After a lot of plans being made, changed and cancelled, my friends and I were finally able to make it to Nueplex cinema in Karachi to watch the much talked about film Hitchki. With nachos and pani in my hand and high expectations in my mind, I settled in my seat to see what the hype was all about.
The film started with an aspiring teacher, Naina Mathur, played by Rani Mukerji, in search of a teaching job. She is rejected at many interviews and the reason for her rejection is a condition she suffers from – Tourette Syndrome. Tourette Syndrome, as explained clearly and repeatedly in the film, is a rare neurological disorder characterized by repetitive and involuntary movements and vocalizations called tics. She is turned down at every interview she gives because she makes these sounds that are simply beyond her control. In fact, she is even told that she has chosen the wrong profession considering her condition.
Flashback to Naina’s childhood: the film depicts her struggles as a child. She is bullied and made fun of by her peers in school due to her syndrome while her teachers often scold her for disturbing the class. The school even advises her parents to put her in a ‘special’ school. Meanwhile, her condition causes her parents to quarrel and eventually separate. All of this makes little Naina extremely unhappy and disturbed until a teacher promises to treat her just like all the ‘normal’ kids.
And this inspires her to become a teacher herself.
Finally, Naina gets her dream job in her own school and interestingly, the class she is assigned consists of 14 defiant and impish students who belong to the lower strata of society and live in a katchi basti (slum). These children got a chance to study in this elite school due to the new law of ‘right to education’ in the country but they are considered to be trouble-makers and are disliked by teachers and students alike. In fact, the school divides students according to their results and behaviour so Section 9A has the brightest students while Section 9F has the ‘weakest’.
Social class is another reason for the animosity between the students of 9F and the rest of the school. None of the teachers want to teach them. They are not encouraged to participate in any extracurricular activities like the interschool science fair due to their poor grades. The rest of the film is quite predictable with Naina becoming a mentor for these students, reminding the audience of the classic film To Sir, With Love.
Hichki is inspired by Brad Cohen and Lisa Wysocky’s book called Front of the Class: How Tourette Syndrome Made Me the Teacher I Never Had. The film raises many questions about inclusivity (or rather, lack of) in the education system and is very relatable to our educational scenario.
The status gap between elite and government schools is something we are all aware of. And we all complain about the rat race in schools which often makes it suffocating for students to perform to their potential. But the fact that all glory and opportunities are only for the top graders WITHIN an elite school is something that is rarely talked about or shown on screen. Even in our schools, the top five students who get 90% or above grades are made Head Students and are chosen to represent the school at all levels. Hichki is refreshing since it encourages new and out-of-the-box methods of teaching; it shows that kids are happier and perform better when they are not constantly worried about their grades.
The movie also highlights the behaviour of teachers toward students who don’t do so well in academics. These students are ignored and even degraded by teachers in front of the whole class. In one scene, a teacher insults a student from 9F in front of his peers saying, “Ego tou puncture nahi hui tumhari?”
Is that really the kind of language teachers should be using with their students?
What example are such teachers setting?
And won’t this encourage other students to act in the same way toward someone they consider below them in social class or intelligence?
It is this kind of behavior that makes the students of 9F rebellious; waiting to pick a fight with anyone who belittles them. The movie highlights that often rebellious behavior is a reaction to some misplaced anger or fear that a student might have. It also shows that kids, just like adults, have feelings and it isn’t right for other kids or adults to hurt them.
A good and dedicated teacher can bring out the BEST in any student is the ethos of the movie. With hard work and focus any student can become a topper. But unlike Taray Zameen Par, the movie doesn’t challenge conventional methods of education; rather, it suggests ways to improve it.
With the angle of Tourette Syndrome added, the movie also shows a glimpse of what life is like for people with physical or neurological challenges. People’s attitude plays an important role in making things easier and normal for such people. And this made me think: Will our elite schools ever hire a teacher with a physical or neurological challenge? Will parents of students appreciate that their kids are learning from a person with physical or neurological limitations? Why can’t we as a society show empathy towards people who may appear different from us?
Isn’t that (or shouldn’t that) be at the core of ‘being educated’?
Predictably, the movie ends with a beautiful message of hope; that determination and hard work overcomes all hurdles not only for students but also for the teacher who herself is a victim of society’s discrimination and bullying. The message is clear – ambition sees no limitations. The film is a breath of fresh air which highlights the flaws of the education system, makes us all introspect and yet, gives a ray of hope and joy to its audience.
It makes us all ask, “Why?” AND “Why not?”