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Siraj Syed


Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 

 

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Hichki, Review: Hitch key

Hichki, Review: Hitch key

Protagonist Rani Mukerji plays a spunky woman with Tourette Syndrome*, who sets her mind on teaching as a profession. Rather ambitious, considering she bursts into tics, making funny, bark-like noises every 30 seconds or so. It is inspired by the life of American Brad Cohen, probably the most famous person with Tourette Syndrome. With no real stars, this come-back vehicle of actress Rani Mukerji, who took a break for about four years, post marriage to the Yash Raj Films boss, Aditya Chopra and subsequent motherhood, manages to stay afloat, thanks to a content-driven subject. Hichki (hiccup), stylised as (hichki) is not a classic, though, by any stretch of categorisation.

Naina Mathur comes from a splintered family, her father having left them. She lives with her mother and brother. Burdened with the disability, she faces ridicule at school,  but her mother and brother are highly supportive, though the father considers her unfortunate, and tries to show sympathy on his occasional visits, which she resents. Thanks to a compassionate teacher, a Mr. Khan, Naina manages to complete her studies successfully, and goes on to obtain post-graduate degrees in science and teaching. Her father wants to get her a banking job, through his contacts, but her heart is set on becoming a teacher.

Ignorant about Tourette Syndrome in particular, and believing that she will be a misfit in general, interviewers at about a dozen schools turn her away, advising her to take up another profession. When she gets a nod, finally, it is in the same school that she had studied herself. In urgent need of a teacher to take charge of a bunch of 14 delinquents in class 9F, as their teacher has suddenly quit, the Principal has little choice, and necessity dictates the appointment. What could have been a dream come true becomes a nightmare, as some of the students, who all come from a nearby slum, are petty criminals to boot. Hell-bent on proving herself, she takes on the challenge. But there’s danger lurking round another corner: Mr. Wadia, the class-teacher of the select, elite 9A class, brooks no competition from Naina and her ‘nincompoops’.

Writing must have largely involved reincarnation of the protagonist as a woman, transplanting of Brad Cohen’s book, and a technical study of the Syndrome. For the rest, it seems to be a matter of following all tropes associated with the genre. Director Sidharth P. Malhotra, Ankur, Chaudhry, Ambar Hadap and Ganesh Pandit are the writers, with due credit given to Cohen’s book, In Front of the Class, the rights of which were acquired by Malhotra in 2013. Most of the film progresses along and embraces a binary formula, with a vengeance: good teacher, bad teacher; good students, bad students; good mother, bad father; traditional methods of teaching, unconventional methods of teaching; a bank job, a teacher’s profession, and more. You will rarely find an Indian Hindi film that does not use these tropes and stereo-types, and sure enough, Hichki obliges. Also, Naina always advances an argument that she should get the job merely because she is passionate and she has added to the interviewers’ knowledge by telling them about Tourette Syndrome. Surely that is no qualification.

As director, Malhotra does not ask too much of his heroine. He casts a real-life actor couple as her parents, with not much visible development of their roles. To his credit, he’s got a bunch of kids that can act and deliver dialogue in good Hindi, though almost half the film is in English, which is fine, considering the school edifice, but the medium of instruction is depicted as Hindi, which is hardly likely, and done only to make the film intelligible to the hinterland. Yes, the lead actor is teacher Naina, but it would have helped if the script incorporated at least one more teacher taking her class—there must be at least five or six. Likewise, only one peon is shown in a school that would have at least a dozen, having as many as six divisions to each class, and at least ten classes.

Rani Mukerji as Naina Mathur has another facial movement added to her permanent, signature, half-grin, that of the tic, coupled with the knocking of her chin by the wrist, in an attempt to stop them. Technically, it is no hichki (hiccup); rather a hitch in her life. How she adjusts to the condition is one half of the story; how she wins the students and the school management is the other half. She is too matured to let this chance go by, and earns sympathy, empathy and appreciation. I’ll have to stop well short of calling this an award-winning performance.

