When the trailer of Siddharth P. Malhotra's Hichki was first released, besides the excitement of Rani Mukerji's comeback, the film's subject seemed to be an interesting one. I was a bit apprehensive that the portrayal of Tourette Syndrome in the film could easily become a caricature if not handled properly. After watching it, I can say that the film turned out to be much better than expected. Hichki is adapted from Brad Cohen and Lisa Wysocky's book Front of the Class: How Tourette Syndrome Made Me the Teacher I Never Had. The film is the story of Naina Mathur (Rani Mukerji), who suffers from Tourette Syndrome, a neurological disorder characterized by involuntary tics and vocalizations. Naina wants to be a teacher; however, no school is willing to give her a chance because of her condition. After five years, she finally gets an opportunity to teach at St. Notker's School, named after the poet and musician Notker the Stammerer. Naina is assigned class 9F (F for failure, as a subtitle tells us) which comprises students from the lower economic classes who have now become rebellious because of the school's apathy towards them. Naina reforms these students and becomes the guiding light in their lives.
Hichki opens with Naina sitting on a bench in a school where she is waiting to be called for an interview. She is playing with her necklace made up of a five-paise coin as she is nervous. There is a young kid playing with a paper airplane that lands near Naina. She picks it up and gives it back to him. In the first scene itself, the film portrayed the aspect of flying associated with Naina which will go on to become one of the lessons that she imparts to her students after she becomes a teacher. There are quite a few scenes in the film depicting the act of flying. For instance, when her father comes to her house, there are a bunch of birds on the walls that can be seen.
Nanhi cheenti jab daana lekar chalti hai,
chadhti deewaron par, sau bar phisalti hai.
Man ka vishwas ragon mein saahas bharta hai,
chadhkar girna, girkar chadhna na akharta hai.
Akhir uski mehnat bekar nahin hoti,
koshish karne walon ki haar nahin hoti.
The tiny ant carries a small grain in its mouth,
climbs up on the wall, slips and falls a hundred times,
the determination in the mind fills your body with courage,
then climbing up and falling down does not hurt,
Ultimately, the ant’s efforts do not go waste,
the one who tries never fails.
Naina's parents got separated because of her condition. Her father could not stand her tics. He was never able to accept her condition even though Naina came to terms with it. In a way, he abandoned her. In a similar situation, the film shows that the students of 9F were never accepted by the school, its teachers, and its students. They were never made to belong at St. Notker's. Thus, Naina could easily relate to the students as well. In the end, the students of 9F participate in the science project making Sea Link bridge as if the gulf separating the two sides has been bridged.
The film's major argument is between two schools of thought related to bad students. Naina believes that there are no bad students. There are only bad teachers. However, Naina's colleague Mr. Wadia believes that there are no bad students. There are only hopeless ones who cannot be taught anything and are beyond redemption. Unsurprisingly, Naina is proved right in this particular instance. The school topper from Mr. Wadia's class indulges in a case of false cheating because he thought his teacher will be happy. Mr. Wadia failed to inculcate the right values in his patron. Like Naina, he takes the blame for the act of his students. Perhaps, there are no bad students.
In Hichki, Naina also uses unconventional methods to teach her patrons. A lecture on the laws of motion in physics turns into one on the parabolas in mathematics along with a practical demonstration using eggs. She believes in the real world, life does not test us by subjects. In this aspect, Naina is like Vinny Sir (Vinay Pathak), the English teacher from the show Hip Hip Hurray. He used to take classes outside the classroom and inspired his students to think differently. For a moment, I was reminded of Gulzar's Parichay where Ravi (Jeetendra), a private tutor reforms a grandfather's five unruly kids.
Hichki is a reversal of sorts for Rani Mukerji. In Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Black, she played Michelle McNally who is blind and mute. Her teacher Debraj Sahai (Amitabh Bachchan) becomes the guiding light in her life. In one particular scene, when she is being interviewed for the admission to the university, she is asked, "What is knowledge?" She says, "Knowledge is everything. It is spirit, wisdom, courage, light, sound. Knowledge is my Bible, God. Knowledge is my teacher." She graduates after twelve years and wears the graduation robe only in front of her teacher. In Hichki, Rani Mukerji as Naina becomes that teacher. She is the pole star for her students that guides them in the right direction. Michelle and Naina overcome their disabilities with patience and persistence. They never give up. In the end, when the students came to visit Naina on the day of her retirement, I teared up. It was deeply poignant. I did not feel this while watching Secret Superstar or Nil Battey Sannata, but here, I was moved. I don't have many good memories of school, but I remembered one of my teachers who was not my favorite, but some of the things she told I follow till this day.
The students perform a play on Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.
Based on the book Front of the Class by Brad Cohen and Lisa Wysocky
Lectures in school
Sylvia Plath's quote on the poster
2. Priyanka Krishna on the many things Hichki ignores—Link
3. Livemint on the problems with the Right to Education—Link
4. Livemint on the choice between government or private schools—Link
Dialogue of the Day:
"There are no bad students. Only bad teachers."
"School ke bahar jab zindagi imtihaan leti hai, toh subject wise nahi leti."