DUBAI: Hichki is based on Front of the Class, the tale of an American man who becomes a teacher despite having Tourette’s syndrome. It follows the story of an Indian woman named Naina Mathur – played by Rani Mukherji – and is a beautiful film shaped around the same premise as Front of the Class but rebranded with South Asian twists, turns and turmoil.
Naina is a young woman who has Tourette’s syndrome, a neurological disorder where an individual is prone to involuntary vocal and bodily movements, known as tics. These can manifest themselves in many ways, from blinking or shrugging or to grunting sounds.
The film delves into the painful and embarrassing experiences of Naina through childhood, as she struggles with the disorder. We see in flashbacks how she faced humiliation at school and at home and how her parents split because of her condition. Naina strongly resents her father, who insists that she become “normal.” Fortunately, her mother and brother are pillars of support.
Naina finds purpose in teaching and lands a job at St. Notker’s (a school whose name is based on a stammering saint) wherein she’s made responsible for a bunch of students who have been come to the prestigious school through a government initiative called Right to Education. These underprivileged students make up class “9F” and are rebellious and disinterested in academics.
But Naina is determined to change that. And to do so, she starts teaching them with practical examples and treating them with kindness – something that becomes a key ingredient in making her relationship with the students work.
Written by Ankur Chaudhary and Siddharth P Malhotra, Hichki marks Rani’s big return to cinema after 2014’s Mardani. Of course, the actor returns with a due bang. Her powerful performance as a passionate, intelligent and kind teacher who becomes somewhat of a revolutionary is truly heartening.
Rani holds the film even when it fails to retain your interest and her masterful performance makes a lot of unlikely and overly emotional situations believable. She is spectacular in showing conviction in the face of opposition and her charismatic and confident portrayal of Naina makes you believe in her and her mission to save her students.
Hichki tackles many different subjects gracefully, such as education, elitism and parental pressure. It addresses the flaws in an education system that fails to be inclusive and it is rare for teachers to actually find it within themselves to try and break the mould and strive for something better for their students.
With a strongly-worded script, equal parts melodrama and equal parts realism, Hichki is full of heart and soul. It does tend to become preachy at certain points and perhaps there is a little too much drama at too many points through the film. But it affords an honest look at the lives of thousands of underprivileged children and their families, who survive in the slums of teeming metropolises. The earnest voices of the students make sure Hichki is not as self-indulgent as it could have been.
In this way, Hichki successfully takes on what can be called the Aamir Khan mantra for films: As long as there is a good story that has been told well, it doesn’t have to be a typical Bollywood “masala” film. It is a must-watch for Rani fans but most importantly, for parents, teachers and even students. Naina’s story has paved the way for more such stories that Indian cinema can tell without resorting to the item numbers, sexist jokes and other insipid tropes it has long used to make its mark in the world.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Verdict: Hichki successfully takes on what can be called the Aamir Khan mantra: As long as there is a good story that has been told well, the film doesn’t have to be a typical Bollywood “masala” film.
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