Movie Review

Chalk N Duster

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A moving film about teachers that could have done without its melodramatic scenes

CAST Juhi Chawla, Shabana Azmi, Divya Dutta | DIRECTOR Jayant Gilatar

A moving film about teachers that could have done without its melodramatic scenes

This film has got all the right ideas. It talks about how education has become big business, and about how the values associated with the vocation and true meaning of good teaching are at threat. When an educational institution decides that attracting students from well-off sections of society is the only objective, the quality of learning suffers. So clearly, Chalk N Duster has its heart in the right place. Unfortunately, the execution of the film includes a few outrageously melodramatic scenes, and these clichés take a lot away from the overall impact.

Jyoti (Juhi Chawla) is a science teacher and Vidya (Shabana Azmi) teaches maths at Kantaben High School in Mumbai. One fine day, the management of the school decides to appoint the tough and hard-hearted Kamini (Divya Dutta) as its new Principal. She promptly starts treating the school’s good teachers like dirt so that they hand in their resignations, her aim being to appoint younger and well-heeled replacements who she expects will attract kids from richer homes that can afford to pay much higher fees.

But the idealistic teachers resist and the electronic media gets involved in the injustice of it all. Battle lines are drawn, and this is where the movie goes over the deep end. A TV reporter (Richa Chadda) turns the imbroglio into a big soap opera with celebrity alumni of the school popping up on screen to wax eloquent, poignantly and with nostalgia, about the beautiful memories they have of their teachers, in particular of their inventive maths teacher Vidya. As you listen to what Jyoti and Vidya have to say about their profession and their contribution to society, the eloquence and passion with which they speak starts to move you.

Imperceptibly, the film starts connecting with the audience and you start applauding the exceptional integrity of these women. It is uncanny how it happens. So, for all the needless melodrama, it leaves an impression.