Sunday, July 15, 2018

Trivia Post

Hindi movies with a month in their title:
23rd March 1931: Shaheed (2002)
April Fool (1964)
26th July At Barista (2008)
15th August (1993)
October (2018)
2 October (2003)
31st October (2016)
The Attacks of 26/11 (2013)
16th December (2002)

The same game is played in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara.
Amole Gupte was the commentator in Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar. 
Pooja Bhatt has played the character of Pooja many times. 

 Opening credits of One 2 Ka Four.
Arjun reads Great Love Stories of the World by Robert Lynd in Pardes.
Naughty appearance in Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety. 
Dialogue of the Day:
"Sabse zyada pasand mujhe yeh doori hai, kyun ki agar ye doori na ho toh tumhare kareeb aane ka bahana na mile."
—Amar, Dil Se

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Gifts in Hindi Films

In Tohfa, there is a popular song with the lyrics, "Tohafa tohafa tohafa tohafa. Laaya laaya laaya laaya. Mere mere mere mere. Dil pe chhaaya chhaaya." Tohafa is a gift given to someone. In the world of movies, people often give gifts to other people. Everyone, including friends, family, and lovers, have given some memorable gifts in the movies. I thought to collect some of those gifts in this post.

In Omkara, inspired by Shakespeare's Othello, Omi gifts a jeweled cummerbund, an heirloom, to Dolly, who carelessly drops it. The cummerbund is stolen by Indu who gives it to Langda. It eventually reaches Kesu who gifts it to Billo Chamanbahar. The cummerbund plays an important part in the story as it becomes an evidence of Dolly's fidelity. In Haider, adapted from Shakespeare's Hamlet, Arshia knits a red muffler which she gifts to her father. After her father is shot dead by Haider, Arshia is seen unknitting the muffler. A few moments later, she is lying on her bed, with the muffler completely unknit, and the strands of the red wool on her face signifying blood and death. 

In Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu, Rahul gets a new best friend in Rianna when she gives him a second-hand film camera as a new year present. It is the best gift he has ever received as he had wanted to be a photographer. On the back of the camera, the words 'Don't Worry, Be Happy' are written, which form the essence of the advice that Rianna gives Rahul where she tells him that he should loosen up and start enjoying life. In Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, Alizeh brings a cactus plant as a tohfa for Ayan. She says that flowers are overrated but goes on to praise the thorns. "Maarte hai, marte nahi, aur unhe murjhaane ka khauff nahi hota." Thorns do not need to be afraid of wilting. Alizeh does not want to be a flower of a bouquet but prefers to be a thorn. When Ayan becomes a musical sensation, he is seen around a bunch of cacti. He collects those thorns, and keeps them with him as a remembrance of the pain that his unrequited love gives him.

In Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Simran had purchased a cowbell on her Europe trip. Raj comes to India to break Simran's wedding and brings along the cowbell that Simran left back at her home. When he meets Simran's sister Chutki for the first time, he gifts her a small replica of the same cowbell calling it a little gift for a little bride. In Queen, a naïve Rani shops for gifts for her family in a sex store called Kink Kong in Amsterdam. She gets a dildo for her grandfather as she thinks it is an electric massager and will help in curing her grandfather's joint pains. In Aligarh, Professor Siras gifts a book of his poetry that he translated into English to Deepu. In Yes Boss, Rahul is the go-to person for any situation for his boss Siddharth. Rahul reminds him that it is his boss' marriage anniversary and he has already purchased a gift for his wife, but would need money to transport the gift. Rahul brings a big white piano as an anniversary gift to Sheela, his boss' wife. 
The beginning of relationships is often accompanied by an exchange of gifts. In Hum Aapke Hain Koun..!, Pooja sends a gift to Prem through Nisha. It is a brooch that Nisha puts on Prem's jacket. Later, Prem brings flowers and chocolates for Nisha when he comes to pick her up at her place. In another instance, at the beginning of a new friendship, Prem gives a cap to Suman in Maine Pyar Kiya. The cap has Friend written on it and has become an icon of some kind. The same friendship blossoms into love at a later point, as someone said in that film that a girl and a boy cannot be just friends. In Om Shanti Om, Shanti gifts Om a souvenir of a man and a woman dancing in a glass ball after he saves her from the fire.

