Hell’s bells. This school’s SO not cool. Out here every teacher and student is in a vicious whirlpool, discourtesy a psycho principal who imposes draconian rules, treating all as a pack of mules. Honestly, you wonder where on earth this psycho-lady fills up her tank of fiendish fuel.
Over to Vidyalaya Kantaben (obviously, no kin to the kooky Kantaben housekeeper of Kal Ho Naa Ho), located in a fantasy suburb of Mumbai for director Jayant Gilatar’s Chalk n Duster. For sure, if you’re in search of a stress buster, this isn’t your ticket. Suggestion: instead invest your time in playing gully cricket. Go out for a stroll, get yourself a jelly roll, anything will be more worth your while than this sanctimonious scroll.
Actually, this unsolicited advice is dispensed with a heavy heart. Because at the centre of this neither chalk nor cheese enterprise, lurks an uber significant theme: the gross commercialisation of the education system. Honestly, the springboard for the story is so well-meaning that you’d enter the multiplex in the hope that Gilatarji is about to hit the viewer on the solar plexus. In vain.
In fact, the director is as politically correct as a pre-election speech to get your votes. Pontificates he: Junior schools today prefer to enroll rich and famous kids, idealistic teachers are paid peanuts, business tycoons call the shots from behind the scenes and selfless values are chucked into the dustbin. Abominable, indeed.
That much you know already, but if this disturbing state of affairs has to be addressed, it has to be approached in a style which is rigorously realistic. Why opt for the easy exit route of the singularly simplistic and the hyper-fantasticated? Duh.
Result: a soft-focus, stretched-out dramaturgy of two exemplary educationists at the aforecited Kantaben. Cut then, to the ever-slogging Trigonometry teacher (Shabana Azmi) and the Chemistry-cum-Dance adhyapika (Juhi Chawla), who’re sweeter than 200 cake shops put together.
By the way, Trigonometry has a wheelchair-confined husband (Girish Karnad, whose most taxing call requires him to break into tears) and a daughter who’s concerned about her Chartered Accountancy examination. As for Chemistry-cum-Dance, she has a computer salesman husband plus a son who makes googly eyes at the camera. The patidevs, by some stroke of unintended genius. are used as decorative objects and the children, as excess baggage. What to do?
Groan and bear it, if you can, to the accompaniment of thunder, lightning and ominous background music. The teaching squad is about to be abused, insulted and terminated, by that psycho Lady Dragon (Divya Dutta, bewigged unnecessarily) who likes her junior assistant to be called “Medaaam” for some kinky reason. Such treason.
Next: Dragon Lady poisons the ears of the school’s de facto owner (Wooden Plank), purses her lips extra-tight and calls everyone but herself, “Loooooozers!”
So you know where this is headed. A duel-to-death, or nearly. Trigonometry and Chemistry-cum-Dance won’t take it anymore, matters reach a Danny Boyle-ing point in a finale which has gaudy shades of Slumdog Millionaire. Gee whiz-quiz, Trigs and Chem have to prove their intelligence quotient on a televised Q-and-A.Why super-teachers should be subjected to such an ignominious test is just one of those things in the plot you have to forget but not forgive. Ouch.
Throughout, no effort is made to give a semblance of an outline to other teachers who’re all quickie caricatures or to Kantaben’s student community which is presented as a submissive flock of sheep. Oddball, too, are a rival school’s squash-playing owner (Jackie Shroff, if you please) and a ministerial aide (Moustache in Suit) who zooms in from Delhi to see if he can sort out the Kantaben Krises. Wince.
To be fair, there’s a silver lining – a soliloquy in the course of which the difficult living conditions of the altruistic teacher is narrated by Juhi -- before a TV anchor (Richa Chadda, competent as ever).
Without a doubt, Juhi and Shabana are first-rate, rekindling your affection for their acting chops. Rishi Kapoor, too, is bankably inspired in a delectable cameo.
Alas, the shallow script, the average production design as well as the direction-- which runs on a low battery -- can’t match the expert acting. Which is why Chalk n Duster is a weak film on a powerful subject. Lesson learnt.
Image Source: youtube/Suranipictures