Rani Mukerji in a still from Hichki Image: YouTube/Yash Raj Films
Cast: Rani Mukerji, Sachin Pilgaonkar, Supriya Pilgaonkar, Hussain Dalal
Direction: Siddharth P Malhotra
You'll like this if you liked: Taare Zameen Par
The last time we saw Rani Mukerji, she was dressed as a cop, wiping a stream of blood from the corner of her lips, chasing baddies. My only complaint after Mardaani (2014) was why does a woman have to be manly to lead from the front? Four years later, as I walk out of the theatre after a screening of Hichki, my only complaint is why did I have to wait four years for Rani.
Hichki starts to deliver from the very first scene, where we meet an anxious Rani aka Naina Mathur waiting her turn for an interview with the board members of a school for the position of a teacher. When the peon ushers her in, she waits behind the large wooden doors leading to the interview room, biting the mount of Venus of her palm, trying to stop a sudden attack of the Tourette syndrome in front of the interviewers. She fails, both at the interview as well as stopping herself from making those sounds, but wins our hearts immediately.
There are essentially two plots running parallelly in Hichki — first, Naina's struggle to get accepted with Tourette syndrome, a problem that has now become her identity, and second, the challenges she eventually faces as a teacher when she is handed a class of unwilling brats, a byproduct of our failed system — wrapped in a basic lesson about overcoming obstacles. And as Naina clears one step after another of this complex mathematical problem, we get closer to (finally) getting a film at the box office that, after weeks of drought, won't fry our brain cells.
The story is simple: A teacher rises to the occasion, breaks the hard exteriors of the students to expose the soft, impressionable clay inside their hearts and eventually crafts the most beautiful and delicate pieces of pottery you could ever lay your eyes on. Something we have seen Aamir Khan excel in in Taare Zameen Par with Ishaan Nandkishore Awasthi, though he wasn't the one afflicted with a physical challenge in the film. A broader spectrum would include everything from The Sound of Music to Parichay, for essentially they were about bringing the kids on the right track (and many other things, which we will safely leave out of this narrative).
Rani as Naina is so perfect that you will, perhaps, accidentally call her by that name the next time you see her on screen. But her bratty bunch deserves an equally thunderous applause. Harsh Mayar as Aatish — the most rotten apple in the bunch with a drinking habit and a foul mouth — is the best of the lot. He also understandably gets the most screen time.
If I were to point out a flaw in Hichki even with its perfectly real actors and locations, it would be its tendency to overdramatise sometimes. At a time when Naina has given up on her special bunch of kids and her dream to teach, these kids present themselves before her with an apology that is just a bit too far-fetched.
Naina's father played by Sachin Pilgaonkar, who's been unable to accept his daughter and her uniqueness since she was a child, need not have been present there, except for the want of hitting both targets at the same time. The father realises his mistake and the kids convince their Naina ma'am to come back. But we can hardly call overdramatisation a problem in Bollywood, right?
As the end credits roll, if you get up from your seats with a smile on your face, the film has touched you. If you're left with glistening eyes, a slight tingling sensation in your nose and a micro lump forming in your throat, the film is a success. Whatever the box office numbers maybe.