That education should not be a business is something we all believe in. We also know just exactly how much the lure of filthy lucre has driven teaching, the noblest profession, into a corner : the `good’ teachers who want to selflessly impart knowledge are getting scarcer, and the `bad’ guys with calculators and power point presentations are taking over.
It is a subject that deserves a great deal of attention, but not in the way ‘Chalk N’ Duster’ does it. The treatment is amateurish in the extreme, reducing the conflict to good teachers vs greedy gobblers of money and fame. Kantaben School, run by the just principal (Zarina Wahab) sees a hostile take-over by a `desi’ scheming Cruela De Vil-type togged out in designer saris and a permanent snarl ( Dutta). The teachers who are there because they love what they do, especially the middle-aged maths teacher (Shabana Azmi) and the younger, chirpier teacher of science (Juhi Chawla) and the other like-minded people are left stranded. The rest of it pans out exactly as we expect it to, minus subtleties or nuance, plus heavy-handed sanctimony.
Which is a pity, because these are all good actresses, and it is so difficult to have women in a film doing something meaningful, other than singing and dancing and playing second fiddle. In the second half, both Chawla and Azmi’s characters get the chance to be emotional and tug at our heart-strings. When they are on screen, we stay watching even when the situations and dialogues are wince-making. Dutta, who is usually so reliable, is reduced to a one-dimensional evil schemer. And Chaddha shows up as a bustling crusading TV journalist who goes where the cause is, both on the street and in the studio.
Rajkumar Hirani’s ‘Munnabhai MBBS’ still remains the go-to film on how the educational system is going down the drain, and what we can do to save it. But nothing rescues this one, not Jackie Shroff nor Rishi Kapoor (in bit parts), nor the sprightly ladies, despite their game attempts.
One and a half stars.
Star Cast: Shabana Azmi, Juhi Chawla, Divya Dutta, Arya Babbar, Zarina Wahab, Jackie Shroff, Rishi Kapoor
Director : Jayant Gilatar