Sometimes, certain food items are also given as gifts. In Fan, Gaurav takes sohan halwa from Ghantewala in Chandni Chowk as a gift for his idol Aryan. His mother had given it to him when he was planning to go to Mumbai. However, Gaurav is unable to give his gift in the melee outside Aryan's house. Likewise, in Bombay Talkies, Vijay offers a jar of murabba to the superstar Amitabh Bachchan at his house. After much struggle, he finally gets to meet the man who eats half of a murabba. In Pardes, Ganga brings some hot parathes for Arjun on his birthday.

A gift can also be a part of some tradition. In Bajirao Mastani, Bajirao gives his kataar to Mastani. The gift of a dagger was considered akin to marriage in Bundelkhand. Mastani accepts the gift and goes to Bajirao's palace asking for her rightful place as his wife. Bajirao's first wife Kashibai had jokingly called his dagger as her sauten

There have been some instances where people have given expensive gifts, such as vehicles and houses. Harpreet Singh Bedi in Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year gets a scooter as a gift from his grandfather who spent all his savings for the same. In Baar Baar Dekho, Jai hides his gift of a book when he sees that Divya has got a car as a gift from her father. In Mere Dad Ki Maruti, Tej Khullar buys a new Maruti car as a wedding gift for his daughter son-in-law. However, a few days before the wedding, his son Sameer loses the car when he takes it out for a drive. In Biwi No. 1, Prem gifts Rupali a new house where he can meet her easily. 

In Secret Superstar, Najma sells her jewelry to buy the gift of a laptop for her daughter Insia. The laptop becomes a powerful medium for Insia to fulfill her dreams. She uses the internet to upload her videos and becomes a singing sensation across the world. In Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, every year on her birthday, Anjali gets many gifts but the most precious present that she awaits is the letter from her late mother. Tina leaves behind those letters as a way to communicate her story with her daughter. In Hum Hai Rahi Pyar Ke, Rahul brings gifts for all his sister's children and Vyjyanthi. The kids are not happy with the presents as they wanted something else for them. However, it is Vyjyanthi who makes them realize the importance of gifts and that one should not hurt the feelings of the giver even if you do not like the gift. 
Lovers are the ones who give the most number of gifts in the movies. In Neerja, Jaideep gives a letter to Neerja and asks her to read that letter on her birthday. Along with the letter, he had given her a chocolate cookie. Perhaps, Neerja had some premonition that her life is going to end, which is why she reads Jaideep's letter before her birthday. She was proposed for marriage, and the sweetness of the chocolate brings her a momentary comfort from the events happening around her. In Tanu Weds Manu, during her wedding celebrations, Tanu asks Manu as to what gift he is giving her. Manu has brought something special which he kept in Tanu's room. Tanu goes to her room and finds that Manu has given her a beautiful collage of her pictures. She is immensely touched by looking at the gift. In Rehnaa Hai Terre Dil Mein, Maddy gives Reena a small statue of a girl which he thinks is like her. 

In Kahaani, Rana, who has a crush on Vidya Bagchi, gifts her a white saree with a red border on the occasion of Durga Puja. In English Vinglish, Satish brings a red saree for Shashi which she wears at her niece's wedding. In Taal, Manav gifts Mansi a necklace which he purchased from a shop near the temple. When Mansi meets him in Delhi, she breaks the necklace that he gave her. In Rock On!!, Sakshi is purchasing an expensive watch as a gift for her husband Aditya where she runs into his former music-band partner KD at a store. It is from him she learns about Aditya's past. In Devdas, Dev gifts Paro a gold bangle that his grandmother kept for Dev's future wife. When Paro meets Chandramukhi, she gives the same bangle to her, because as Dev's other worshipper, she should have also the right to wear it.
In Raincoat, based on O Henry's The Gift of the Magi, gifts play an important part in the plot. Mannu and Niru grew up in the same neighborhood and were lovers once. Due to Mannu's poor financial condition, Niru marries another guy. Six years later, Mannu and Niru are struggling to make ends meet. Mannu goes to visit Niru; they reminisce about the past and make up false stories about their perfect life. In the end, like it happens in The Gift of the Magi, they leave a gift for each other without letting the other person know. Mannu pays Niru's rent, and Niru gives her gold bangles to Mannu. 

