Hichki is a case of the actor being more important than the story. It is an adaptation of the book Front of the Class: How Tourette Syndrome Made Me the Teacher I Never Had, the story is about a teacher who proved himself even while struggling with Tourette syndrome. The medical condition, Tourette, is the center of the story. In Hichki, the condition is incidental to the story, the main thread is really about a teacher making success of economically backward kids who, by a twist of fate, happen to land up in a school meant for richer kids.
As the film opens, the protagonist Naina Mathur (Rani Mukerji) is making rounds of the schools for a teaching job. Her resume is excellent but her condition causes her vocal as well as physical tics due to which she is rejected at most places. From the opening scene, it appears that the film will delve into struggles of living with Tourette’s but quickly the film changes tracks. Naina is hired to teach a class that no other teacher would teach. It is a class for kids who live in the slums around the school. Not only are they not accepted by other teachers and students in the school, their environment has made them resentful and tough kids who are unmanageable. Rest of the story is about Naina’s struggle with getting her students to excel despite their economic and social drawbacks. Her medical condition is to add more drama to the story rather than any issue to be delved into.
This is the film’s major drawback. It wants to make a superwoman of Naina. Not only can she overcome her condition, she can devise new ways to teach, which sometimes are rather lame. At high school level, her method of teaching would fall woefully short. The flight of fancy does not stop here. Naina is teaching both Math and Science to a class of senior students. Which private school would have one teacher for Science and Math in ninth grade? And how can one person be qualified to teach all these subjects all at once? I think this is due to lazy adaptation. In the original book, the protagonist taught grade two and grade three students, so it was okay to be teaching all by himself. The film has Naina teach higher grade but did not want to dilute her extraordinariness by having other teachers around. That is why I say the actor is more important than the story in the film.
The film has some tender moments, especially some of the scenes during Naina’s childhood. Naina is never shown to have a weak moment or vulnerability and that doesn’t help viewers in empathizing with her. Rani Mukerji has worked hard and performed well, but she is probably not the right choice for this role. Perhaps an actor who is more vulnerable and less strong a personality would be better suited. The story needed a woman fighting her own battles rather than battling a system.
One actor that deserves mention is Harsh Mayar as Aatish, one of the students in Naina’s class. The young man shows a maturity in his performance that is noticeable. The pace of the film is its biggest advantage; it would have been a treat if it had retained the depth of the original story. If you really want to see a teacher’s struggle with Tourette syndrome, watch the film Front of the Class on YouTube.