Chalk N Duster review by Anupama Chopra: Can do better

  • Anupama Chopra, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Jan 16, 2016 16:01 IST
Juhi Chawla and Shabana Azmi on the poster of Chalk N Duster.

Chalk N Duster
Jayant Gilatar
Actors: Shabana Azmi, Juhi Chawla Mehta, Divya Dutta, Arya Babbar
Rating: 2/5

Chalk N Duster, the story of two teachers, is a truly strange beast. It’s well-intentioned and sincere but also purposefully ridiculous. The characters are caricatures but there are moments when your eyes get moist — as when Juhi Chawla Mehta playing a science teacher named Jyoti gives a heartfelt speech about the value of teachers and why we need to revere them.

But then the film also has Shabana Azmi, playing a mathematics teacher named Vidya, teaching students BODMAS through a song. You have to see it to believe it.

The film, directed by Jayant Gilatar, pits education as a higher calling against education as a business. These generous, good-hearted teachers are traumatised by the wicked principal Kamini — Divya Dutta in a comical wig. Kamini aspires to make the Kantaben school a destination for children of the rich and famous. She cruelly declares: ‘We need upmarket teachers’. So she tortures the current teaching staff by taking away their chairs. Everyone has to teach standing up.

Kamini is backed by the owner of the school — a fabulously loutish Arya Babbar, who grunts: ‘Bas mere school ko number one banao’. The battle spirals and spills out into the media and the streets. Eventually all is decided by a Kaun Banega Crorepati-style quiz show, in which Vidya and Jyoti must demonstrate their knowledge of everything from ancient history to the workings of the internet. Obviously, then, it’s impossible to take Chalk N Duster seriously. But there is some pleasure to be had from watching Shabana and Juhi play off each other. Shabana has a lovely warmth, and Juhi, a sincere indignation. Together they pull off the most cartoonish scenes. It’s also fun to see so many talented actresses in one frame — Richha Chaddha and Zarina Wahab make an appearance.

I just wish Gilatar had given these fine ladies a better script — I think there’s one buried deep within this film, in fact.

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