Supriya Pilgaonkar as Sudha, Rani’s mother, exudes grace. Saddled with a negative role, real-life hubby Sachin performs well below his prowess. Neeraj Kabi’s is the most powerful performance, with clipped accent, assertive gait and a natural pride that subsumes the hatred he nurses for 9F and Naina. Shivkumar Subramaniam as the Principal is mostly blank and speaks with trade-mark mumble. For his age and position, both traits can be overlooked. Asif Basra as the school peon is almost a caricature, like most servants and peons in Hindi films. Names of other cast members are scarce, but we do find Harsh Mayar, Ivan Rodriguez, Kunal Shinde, Suprio Bose, Hussain Dalal, Jannat Zubair Rahmani and a vibrant, mature Sparsh Khanchandani as the brilliant class 9F student, Uru (a possible abbreviation of Urvashi). Vikram Gokhale is his usual, sensitive self is a cameo, playing Mr. Khan.

Melodrama is milked where cutting-edge writing was required. In the 1984 film, The Karate Kidwise old karate master Mr. Miyagi tells Daniel that there is “no such thing as bad student, only bad teacher.”  Malhotra keeps reminding us about the quote through his main characters. Let me say emphatically that this opinion is just that--an opinion. Having been a student for 27 years and a teacher for 36, across some 29 institutes in two countries, I can say with all due authority that there are both bad students and bad teachers, and the number of bad students is many times more, simply because tgheir numbers are manifold.

Over 118 minutes, five songs and two thematic compositions pepper the soundtrack, with nothing outstanding. On the other hand, making a common mistake in the lyrics, the word jazbaat (feelings) is sung as jazbaaton, which would be like saying feelings’s. Jazbaa is singular, jazbaat is plural. Hitesh Sonik’s background music score adds effect, but it is highly overdone and loud.

What disease/medical condition/disability/handicap/hitch your protagonist has is key in deciding what chord or how much of a chord it strikes among moviegoers. Tourette Syndrome is so rare that not too many will resonate, unlike, say, ADHD or ADD, which was tackled by a blockbuster some years ago by, or blindness or deafness.... In other words, rather than (hichki), ‘hitch is the key’.

Rating: ** ½

Trailer: https://youtu.be/nLSaCFlXn-g

*Q. WHAT IS TOURETTE SYNDROME?

A. Tourette syndrome is a neurological disorder of the brain, which causes involuntary movements and vocalisations, known as tics.

Q. WHAT IS A ‘TIC’?

A. There are two main categories of tics: motor tics and vocal tics. Motor tics are sudden repetitive movements of the muscles of the body that occur repeatedly. Vocal tics are in the muscles that control speech and cause involuntary sounds that may be loud at times. Tics may include eye blinking; neck, arm, or leg-jerking; sniffing; throat clearing; barking noises; and in some cases saying bad words (this only happens in about 10 percent of the people with TS). Tics will come and go, based on stress, anxiety, excitement, and fatigue.

Q. HOW IS TS DIAGNOSED?

A. The criterion for diagnosis is the presence of at least two motor tics and one vocal tic. No two cases look the same. Tics can increase and decrease over time and new tics can emerge with no warning. Most symptoms begin at about age seven. TS is found more frequently in boys than girls.

Q. WHAT CAUSES THE SYMPTOMS?

A. The cause has not been established, although current research presents considerable evidence that the disorder stems from the abnormal activity of at least one brain chemical (neurotransmitter), called dopamine. There may be abnormal activity of the receptor for this chemical as well. Undoubtedly, other neurotransmitters, e.g., serotonin, may be involved.

Q. WHAT ASSOCIATED BEHAVIOURS ARE THERE IN ADDITION TO TICS?

A. They include obsessions and compulsions and ritualistic behaviours (OCD), attention deficit disorder with or without hyperactivity (ADD or ADHD), learning disabilities, difficulties with impulse control, and sleep disorders.

Q. IS TS INHERITED?

A. Genetic studies indicate that TS is inherited as a dominant gene (or genes), causing different symptoms in different family members.

Q. IS THERE ANY TREATMENT FOR TS?

A. There are medications that can be given to help calm down the tics. Those who take medication must be aware of the side effects. The importance of an early diagnosis is crucial in helping children and adults cope with TS.

Q. WHAT ARE THE LONG-TERM EFFECTS OF TS?

A. While there is no cure for TS, the symptoms often become less severe as individuals grow older. TS is not a degenerative condition and is not life-threatening. TS does not impair intelligence. Individuals with TS live normal, healthy lives. People with TS are in every profession and enjoy all kinds of recreational activities.

(Inputs culled from Brad Cohen’s website, with thanks).

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.


Bandra West, Mumbai

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