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Review: Chalk N Duster: A film hobbled by ineptitude

Chalk N Duster

Director: Jayant Gilatar

Cast: Shabana Azmi, Juhi Chawla, Divya Dutta, Girish Karnad, Richa Chadda, Upasna Singh

Films that critique India’s flawed education system are not rare at all, but most of these cinematic tales are told from the point of view of students.

Chalk N Duster is different in that crucial respect: it delves into the world of teachers and focuses on the anomalies from their standpoint.

But how one wishes that this was a better film. Hobbled by a cliche-laden screenplay, Jayant Gilatar’s Chalk N Duster is a disaster because it ties itself up in knots in trying to get its point across. It is marred by overt preachiness, stuffy dialogue and directorial methods that are more hit-and-run than well thought out.

So, despite the presence of several proven actors in the cast, including Shabana Azmi, Juhi Chawla, Girish Karnad, Divya Dutta and Richa Chadda, the film is pedestrian at the best of times.

Chalk N Duster is the story of a school where a tyrannical headmistress (Divya Dutta) runs riot, driving the teaching staff to the edge of despair.

Two senior teachers, Vidya Sawant (Shabana) and Jyoti Thakur (Juhi), after a series of setbacks, lead a rebellion of sorts fuelled by media outrage.

The film offers no real insights as it trots out known facts about how schools in this country have turned into profit-making teaching shops.

To further her plans to hire more “upmarket teachers”, the new principal goes after the senior staff members. One of them, the amiable math teacher who uses rhymes to make trigonometry more enjoyable, gets the rough end of the stick. She is charged with incompetence and unceremoniously sacked. The shocked lady suffers a heart attack.

A rival school owner (Jackie Shroff in a special appearance) gets the media into the act and the teacher’s dismissal and its fallout triggers a blowback.

How the hospitalized teacher and her countless sympathisers get their own back at the school management forms the crux of the rest of the story.

None of it makes much sense because the tale is contrived and unconvincing. Shabana and Juhi are just about passable because they are allowed stray moments to demonstrate their acting skills.

As for the rest of the cast, which includes Richa Chadda as a half-baked television journo who takes up cudgels on behalf of the wronged teacher, and Girish Karnad in the role of the latter’s wheelchair-bound husband, the less said the better.

Of course, it isn’t their fault that they do not make a mark. It is the sloppy screenplay and the stilted narration that pulls them down.

Rishi Kapoor surfaces in the last quarter of 130-minute film as a quizmaster who puts two teachers to the test. He only succeeds, again for no fault of his own, to turn the already bizarre film into a completely grotesque affair.

Teachers certainly deserve better. And so do filmgoers. The makers of this inept mess should have paid heed and let Chalk N Duster stay where they belong: on the blackboard.

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