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 Pilgaonkar), brother (Hussain Dalal) and a kind teacher (Vikram Gokhale in a one-scene cameo). When she grows up, Naina (Rani Mukerji) wants to be a teacher, and keep her hopes up even as 18 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 Mr 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 students 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 the audience. There’s one remarkably offbeat aspect 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.