Yash Raj Films’ “Hichki”
Produced by; Maneesh Sharma
Directed by: Siddharth P. Malhotra
Written by: Siddharth P. Malhotra, Anckur Chaudhry, Ambar Hadap, Ganesh Pandit & Raaj Mehta from a story by Brad Cohen and Lisa Wysocky
Music: Jasleen Royal
Starring: Rani Mukerji, Neeraj Kabi, Sachin Pilgaonkar, Supriya Pilgaonkar, Shiv Subramaniam, Hussain Dalal, Vikram Gokhale, Harsh Mayar, Asif Basra, Riya Shukla, Sparsh Khanchandani, Poorti Jai Agarwal, Shagufta Shaikh, Vikrant Soni, Jayesh Kardak, Benjamin Yangal, Kalaivanan Kannan, Swaraj Kumar, Siddhesh Pardhi, Rohit Suresh Saraf, Jannat Zubair Rahmani, Naisha Khanna, Vir Bhanushali, Teena Kumar, Kabeer Khan & others
It was a tough call: take a real-life story written as a novel, “The Front Of The Class” by Brad Cohen with Lisa Wysocky, adapt it to the Indian scenario, change the protagonist from male to female, and present messages that are needed, especially relevant to Indian society.
The scripting by a bevy of names thus does not become a too-many-cooks concoction but a flowing story in which every element is smoothly integrated – the protagonist teacher with a physical impediment – a tic named Tourette’s Syndrome that prevents her from getting a teacher’s job despite her academic distinctions, a missionary school that admits slum kids under the government’s “Right To Education Program” but treats them as muck that does not belong there, the underdog story of both the teacher and the poor kids, the broader message that challenged people need to be accepted even by family besides society, and the fact that there are no bad students, only bad teachers.
The biggest ace up this film’s sleeve is the crisp running time of 1.58, and the fact is that we cannot see even one extra frame to pull down the grip and tempo. Naina Mathur (Rani Mukerji), a woman driven by passion to teach, is finally appointed despite her handicap by St. Notker’s, an elite school that wins inter-school competitions. The principal (Shiv Subramaniam) admits that he needed someone to teach the slum kids, a bunch of mischievous aimless riff-raff who do everything from gambling to fistfights. Senior teacher Wadia (Neeraj Kabi) detests them.
These unruly kids at first lay bets on how long this new teacher will last but warm up to her later when she defends them. They then ask her how they can fare well if they are not even accepted in the school like the regular upper-class students. Naina, always an unconventional teacher, decides to motivate them and compel the school to accept them after they score high in the final examinations.
Nothing about the film is unpredictable, not even the culmination we expect from Naina’s troubled relationship with her father (Sachin Pilgaonkar). But the script makes everything flow smoothly, and we can overlook the ‘filmi’ touches like the final crisis, the pre-climax where Naina seems beaten, the overdone bit about Naina’s teaching methods even in the slums and the melodramatic reformation of the most delinquent children Aatish (Harsh Mayar) and Killam (Vikrant Soni).
We do have a problem, however, with the way Wadia takes the onus for something immoral (and even illegal) that his favorite student, Akshay (Rohit Suresh Saraf) and school servant (Asif Basra) collude on, because in the final analysis, it becomes illogical and something that could have been corrected or avoided.
We have a mild problem also with the fact that the songs, though placed and written well as per the situations, generally have tepid tunes (Jasleen Royal) that are sung and arranged without the necessary punch in almost all cases. However, the success of the film has led to some of them becoming popular.
Siddharth P. Malhotra’s direction shows a massive upswing from his 2010 disaster “We Are Family,” and he is the latest in a long list of directors who have shown their real métier only with their second films. Anckur Chaudhry’s lines are fabulous, and even a good script could have floundered with bad ‘dialogues’ as they are known in Hindi cinema. Technically, the film is above-average, and the editor (Shweta Venkat Matthew) and background music director (Hitesh Sonik) need special pats.
Hussain Dalal as Naina’s lovable and loving brother Vijay and Neeraj Kabi as Wadia stand out in the supporting cast. Sachin gets it right when the drama gets more demanding, and Shiv Subramaniam is alright most of the time.
If “Hichki” will also be remembered as an impressive showcase of histrionics, it is thanks to the rest of the cast. First, all the kids are stunningly in key, pitch-perfect natural, and full and more marks to the team that prepped them, as they all perform like seasoned veterans, or to put it more correctly, act straight out of real life. The crème-de-la-crème among them are Harsh “I Am Kalam” Mayar – a winner of the National and several other awards, Kalaivanan Kannan as Kalai, Vikrant Soni as Killam, Benjamin Yangal as Ashwin the rapper, Sparsh Khanchandani as Oru and Poorti Jai Agarwal as Tamanna.
However, “Hichki” is what it is primarily due to Rani Mukerji, whose name in the film should have been ‘Sunny’ Mathur! Her ever-sunny temperament, no matter what the odds, seems totally natural, bereft of any fakeness or effort. So do the spasms that rock her, increasingly in stressful situations. Mukerji is fantabulous in her prep for her vocal and physical spasm, for this could not have been easy while doing an otherwise free-flowing, and as we said, sunny performance. Few heroines could have achieved what she has in this role – a flawless turn.