Pooja's Tai gifts her a Ganesh idol in Dil Toh Pagal Hai. Tai tells her that whenever she is stuck in a difficult situation in life, the idol will guide her to make the right decision for herself. It will give her the power to fulfill her dreams. In Lamhe, Viren gave gifts to Pooja on her birthday. She never opens the gifts. When she grows up, she asks Viren to give all those gifts to her from his own hands. Later, Pooja also buys another gift for Viren where she chooses a colorful sweater for him which is not per his choice, yet he wears it. Pooja's mother Pallavi had also gifted him a traditional royal dress. In Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, the always-so-wonderful Bunny's father gifts Bunny a trekking bag before his Manali trip. He is worried about Bunny going on a trip, but at the same time, he wants Bunny to live life on his own terms. In Black, when Michelle asks Debraj for a gift after she gets an admission to the university, he hands her a stick to tell her that it is the time for her to be independent.

In Masaan, Piyush gifts Devi a tiny box. After the incident with the police, Piyush kills himself. Devi keeps the box unopened till the very end when she submerges it in the river Ganga. We never get to know what is inside the box, but it reminds us that whatever be the gift, it is the feeling behind it that matters more.

Other Reading:
1. Diaries in Hindi Cinema—Link
2. O Henry in Hindi Cinema—Link
3. Movies in Movies—Link
4. Books in Movies—Link

Dialogue of the Day:
"Phoolon se zyada overrated cheez koi dekhi hai. Pehle rang se impress karte hain, phir khushboo se; phir rang dhal jaata hai, khushboo udd jati hai, aur kya reh jaata hai."
—Alizeh, Ae Dil Hai Mushil

