Class 9F.
The film delves into numerous topics with remarkable flair and finesse, aided by crisp editing and a taut screenplay. It also does a yeoman's job in spreading awareness of the relatively unknown condition of Tourette syndrome, a neuropsychiatric disorder that results in involuntary motor movements, vocalisation, or tics. Mukerji as Mathur becomes the subject of ridicule and mockery in her school as a young girl with Tourette, and is compelled to shift 12 schools. Yet she grows up to achieve excellent academic credentials—MSc and double B.Ed degrees. She is a talented artist, pursuing a part-time career as an animator. She wants to be a school teacher, which turns out to be a herculean task, and she faces several rejections before finally landing a teaching position in her alma mater. When the principal objects that her tics were interfering with her job, she snaps back, "Tourette mere speech mein hai, mere intellect mein nahin," (Tourette is in my speech, not in my intellect).
As the film progressed, I was reminded of a book I once read: To Sir, With Love, by E. R. Braithwaite. Like Hichki, the book is based upon one teacher's unfailing belief in the institution of learning and in a child's inherent capacity and ability to learn. As the film progresses, the spotlight shifts from Mathur's condition to her determination and persistence as a teacher who tries to convert brash and unmotivated pupils into competitive school students. The film, especially the second half, is all about her persistence to get them to appear for, and clear their final examinations, by using out-of-the-box teaching methods in the face of constant discouragement and demoralisation.
Rani Mukerji carries the film completely on her shoulders, even as the rest of the cast provides commendable support. Direction is flawless, and pertinent. For instance, the occasions when Naina's tics worsen are shown in a very realistic fashion—when she gets nervous in the presence of her father, in the face of fury, or even when she wells up with emotions. Hichki is a delight to watch. Go for it.
Cast: Rani Mukerji, Neeraj Kabi
Director: Siddharth P. Malhotra