Verdict - Am emotional drama with a strong message that needs telling. Rani and the cast of students put up a hichkiless show
Hichki is an emotional movie with the primary social message of inclusion. In these times when division seems to be the order of the day, such a thought is indeed very welcome. It also sees the return of Rani Mukherjee to the big screen and it is such a pleasure to see her again.
The movie is based on the movie Front of the Class based on the book by Brad Cohen, Front of the Class: How Tourette Syndrome Made Me the Teacher I Never Had. Rani plays Naina Mathur, a feisty young woman who has Tourette's syndrome. Tourette syndrome is a common neuropsychiatric disorder characterized by multiple motor tics and at least one vocal tic.In Naina's case, it manifests as loud barking or hiccupping noises. Naina accepts her condition as part of her life and is set upon becoming a teacher. Predictably she is rejected by all schools till one school agrees to take her on mid-term to teach a classroom of kids who have got into the elite school through the Right to Education Act. These kids are as much a misfit in the posh school as Naina was in her childhood and she makes it her mission to get them accepted into the mainstream of school life. Their acceptance by their peers and the teachers is important because it also means that she has finally been included in the world of normal people instead of being looked upon with derision and curiosity due to her condition. Will Naina succeed in winning over a bunch of defiant underprivileged kids and make them into winners? How you can turn the stream of judgemental thinking into one of acceptance is what the story explores.
The movie has a lot going on in its two hours. Naina's syndrome is quickly despatched off in the first half hour itself and the story rapidly moves into her struggles with the children. Coming from a hard life in the slums their fear of being shunned by their richer classmates turns them into defiant children, finding their bravado in being aggressive and unruly. There is also a villain in the form of the science teacher Mr Wadia who has his own biases about the "garbage from the slums' as he calls the slum children. He tries to block every attempt of Naina's to make the appropriately named class 9F kids into worthwhile students.
The relationship between Naina and the kids proceeds a bit too easily and in a very facile manner. Thier change of heart is too easy and not as subtle as it should have been. It seems like the story tries to find easy solutions to these problems in order to move the story forward. There are many movies where you have teachers dealing with a bunch of tough kids like To Sir with Love that come to mind where the change is far subtler and that is where I wish this movie could have done better.
There is a thread running through of the difficult relationship that Naina shares with her dad who is separated from the family. I don't think this thread served any purpose other than to distract us. Even here, the reconciliation between the daughter and father is too quick and too easy to be really palatable and just becomes a nod to the thread rather than have any deeper meaning or reward.
However, I think one can overlook these things for the larger picture. The movie highlights the fact that not all people are born equal, and some don't do as well not because they are any lesser as people but are just born in less fortunate circumstances. Given an equal opportunity, anyone can shine. The story highlights the fact that each individual has a right to a place under the spotlight and that it does this in a warm and sympathetic manner are huge plus points in its favour.
Rani puts up a wonderful show as Naina. She always has been a soft and sensitive actress with a will of steel and she does Naina full justice. It is a non-glamourous role and enacting a disability without turning it into a caricature is a tough ask. She portrays Naina has a determined person, fully acceptable of her disability and willing to play with the cards life has dealt her. The cast of students performs admirably. Without them, the movie would not have worked.
Hichki is a movie that deserves to be seen by a wide audience, especially kids. We all need to be 'hichki'less in our attitude towards people who are not like us. Well worth a watch.