Sunday, July 1, 2018

October—Fragrance of Jasmine

Shoojit Sircar's October is a beautiful story of love. The film is set in the two ends of the hospitality industry—a hotel and a hospital. Dan (Varun Dhawan) and Shiuli (Banita Sandhu) are training as interns at a hotel in Delhi. One night, Shiuli falls from the hotel and enters into a state of coma. After visiting Shiuli at the hospital, Dan is immensely affected by her condition and starts taking care of her at the expense of his personal life. In the process, he develops a special bond with Shiuli's mother Vidya (Gitanjali Rao). Taking care of Shiuli gives a purpose to Dan's life, and brings a change in him. 
October shows us the fragility, the unpredictability, and the inevitability of life. One moment someone is enjoying a party, and the very next moment, one can slip to death. A group of people can be dancing merrily in a wedding procession, while someone would be struggling to buy medicines for a loved one who is fighting death. As we see in the film, Dan purchases medicines for Shiuli from a chemist when people around him are dancing in a wedding procession. Shiuli survived the trauma of the fall and recovered slightly but death came to her suddenly through a seizure after she went home. As Bhaskor Banerjee said in Piku, death and shit come unannounced. During all this period, Shiuli's mother continues to teach at her college. Shiuli's siblings bring their books to the hospital. After Shiuli's death, her brother asks his mother if he should go for his tuition class. She replies that he should. Life does not stop for anyone. It goes on and we all have to move with it.
In October, flowers are a repeating motif. Splendidly shot by Abhik Mukhopadhyay, flowers can be seen all through the film, both in artificial and in natural surroundings. These flowers have a special significance in the film, especially, in the case of Shiuli. She is named after the shiuli flower, which is also known by parijat, harsingar, raat ki rani, and the night jasmine. These flowers bloom in the month of October. They have a short life, and fall from the trees during the night time. Shiuli used to collect these flowers and keep them with her. Like the shiuli flower, Shiuli falls from a building and has a short life. Before her death, Shiuli starts recovering only after Dan keeps these flowers in her room. The fragrance of these flowers had some kind of a medicinal effect on her.
In an earlier scene in the film, Dan had seen shiuli flowers scattered all over the floor at the hotel. He does not care much about them. Shiuli chides him that he could have picked them up even if he did not throw them on the floor. By the end of the film, Dan undergoes a profound change and grows up. When he visits Shiuli's house, he picks up not just the flowers, but rather takes the entire tree of shiuli with him. He takes the same flowers for which he did not care anything about earlier. With these, he is also taking Shiuli's memories with her that he will nurture for his life. This is a touch that is reminiscent of Vikramaditya Motwane's Lootera where Varun paints the last leaf of a tree to prove his immense love for Pakhi and by doing so, he gives Pakhi a hope to live. 
At some point in the film, the nurse asks Dan about his relationship with Shiuli. He replies that he is neither her relative nor her boyfriend. Before Shiuli went into a coma, Dan and Shiuli were not the best of friends. There was no special affinity between the two except for the fact that they were in the same training program. After Shiuli's accident, Dan becomes completely devoted to Shiuli's care even if there was no relationship between them. He is so much into Shiuli's care that he starts losing things in his own life. He loses his relationships. He loses his parents. He loses his job. Yet, he goes on taking care of her selflessly. I kept thinking if his selfless devotion to Shiuli was the reason that he was named Dan. His full name, Danish Walia, is heard only once or twice in the entire film. Everyone calls him with the shorter anglicised version 'Dan', but it is actually दान in Devanagari script. दान means a gift given to someone without the expectation of getting back anything in return. Dan gave up everything for Shiuli. It was his selfless and unconditional love that he gave to another human being. The film names Shiuli after the flowers, and Shiuli's mother Vidya after education as she is a teacher. As names and titles in the film are given after some thought, perhaps, Dan is named after his selflessness (दान). 
In an interview, writer Mohsin Hamid has said, "Empathy is about finding echoes of another person in yourself." Empathy is about understanding someone else's emotions. It is not the same as pity. October shows a change in Dan by developing an empathy in him. After Shiuli's accident, Dan sees a man cleaning the windows of a skyscraper while being suspended from a rope. Probably, Dan was wondering at the height from which the man was working. We all might have seen a person like this, but how often do we stop to think about these people. In another instance, when Dan is in the hospital, he tells everyone sitting there to put their feet up so that the cleaning person can sweep the floor. As a worker who also had to clean floors, Dan empathizes with this person. Early in the film, Dan was put in the laundry department. He did not like working there and was constantly complaining to the workers. Immediately after this scene, he comes home and the cleaning lady is washing his jeans. Dan is irritated when she calls his pants as a panty. Slowly and slowly, while taking care of Shiuli, Dan becomes empathetic. When Shiuli comes home after being discharged, Dan helps build a wooden ramp at her house, which prompts Shiuli's sister to remark that they did not think of it. Dan could understand the problems that they might face by being in others' shoes. He even becomes empathetic to kids and starts talking to them.
