In Siddharth Malhotra’s “Hichki”, Rani Mukerji plays a teacher with a tic and a classroom full of students who desperately need a good Samaritan to transform their lives.
Naina Mathur (Mukerji) thinks she is born to teach, but is hindered by her Tourette Syndrome, a neurological condition that causes involuntary vocal tics and sounds. Rejected by several schools because of her condition, Naina finally gets a job in her alma mater teaching a group of below-average students from the nearby slums.
Shunned by other teachers and ignored by the school management, these children are on the verge of rebellion, but Mukerji and Malhotra use every trope in the teacher-student movie rulebook to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Based on American author Brad Cohen’s book “Front of the Class”, where he details his struggles with Tourette Syndrome, the film starts off putting Naina and her condition at the front and centre of the story, but then lapses into yet another version of “Dead Poets Society”.
There are sanctimonious speeches, a rival teacher who does everything he can do sabotage Naina’s efforts, a superficial look at slums and its inhabitants, and some feel-good shots of children learning about physics by playing basketball.
What “Hichki” lacks - and makes no qualms about it - is a true understanding of what it means for kids from the wrong side of the track to actually excel in India’s education system. We get no sense of what it takes for children from the slums to make it to school every day, or overcome their deep disadvantage compared to the other students.
Even if you ignore the core issues in the screenplay, “Hichki” doesn’t even get the underdog winner story right. There is too much trite dialogue and stereotypical situations for the film to throw any surprises your way, and it feels like Malhotra isn’t even trying to do anything different.
He instead focuses on making Naina look like a woman with a magic wand, who, with empathy and kindness, can turn around the fortunes of a group of children. To her credit, Mukerji is sincere enough to actually pull it off. But it is the contrivances in the story that drag her down.