Direction: Siddharth P Malhotra
Produced by: Maneesh Sharma / Yashraj Films
Cast: Rani Mukerji Chopra, Sachin Pilgaonkar, Supriya Pilgaonkar, Harsh Mayar, Kunal Shinde
Story/Screenplay: Anckur Chaudhry
Cinematography: Avinash Arun
Editing: Shweta Venkat Mathew
Hindi / Drama / 116 mins / India / 2018
Without shadow of a doubt, ‘Hichki’ is Rani Mukerji’s film. As someone suffering from Tourette Syndrome – a neuropsychiatric disorder which is characterized by multiple motor tics and at least one phonic tic, Rani claims the film as her own. She is convincing as a teacher determined to prove her point, despite humiliation from her father (Sachin Pilgaonkar who thinks her ‘problem’ needs ‘fixing’ rather than acceptance); rejection by colleagues and, disbelief and mockery from her students (Harsh Mayar and Kunal Shinde among others). She does it with a smile, a laugh and politely but with quiet determination.
Director Siddharth P Malhotra adapts ‘Hichki’ from Peter Werner’s ‘Front of the Class’ (2008 / US) which itself is based on the true story of Brad Cohen – who authored the book ‘Front of the Class: How Tourette Syndrome Made Me the Teacher I Never Had’. It is an emotionally charged film which claims your empathy towards a little-known disorder and puts it centerstage. Rani as Naina Mathur is given a class of unruly but gifted children from underprivileged backgrounds who make fun of her and drive her up the wall because they believe that she too like others before her, will leave – sooner rather than later.
But Naina has other plans. She not only sticks around, she also sticks up for them covering up their mischief and tricks – no matter the severity. And her belief in herself and them holds out. Malhotra manages to draw out powerhouse performances by the young children – making them very believable and real. Credit must be given to their acting coaches Atul and Prashant who helped train these children. The final 14 who were shortlisted from some 6000+ who auditioned have more than done justice to their given roles. Malhotra also gives creative credit to Amole Gupte and Abbas Tyrewala, both of whom have demonstrated excellent storytelling skills in the past.
Still Hichki has hiccups of its own – rather like syndrome it highlights. It assumes that a person who suffers from an unusual problem should necessarily be clubbed with the not-so-privileged. It makes the point that Class IX F comes with its own set of ‘Tourettes’ – i.e. children who need to overcome their weaknesses before they can emerge victorious. It treats the individual with a lot of sensitivity but is not above the fact that Naina cannot be given a bunch of ‘normal’ students to handle. Why should the filmmaker or his story tellers assume that ‘normalcy’ is a privilege of the rich and haves rather than the have nots?
Would Naina have been less effective as a teacher if she had been given a class which was ‘normal’? And would there have been no ‘Tourettes’ among those kids? This is something that the brilliant and lovable Ranbir Kapoor starrer Anurag Basu directed ‘Barfi’ also assumed. That a disabled individual could share a lifetime only with another disabled person. Here the slum kids are ‘unacceptable’ in an elite institution and can find their place under the sun helped along only by someone who understands what it means to be rejected too. Do all individuals who work with slum kids in real life suffer from some disability or disorder? Surely even though inadvertently, it reveals the filmmakers’ mindset.
Just one other point. To paraphrase a tagline that the film uses: ‘A woman who made her weakness a strength’. By extension of thought is that to suggest that being poor or living in penury is a sign of weakness and should we persist in treating ‘them’ differently simply because they are poor? In which case, how different are our biases or prejudices when it comes to dealing with the not-so-blessed with material wealth.
Just pointing out a few hiccups in Hichki’s thought process but the film is definitely a one-time watch. Take time out for this one.