In addition to the blossoming of the shiuli flowers, October is the month of change of seasons in Delhi. The movie's title can also be read as a symbol of the external and the internal change in Dan. He joined as a trainee in a hotel management program. He was made to do different things, such as housekeeping, washing, fly swatting, and bartending. He did not enjoy many of these tasks and had plans to start up his own business. By the end of the film, Dan finds his calling and becomes a sous chef at the hotel. This external journey of Dan is complemented by his inner transformation. The last words that Shiuli spoke before she fell were, "Where is Dan?" These words have a profound impact on Dan and he is immensely affected by them. He believes that the last words of a person are important, and convinces himself that Shiuli felt something for him. These words gave him a purpose and he started caring for Shiuli, which brought about a change in him. He remained irritated earlier, but later, he becomes empathetic and mellow. Earlier, he could not understand the various machines in the hospital. He did not know anything about ammonia and chlorine. Later, he grows up and could easily read even the bad handwriting of a doctor on a prescription of blood pressure. He understands that when the urine output is high, it means that the brain and the kidney are not affected. Like a kid, he was walking over the hotel's towels to express his anger. Once, while cleaning, he finds a young child in a room. He could well be that lost boy in the room. Later, Dan grows up from that rebellious kid to a compliant man. When Shiuli's mother asks him to leave, he goes away without any questions. All through the film, we see him sleeping in different places. He was going through this inner turmoil. Shiuli has a calming impact on him. By the end of the film, he seems to be a completely different person. Dan has matured and grown up.
Dan is not a very likable person initially. However, as the film progressed, I started to like Dan. The scene where he talks to the nurse about his wedding and asks her to bring a gift is lovely. Varun Dhawan as Dan is wonderful. Some of Dan's transgressions made me frown. For instance, he brings a lady to the hospital and makes her thread Shiuli's eyebrows. Without taking anybody's consent, he does that to Shiuli. He does not really understand the concept of personal space. Earlier also, it was seen in the film when he asks Ishani to scratch his back. He tells her to scratch at different positions, which made her feel uncomfortable. He also fought with a guest who had brought a woman along with him and passive aggressively tells him that last time, he came with a different woman, insinuating that he is a man of a questionable character. In another such instance, he tells the hospital clerk that he knows about his shenanigans with the nurses. But, somehow, this nosiness became a pillar of support to Shiuli's mother. Shiuli's uncle wanted to pull the plug, but it was Dan who commented that Shiuli would not like to die. It was as if his words gave support to Shiuli's mother. He becomes a part of their family.
October is the third collaboration between Shoojit Sircar and Juhi Chaturvedi after Vicky Donor and Piku. The film incorporates the personal experiences of the two of them as their respective mothers were also in a state of coma at some point in their lives. In all three films, there are certain common elements. The three films are predominantly set in Delhi. Films are shot on real locations, such as Lajpat Nagar, Chittaranjan Park, and Dwarka. There are single parents in all the three films. Vicky was raised by his mother and his grandmother. Piku was raised by Bhaskor. Shiuli and her siblings are raised by her mother Vidya as their father died ten years ago. In addition, the films deal with bodily fluids. In Vicky Donor, it was semen. In Piku, it was shit. In October, it is urine. When Shiuli is in hospital, Dan checks the urine bag attached to her body. 
There is one more thing common in all the three films and that is food. There are two aspects to it. First and more prominent is the way food is presented in the film. There are close-up shots of food in all the three films that are just lovely. In October, there are shots of exquisite dishes being prepared in the hotel. Later, Dan prepares pasta and salmon which are presented beautifully. In Piku, too, there were was a special focus on the absolutely delicious shots of any food item in the film. This was seen when Piku and Bhaskor were having their dinners. Later, when they stop at a dhaba during their trip, there were shots of paranthas. And, in Calcutta, Bhaskor goes on a day trip where we again see some lovely close-up shots of jalebis and puris. In Vicky Donor, the same thing is shown when Ashima is preparing fish. The camera shows fish being fried. Or in another instance, Vicky is eating chhole bhature and the camera pans to the puffy bhature. The second and less prominent aspect related to food in the films of Shoojit Sircar and Juhi Chaturvedi is that the characters are often seen eating something. There are literally so many scenes where the characters are seen eating something. After a point, I lost track. This is present in all their three films. In October, people are seen eating items, such as khichdi, pizza, and kababs. In Piku, as well, there are many shots of Piku eating something. Rana and Piku talk about life while having kathi rolls. Bhaskor used to hide salt. In both October and Piku, there is mention of khichdi. Dan and Manjeet are eating khichdi. Bhaskor and Piku are also seen eating khichdi. In Vicky Donor, Dr. Baldev Chaddha is always found near a chaat stall. Ashima's father used to do a fish test for prospective grooms for her. Ashima and Vicky used to call each other Butter Chicken and Fish Fry. It seems Shoojit and Juhi love food. They can clarify more on the meaning of these shots. Maybe something related to slice of life
