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A Few Hiccups

Saturday, March 24, 2018
By Deepa Gahlot

Siddharth P. Malhotra
Cast: Rani Mukerji, Neeraj Kabi, Shiv Subramaniam, Harsh Mayar and others
Rating: * * 1/2

Siddharth P Malhotra’s 'Hichki' gives Rani Mukerji a dream role in the adaptation of 'Front Of The Class', (based on Brad Cohen’s book about his struggles with Tourette’s Syndrome), and then stuffs it with every Bollywood cliché.

Naina Mathur suffers from the neurological condition that causes strange physical and vocal tics.  She was ridiculed as a kid, her father (Sachin Pilgaonkar) walked out because he could not deal with it. She is supported by her mother (Supriya Pilgaonar), brother (Hussain Dalal) and a kind teacher (Vikram Gokhale in a one-scene cameo). When she grows up, Naina (Mukerji) wants to be teacher, and keep her hopes up even as eighteen schools reject her, their question being how can a woman with a speech impediment teach?

She is finally given a job at her alma mater school St Notker’s, and assigned to a 9F, a class with 14 children from a slum. Apparently, the elite school is forced to admit them because of Right To Education (RTE) rules, but they are all dumped in one class that no teacher can survive. (Surely under RTE, there would be more classes!) The unruly kids take bets on how long Naina will stick around.  The principal (Shiv Subramaniam) is sympathetic, but another teacher Wadia (Neeraj Kabi) believes that the “municipality garbage” should not be in their school.

The kids have no hopes from an education, so do not care about studies; the teachers and fellow student look down on them. From Naina’s problems, the film becomes a much overdone underdog story.  When faced with a class that bullies and harasses her, Naina wears her self-righteous cloak and plays saint to Wadia’s sneering demon. She uses platitudes like “There are no bad students, only bad teachers,” and uses unconventional methods like open-air classes to get the rebellious kids to understand the value of education.

The promo of 'Hichki' is enough to give an indication of how the plot will proceed, and it runs exactly on the 'To Sir With Love' track.  The writers and director have a touching faith in a formal education system, as if passing high school with good marks is all it takes to break down the doors of class privilege.

Anyway, this is a mainstream film, and a vanity project for Rani Mukerji, so it is okay for the script to be superficial as long as the actress can give a wonderful performance, and she does.  If the film is worth watching, it’s because of her and the generic feel-goodishness that invariably pleases audiences. There’s one remarkably offbeat aspect of Hichki though, Naina does not lean on a man to help her, so there is no romantic track — she is the hero of her own story.

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