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Teacher Teacher!

Friday, March 23, 2018

This week’s release, Siddharth Malhotra’s Hichki has Rani Mukerji playing Naina Mathur, a teacher with Tourette’s syndrome, a disorder marked by involuntary movements and vocal tics.

 A majority of school teachers in real life seem to be women, still there have been very few films in the past with a female teacher in the central role. In many films, the teacher is either an object of ridicule or the male students’ first crush.

Two relatively recent films released in 2016, 'Chalk and Duster', directed by Jayant Gilatar and 'Rough Book' by Ananth Narayan Mahadevan, had dedicated female teachers, through whose point of view, the director took a look at the problems with the educational system in India.

In 'Chalk And Duster', two teachers Vidya (Shabana Azmi) and Jyoti ((Juhi Chawla) work at a Mumbai school. They love their job and are well regarded by the students, till an evil new principal Kamini Gupta  (Divya Dutta) and greedy chairman (Arya Babbar) is appointed, who upset everything that the sincere teachers have striven for. Vidya suffers a heart attack when she is dismissed and Jyoti decides to take on the principal and the system that has turned education into a farce. The film made a case for quality education at a reasonable cost.

In 'Rough Book', after a break up with her husband, Santoshi (Tannishtha Chatterjee), an earnest physics teacher, takes up a new job at a school, where she is given charge of the ‘duffers.’ Her unconventional style of teaching endears her to the kids, but not to the authorities.

Almost every film about a good teacher and problem kids, owes a debt to the Hollywood film called 'To Sir With Love' (James Clavell, 1967), in which a black teacher (Sidney Poitier in a career-defining role) in an inner city school deals with the bunch of hooligans thrown at him.  It was copied into Hindi as 'Imtihaan' (Madan Sinha, 1974), with a bespectacled Vinod Khanna playing the teacher. It’s possible that some film-makers could have been inspired by the 1954 film 'Jagriti', directed by Satyen Bose, in which Abhi Bhattaharya played an idealistic teacher.

'Hichki', adapted from the Hollywood film 'Front of the Class' (2008), which in turn was based on Brad Cohen’s book 'Front of the Class: How Tourette Syndrome Made Me the Teacher I Never Had', seems to be more about the character played by Rani Mukerji overcoming her own neurological disorder to inspire the unruly kids she is assigned to teach.  It is the typical underdog overcoming obstacles story that works more often than not.  Still, the education system in the country could do with some more cinematic scrutiny.

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