In Rani Mukerji’s comeback film, there are several scenes that focus on abject poverty. The music is deliberately sad, the faces are extra sullen with the lead shedding slow tears looking at the depraved condition, almost as though she feels guilty to be privileged.
The inescapable poverty used to manipulate one’s emotions was so forced, there was little else that was moving. Instead, it took me back to a particular bit from a parody video (from 03:38 mins) by The Viral Fever. Parodying the Indian Idol auditions, a contestant is asked to perform in front of the judges. When asked which gharana (house of music), he responds that he’s from a poor gharana. And the judges cry, much to the contestant’s confusion. “Don’t be so senti, ma’am. Even I don’t cry so much,” he says.
Hichki‘s makers, much like this parody video, make it their mission to make you cry and feel sad for the students hailing from the slums of Mumbai. It’s the last thing the children want, and throughout the film, they try to erase the division between them and the other students. But, the makers deemed it otherwise and although well-intentioned, every emotional scene is laden with preachiness.
Naina Mathur has difficulties finding a job because of Tourette Syndrome. She wants to be a teacher, but is always rejected because during interviews, her condition acts up and, for some reason, no one can accept it. Spunky that she is, she lands a job in a coveted school. But unlike teaching the well-off students, she has been tasked to teach ninth graders who come from the slums. Difficult and refusing to learn, in addition to regarding themselves as being out of place owing to the apparent class divide, the children rebel and make things difficult for an already stressed out Naina.
She remains patient though, because it beats working in a bank. This new job annoys her father too, someone who keeps letting her down. She isn’t too sad about that though. The rest of the film, predictably, is about how she, despite her condition, wins over the children and proves that ‘there aren’t bad students, only bad teachers’.
There’s a thin line between a feel-good story and a preachy, loud one. Aamir Khan had tried a similar method with Taare Zameen Par, where the lines were blurred between information and storytelling. Hichki, much like TZP, is the latter. The plot unnecessarily thickens despite dealing with sensitive issues like poverty, class divide, and physical ailments just so the audience ends up with a lump in their throats and reach out for the box of tissues.
We learn about Tourette Syndrome, we take a peek into how some schools foster an imaginary division between the privileged and the underprivileged students, told in what would best be described as a mishmash between Goodwill Hunting and Dead Poets Society, both incidentally starring Robin Williams as the struggling but inspirational teacher.
Rani gets her O Captain! My Captain! moment and it’s briefly moving, before you listen to 13-14 year-olds talking about life and failures in the most philosophical sense. If not forced, it appears almost practiced, as though repeating the words of an adult.
In a way though, Rani’s comeback is much-needed. She gives a sincere performance, where, even when she has corny dialogues, she doesn’t go over-the-top or look out of place delivering them. She gets the hero’s treatment here, with the camera focusing on her and her practiced tics. It isn’t the role of a lifetime for her, but it’s clear she missed being on screen.
While the film’s cliched and emotionally manipulative plot might have been a let-down, it’s the actors in the film who really hold fort. A real revelation is Harsh Mayar, who plays the destructive Aatish in the film. A troublemaker and the unofficial leader, Aatish has the saddest story to tell, and he doesn’t want you to feel bad for him. He looks for a mentor and in Naina, he finds one but is too stubborn to accept it. It’s tough love with this kid, and Mayar, who had given a stellar performance in I Am Kalam in 2011, has a lot to offer.
Hichki may have opted for melodrama to teach audience a thing or two about Tourettes and poverty, but at least we have new actors to look forward to and a thaaru maaru song like ‘Madamji Go Easy’ (co-written by David Klyton of Dharavi United) to play on loop.
The Hichki review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.