Chalk N Duster
Chalk N Duster Review: ‘Old-school’ but heartfelt!
By: Sonia Chopra
Saturday 16 January 2016
Chalk N Duster
Juhi Chawla, Shabana Azmi, Arya Babbar, Gavie Chahal
As the name suggests, the film is about teachers, teaching, and the current education system. Of course it’s interesting to note that many modern schools have ditched the chalk and duster, replacing it with fancy white boards, smart-boards, and heck, even iPads.
Similarly, our film here talks about modern schools dropping experienced teachers in favour of “young, pretty, smart” tutors that give the school a better “look”. Plus, these inexperienced teachers come with a lower fee expectation and it’s a win-win for the business-driven management. If this scenario has you aghast, you only need to peek into your new neighbourhood fancy school to witness it for real.
We meet two friends Jyoti (Juhi Chawla) and Vidya (Shabana Azmi), both teachers at the Kantaben High School. While Jyoti wonders aloud, ‘what would the world be without teachers?” Vidya sings a song in the class that rhymes the words ‘fear of algebra is one’, with ‘fun.’ So we get it that the two are proud educators and are truly dedicated teachers.
We follow them beyond school into their personal lives. We trail Vidya’s daily commute by train, as she reaches her chawl and settles with a cup of tea and chess with her husband. Jyoti’s more modern life is surrounded by outings in the mall and more materialistic joys like buying the first family car. It’s a daily ritual for Jyoti to hop on her scooter and pick up Vidya on the way to school. It’s a fairly happy, fulfilling scenario.
Trouble begins in the simple school when the management chucks the old principal and brings in a new, sharply dressed head Kamini Gupta (Divya Dutta). “Education is the best business in India,” crows the ambitious business heir (Arya Babbar) that owns the school.
The new principal brings in a dictatorial approach and new ambitions. Focussing less on education, she decides to give the school a makeover to attract admissions from affluent families. The idea is to add air-conditioners, swimming pools, tennis-courts and the like, while chucking out the older teachers that hamper the school’s ‘look’.
The experienced teachers following the “old-school” manner have no place in this snazzy avatar. And then begins a dirty game, where the managements attempts to make things so disagreeable for these teachers, they are forced to consider quitting. So, the portly Hindi teacher is given PT classes, older teachers are banned from sitting in class, meetings are held at the end of the day, even money for a cup of tea is charged.
Things turn for the worse when one senior teacher is targeted and insulted leading to a media brouhaha. The finale, ending with a quiz contest, is the only portion that fails the film, even if it is fairly entertaining.
Director Jayant Gilatar makes a pertinent film with some crackerjack performances by the lead cast. The story and its message is a winner, but the film is technically inept, complete with the limitations of dubbed sound and abrupt cuts.
The film does not have snazzy visuals and a slick look, but it does have the dynamite combination of Shabana Azmi and Juhi Chawla. These two powerhouse actors bring the story alive with their conviction and heartfelt performances. Add to that the superb supporting cast with Divya Dutta, Richa Chaddha, and Zarina Wahab, and the film is a treat.
Of course the film is glaringly simplistic in painting the entire teaching community as golden-hearted victims and the entire management section as villainous. Melodramatic comparisons to Dronacharya and Arjun, and the quiz finale compared to Sita’s “agni-pariksha” are superfluous.
But altogether, the film makes you angry on behalf of the teaching community, and gives you goose-bumps when Jyoti points out that teachers are paid four rupees and 25 paise per paper-correction, a fee so outdated it doesn’t even account for the 25 paise being officially phased out.
The film asks whether you remember the teacher that taught you the alphabet and the multiplication tables. Have you thought of them and how they are? Have you?