Food Pictures
People eating in October, Piku, and Vicky Donor
Khichdi in Piku and October
In addition to the above elements, October has themes similar to that of Piku. There is a talk of death and ventilators in the two films; however, the tone of Piku is less melancholic than October. There is a point in Piku where Piku tells Rana that she cannot leave her father. She has become like a mother to him. She will take care of him always. In October, Shiuli's mother takes care of Shiuli. It is about never giving up on your loved ones. Additionally, in Piku, there are many scenes where Piku is cleaning the house. At one point, she unclogs the kitchen sink. The underlying theme in the movie was that something was stuck. Constipation in Piku was another representation of something that remained stuck and the body needed to be cleaned. In October, too, there are many scenes related to cleaning. Dan is cleaning the toilet. He is doing laundry. He is sweeping the floors. Dan asks others to raise their feet when he sees a person sweeping the floors in the hospital. When Dan is about to enter the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) to meet Shiuli, he is asked to take off his shoes and cleanse his hands. It is the most basic procedure to be followed but it reminded me of the way, people wash their hands and feet before entering any place of worship. It is as if his soul is being cleaned and a direction is given to his life. At some point, Dan's friend had remarked that his entire training will go into cleaning. It is said that cleanliness is next to godliness (as a poster in Dan's hotel also says). There is a devotional aspect to this cleansing of Dan. In another similarity between the two films, we see that in Piku, during the last scene, Rana is playing badminton with Piku at her place but he is not inside the gate like they are not in a relationship yet, but sometime in the future, he could well be inside. The state of their relationship is left open to interpretation. In October, too, when Shiuli's mother is leaving for Trichy, she calls Dan at her house. When Dan comes, they talk while sitting at the doorstep. They do not sit inside. Dan's state of mind and his relationship with Shiuli is again left open at the end.
Apart from Dan, there is something poignant about the other characters in the film. Shiuli's mother Vidya has such a strength of character. She never gives up. Gitanjali Rao is brilliant in the film. The scene between the mothers of Shiuli and Dan is heartbreaking. They are talking about losing their children. "Hamari zindagi sochte sochte nikal jati hai kahin unhe kho toh nahi denge." One mother has lost her child to a tragedy, and in some ways, another mother has also lost her child to a tragedy. When Dan's mother sees the interaction between Dan and Vidya, she realizes she has lost Dan. Also, Dan's manager Asthana (played by Prateek Kapoor, who has the most memorable unibrow after Padmaavat's Padmavati) is another of my favorite character in the film. Initially, he seems like a typical inhumane boss. But, then, even he warms up to Dan. He defends Dan in front of his own boss. When Asthana's manager scolds Dan that he attended only fifty-five days in six months, Asthana chimes in and says that it is fifty-eight days, as if adding three more days is going to change anything. Asthana recommends Dan to the resort in Kullu where is hired without an interview. Like all of us, Asthana develops a kindness towards Dan.
The film shows all the clinical procedures in the hospital with precision. Characters talk about being practical. Shiuli's uncle tells everyone to be practical. Ishani also tells Dan that in life we have to be practical. At the same time, there is an underlying emotional core to the film that cannot be fully explained by science. Shiuli starts getting better only after she smells the fragrance of the shiuli flowers. In another non-scientific scene, before Shiuli dies, Dan sees her spirit at his place as if she came to say one last goodbye to him. Dr. Bose enlightens Dan by telling him that the all the scientific terms are essentially talking about the human soul and a soul does not go into a coma. The soul is always conscious. Dan's friends tell him that Shiuli has a low chance of survival. Dan asks his friends if they do something only when it is a sure 'chance'. In the book When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi writes, "Science may provide the most useful way to organize empirical, reproducible data, but its power to do so is predicated on its inability to grasp the most central aspects of human life: hope, fear, love, hate, beauty, envy, honor, weakness, striving, suffering, virtue." I think that sums up October as well. When science gives no answers, hope, love, and striving can get us through even the most difficult of times.
Poster in Dan's room
Cleanliness is next to godliness
The film opens with the name of the actors in an alphabetical order. Varun Dhawan's name comes last, unlike other films where the name of the biggest star appears first.
Shoojit's unreleased film Shoebite was also about a comatose man.
Vidya teaches engineering drawing. (#IHateED)
In another cosmic coincidence, when Dan goes to the terrace to understand how Shiuli fell, a mynah is sitting on the rooftop at the same time. Somehow, the makers were able to shoot the scene at that very time.
Another mynah scene
Books In Movies:
The Eagle Has Landed by Jack Higgins
Other Reading:
1. Rahul Desai's excellent review of OctoberLink
2. The post on PikuLink
3. The post on LooteraLink
4. Second post on LooteraLink

