Produced by: Amin Surani
Written by: Ranjeev Verma, Neetu Verma
Starring: Juhi Chawla, Shabana Azmi, Zarina Wahab, Divya Dutta, Upasna Singh
Music by: Sandesh Shandilya
In the land of Dronacharya, where guru has traditionally found place only next to god, today teaching has become one of the most marginalized professions rarely getting its due. And as in modern day India defined by profit where education has become big business too, perhaps there is no place for the conventional chalk and duster teacher who simply taught. On this noble thought is made the film Chalk and Duster that brings into focus a noble profession that is rarely in the spotlight on Indian screen.
And lending substance to this gravitas is a battery of actors from Shabana Azmi to Juhi Chawla to Divya Dutta to thespian Girish Karnad. Peppered in between are a host of special appearances (Richa Chadda, Jackie Shroff and Rishi Kapoor) to add lustre to what is clearly not a masala subject. But that is not to say the film is devoid of dramatic flourishes … rather these come in abundance. Though the film begins on a tepid note soon you begin to invest in the tale of these two upright teachers who are pitted against a scheming and mean supervisor-turned-principal (Divya Dutta).
Certainly the story is told strictly from the teachers’ point of view and as with our scriptures so here too they are put on a pedestal. At least, the two main protagonists are. There is do-gooder (Shabana Azmi) who in her spare time even teaches children from under-privileged sections. In the classroom she teaches them rules of algebra in a musical way. Music, however, is a big downer and more than songs what works is the prayer Guru Brahma. Another teacher in the exalted zone is played by Juhi Chawla who doesn’t quite need the job so desperately but is a woman of principles who stands by her convictions.
She a science teacher is supposedly fun too as she can mimic actors and throws in Rajesh Khanna’s Pushpa act from Amar Prem. Her mimicry sadly doesn’t touch a chord. Much of the emotional drama that takes place in the film however does. Yes, the film does not dig too deep and often incorporates melodramatic touches even is contrived to convey what it sets out to.
To put across the point that teachers have to be competent and knowledgeable there is a KBC like contest too that asks ten pertinent questions replete with detailed answers. So, if you don’t mind a lesson within a larger lesson that the emotionally driven movie doles out this one is for you. But if you are looking at a fun-filled one or one with a cutting edge well the film falls short by many steps. Nevertheless, it’s not a pain to watch this simplistic answer to what ails our education system. Those from our region have another reason for a dekkho. The film stars three of our actors. Besides spirited Dutta turning all shades of grey here, there is Gavie Chahal and Arya Babbar. Babbar, by the way, fares well in a film that already has many seasoned actors on board. Anyway, its actors of mettle like Shabana and Juhi who help the film sail through and prevent it from turning too cheesy.