If you are craving for a generous dose of idealism and emboldenment, then Rani Mukerji’s drama about teacher-student bonding will scratch that itch right away. It’s one of those inspirational films that careens dangerously between being strongly inspirational and insipidly utopian.
Mukerji plays the unconventional teacher Naina Mathur who lives with Tourette Syndrome, a nervous system disorder marked by involuntary motor tics and grunting sounds. She has made her peace with it, but it’s those around her who find it difficult to be inclusive and graceful about it.
The movie begins with her nerve-racking hunt for a teaching position. She’s rejected despited being armed with multiple degrees as the deciding authorities fear that her disorder will stand in the way of her teaching. The feisty Mathur doesn’t take it lying down as she gives them a crash course on Tourette Syndrome unflinchingly.
After five years of rigorous hunting, she finally lands a job at a Catholic school whose naming founder St Notker had a speech impediment. The coincidence felt contrived, but more on that later. She’s is hired to teach 9F, a classroom of underprivileged rebels-slash-failures in this posh school. The school and its snobbish teachers seem to have written them off as the children of slum dwellers who don’t deserve a chance. Mathur is on call to school these incorrigible teenagers.
It’s a delight to watch Mukerji play Mathur with a blend of consummate conviction, grace and gravitas. It’s easy to feel affectionate towards her aspirations and her unconventional methods of teaching. She’s the kind of teacher who imparts physics lessons by bribing her students with boiled eggs. It works, as you wish you had a teacher who had stepped out of the box like Mukerji’s character.
She also takes several blows for her students, who try their best to smoke her out of the school. From petty pranks to planning mini explosions in the class, the group of 14 have a crazy aptitude for bullying.
The first half is dominated by Mukerji winning the reluctant misfits — acted out nicely by young talents such as Harsh Vyas as the rebellious Atish — over with her grit. Since they are children from the slums, there are ghetto-style rap songs inserted to communicate their angst. It doesn’t bode too well with the film and seems contrived.
While the performances by Mukerji and her gang of students come out with flying colours on the acting front, the film isn’t high on novelty. The twists and conflicts are painfully predictable.
Actor Neeraj Kaabi plays the token snob who seems to be unnecessarily antagonistic towards the students of 9F. His tendency to vilify them seems unnecessary and Mathur is always trying to prove him wrong.
While the casting by Shanoo Sharma is spot on, the camaraderie and the bond that grows between the teacher and the students seems forced. Their kinship doesn’t feel organic, which is one of the biggest let downs of Hichki. However, the easy friendship between Mathur and her sibling is touchingly real.
While Hichki is intent on communicating life-affirming philosophies such as ‘there are no bad students, but just bad teachers’ and ‘conquer your fear and fly free’, there were moments in this drama which are laboriously didactic.
The climax, which includes cheating and a painful examination as one of its plot twists, is also unnecessarily dramatic.
But that’s a minor hiccup — or should I say Hichki — in an otherwise engaging feel-good drama. Be ready to be schooled by Mukerji who’s in top form.
Check it out!
Cast: Rani Mukerji, Neeraj Kaabi
Running time: 135 minutes
Stars: 3 out of 5