Mumbai

Chalk & Duster: Irritatingly preachy

The most amazing thing about Chalk N Duster is how it manages to put together a stalwart cast for the tiny film that it is. This set of seasoned actors is also the only reason why the film turns out to be more watchable than it should be.

Chalk N Duster is about the commercialisation of a noble profession called teaching. Relevant subject, sincere aim. But the telling is as old-fashioned as it can get with dollops of melodrama and stereotypes mixed in.

If earnestness and sentimentality could kill, then this film is a perfect example of how.

Things are firmly set in black and white in the world of Mumbai’s Kantaben School. So on the one hand you have an ambitious, new school principal Kamini Gupta (Divya Dutta) who wants to make the school upmarket for the children of the rich and the famous and wants to do away with the outmoded ways of the old teachers. She is relentlessly evil and does mean things like taking away the chairs of the teachers and making them stand for long hours while teaching. When asked why, her answer is “I don’t give explanations; I take action.” On the other side are the old teachers Vidya and Jyoti (Shabana Azmi and Juhi Chawla) who are unbelievably good. The representational clichés are laughable: the evil teacher sports a smart, short haircut and is snazzily dressed, the good ones all modestly attired. Even their names—Kamini, as against Vidya and Jyoti — give away who is good and bad.

What’s also interesting is how TV news that has become the new age villain is also turning out to be a cure-all in contemporary Hindi cinema.

The resolution is easy and simplistic: go to the electronic media and start a movement, a Teacher Bachao Andolan of sorts. The protracted finale has the teachers taking an exam. Things get reduced to a contest with Rs 5 crore at stake.

It’s the actors who breathe life and a modicum of nuance into the flat characters they are saddled with. Be it Dutta who lends a rare poise to her vampish turn or Azmi and Chawla who, with their dignified presence and easy camaraderie stop you from heading to the exit door. They leave you with the few genuine moments to remember: Azmi’s relationship with her husband, played by Girish Karnad, Chawla’s filmi speech on the rights of the teachers. The confrontations between the forces of good and evil bring some energy and life to the screen but not quite enough and not for very long.

For comic relief there’s the hammy Arya Babbar as the Kantaben School chairperson who gives the audience a few laughs, unintentionally so.

And then there is Rishi Kapoor who comes at the fag end to prove that he would make a good quizmaster on a TV show. All the while the tone remains so preachy that Chalk N Duster feels more like a moral science lesson than a film.

Nothing irritates more than sanctimony and this film is so packed with piety that it looks set to get tax exemption and mandatory school screenings to boot.


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Printable version | Jul 22, 2021 4:11:47 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/Chalk-amp-Duster-Irritatingly-preachy/article14001600.ece

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