Dialogue of the day:
"Tum log har kaam chance ho tohi karte ho kya."
—Dan, October

"Woh thori coma me jata hai. The soul is always conscious."
—Dr. Ghosh, October

P.S.— I wrote this very badly :(

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Hichki—No Bad Students

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.
At another stage, Naina calls her students and tells them they love to blame their circumstances in life. She asks them to write about the things they do not like about themselves on the last page of their notebook. Then, she tells them, "Jab tak yeh page kitaab me hai, tumhari zindagi ki kitaab, yahi pe khulegi aur yeh peh ruk jayegi. Lekin agar tum use apna bana loge, toh wohi sach tumhare pankh ban jayenge. " The story of your life is stuck on this page, full of your fears. But if you accept this fear, this truth will become the wind beneath your wings. Then, all of them make planes of that page and fly that away. Naina has given them wings to fly. The song Khol De Par is again about flying. Phoonk marke, dhool jhaar le, chhor-chhaar ke saare chhappar, khol de par. Blow the dust away, leave all the thatched roofs, and open your wings. Later, we see that even the logo of the National Science Fair comprises paper airplanes. 
The film treats Naina's Tourette Syndrome as just one aspect of her personality. It is not about that syndrome. The film is about accepting the things that one is 'lacking'. In an early moment, Naina calls her Tourette's a separate entity in her. At a later moment, she tells her students that even they have Tourette's as they were blaming the school for not giving them prefectship. In the end, Naina says that the students became friends with their own Tourette's. For her, Tourette's is a different way of thinking and accepting that thinking. Instead of blaming life for their circumstances, they should work towards moving past them. It is a metaphor for learning to accept one's flaws.
Early in the film, a young Naina is in her class. She is having phonetic tics which makes other students laugh. The class teacher admonishes Naina and asks her to stop making these noises. The same teacher is narrating Koshish Karne Walon Ki Haar Nahi Hoti, a poem written by Harivansh Rai Bachchan, to his students. The poem uses the example of an ant climbing up a wall to argue that, in spite of repeatedly falling, an ant never gives up. It says that the one who tries never fails. It is about perseverance and persistence, which also mirror the driving force in Naina's life in Hichki. She had applied to eighteen schools for a job and was rejected by all of them. St. Notker's school also rejected her application five times. When she was a kid, twelve schools rejected her, and it was St. Notker's that accepted her. Her thirteenth school, a number considered unlucky by many, became lucky for her. For five years, she worked as a part-time animator because she was looking for a job as a teacher. With her condition, many people, including her estranged father, advised her to look for a different kind of a job. But Naina, like the ant in the poem, kept trying. Her dream of becoming a teacher came true only because she never gave up. At one point, she tells a group of teachers that if she can make them teach something new about her condition, then, she can surely manage to teach the students. The passage that the class teacher is this one:-
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. 
The actors playing the students in Class 9F are wonderful. Ashwin, the rapper, was the coolest. Aatish kept smelling hand sanitizers as he was addicted to its smell. The film does not mention this explicitly but it is a growing problem where teens are increasingly getting addicted to the smell of substances, such as whiteners. The bunch of students in 9A is portrayed as elitist. I am not sure if it appropriate but it is worth observing that how something like the dressing sense, such as wearing a watch and a tucked-in shirt, can bring out the differences between the students in 9A and 9F. Also, as in Secret Superstar, there was a romance brewing between Insia and Chintan who belonged to different religions, here in Hichki, a love story riddled with conflicts is in the offing as two students, belonging to different classes, start romancing each other. I also really liked the relationship between Naina and her brother Vinay (played by Hussain Dalal, who has also written dialogues for Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani and 2 States). He is very supportive of Naina. 
Hichki is not without flaws. The issue with the film is that it does not delve deeper into the problems of the children. In addition, two particular segments did not work for me. First, when Naina tells her students that each of them is special in their own way. A student with an ability to do quick mental calculations might be one. However, someone knowing that putting salt in bhindi after it is cooked is not really a clue that they should pursue chemistry. The film's thinking is naïve here. Second, the purpose of Naina's visit to the families of the students is not clear. She had always been sympathetic to her students. Rather she should have taken Mr. Wadia to visit these families. Naina is shown to be surprised when the families start jostling to collect water from a tanker. This segment seemed like an episode of poverty tourism. Thankfully, the film does not go further into this territory, unlike Hindi Medium, which was a bit silly in its premise and its treatment.
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 film would not have been what it is without Rani Mukerji's fine performance. It is not surprising as she has always been a brilliant actor. She is just so natural. In an interview before the release of the film, she said that the box office success of the film is important for her to do more films as it would indicate her that the audience still wants to see her. She is right that it is one benchmark, but it is not the only benchmark. Given that the film has done well, perhaps, she will continue to do more films. But even if the film did not, there is something to look up something from this film. Kyun aur kyun nahi mein, ek soch bar ka faasla hai. Ek hichki bhar ka.

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

Other Reading:
1. Rahul Desai on the difference between a film about children for adults and a children's film—Link
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."
—Naina, Hichki

"School ke bahar jab zindagi imtihaan leti hai, toh subject wise nahi leti."
—Naina, Hichki