Hichki: why critics are wrong & the plight of the poorest of the poor in India

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Hichki (2018) has been found dour by denizens of the Indian film-industry (Sarkar). The biggies who watch movies for a living have cribbed about how Mrs Rani Mukherjee has failed to “come back” through this movie. This cribbing is because these same self-proclaimed Page 3 socialites want Mrs Mukherjee to dance and flutter her eyelashes to teenagers and half-grown men in smoke-filled theatres. They have stereotyped Mrs Mukherjee as someone stuck in the 90s. She has refused to oblige puerile critical expectations of being semi-nude and endlessly titillating in Hichki. The takeaway from reading mainstream movie-critics is that these critics are engaged in heroes and hero-worship (Carlyle). If one were to meet Mrs Mukherjee in person and ask her, what this movie is really about, I am sure she’d say it is about the passion for teaching, it is about teachers and the plight of poor children in our country. And certainly not about her. Film commentators will not allow Indian actresses to age gracefully or to have meaningful roles. Nor are they permitted to show kindness to children because critics want middle-aged Indian actresses to act as vamps. Mrs Mukherjee’s performance in Hichki is her best so far since she has genuine empathy (Stein)  for children, teachers and the disabled.

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Mrs Rani Mukherjee

Manjusha Radhakrishnan (whose works are listed in Muck Rack) and Anita Ayer need to understand that Mrs Mukherjee may not be as fame-starved as they believe her to be. Swetha Ramakrishnan needs first to read Tradition and Individual Talent by T.S. Eliot, and along with Dead Poets Society and Rockford, she needs to include To Sir, with Love in a non-pejorative way. But let us now get to the real issues in the movie since I am sure Mrs Mukherjee is wise enough to not bother about what others say of her acting or as Swetha Ramakrishnan puts it: Mrs Mukherjee’s “burden”! Teachers and students are burdens. LOL. Talk of colonial hangovers and the critics’ burdens. In passing, one notes that none of these critics bothers to address the actress with a Mrs, would they do the same with other women? Just since a lady is an actor, she cannot be called by her first name. It is plain indecent.

Indian kids rummaging through garbage. The photo is copyright to Subhasis Chattopadhyay.

I have had the misfortune of studying in the best schools and colleges in Calcutta. Which is to say, that when I grew up in poverty-ridden Calcutta, I did not know of poverty or the miseries of the poor since my erstwhile teachers, the Christian Brothers and later, my Jesuit masters ensured this isolation from the marginalised of Calcutta by organising umpteen fests and meaningless debates which led nowhere. I was admitted to these educational institutions because my parents wanted their only son to have a good grounding in English. They were following our leaders back then; those same leaders who forbade the teaching of English to the poor in India but ensured that their own were schooled in English in both India and abroad. A little digging will bring out how most biggies in India spoke and continued to talk only in vernaculars but ensured that their wards study(ied) in English-medium bastions. The Indian elite stresses the need for worshipping their vernaculars but makes sure that their children study in fancy Roman Catholic and Protestant schools throughout the nation. But like in all nations, the elite are few while the poor who stink and drink E. coli infected water and do not have access to high-protein diets, cannot enter these colonial places of English education. Though a Roman Catholic (leader) Priest wrote this to me:

If you [Subhasis] know the full picture, you would be happy. In the last three years, [we have] taken in hundreds of poor students, first generation students, in all [our] campuses…This is about the college education.

Perhaps, you are not aware of many rural centres where poor … children [are] being educated.

Media portrays only what it matters to it or a particular section.

We do much of the service unproclaimed. (Name Concealed & typos as is.)

Studying literature, I know statistics lie and are tools for clamping dissidence. Watching Hichki, I was reminded once again about the plight of the poor in India in nominally (normatively) Christian schools. The school in Hichki is Roman Catholic, and like the priest who had written to me about the good his Order is doing to the Indian poor, Hichki shows how educators in India often follow the letter of the law ignoring the spirit of the law. One wonders whether religious satraps should be allowed to meddle in secular affairs like education in India. Immanuel Kant in An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment precisely pinpoints the dangers of clerics teaching anyone anything.

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My local rickshaw-wallahs, my driver and our maid, see my daughter go to a fancy new-age school. But no matter how much they strive and earn, their kids cannot access even one percent of the facilities that my daughter can access. For example, the rich kids in Calcutta go to specially designed playschools where wealthy parents (sic) get grooming for acing interviews (of parents) in the top schools in Calcutta whereas the poor get in schools where their teachers sometimes insult them for being first-generation learners. Their wealthy peers hate these kids. Rich brats remember their less fortunate peers only during the latter’s’ birthdays for distributing clothes and second-grade food to them in the mornings just to get ready for the late-night return-gifts’ parties. Poor kids are inevitably treated with condescension. Maids and drivers are given the wasted (surplus) food after all the rich kids, and their wealth-glutted parents have gobbled as much as they could, only stopping short at vomiting. Often these maids and drivers are repeatedly reminded of this food given to them in days to come. Maids’ and drivers’ kids don’t count as students worthy of attention in Indian schools as shown in Hichki. In November 2017 I saw a Paris returned half-drunk arrogant girl talk disdainfully at a poetry session in Northern India of the “muck” of refugees she encountered in Paris. Her parents who were present at their daughter’s inane chatter were long burnt-out Marxist revolutionaries turned professors who just praised their daughter’s plagiarised sub-par poetry in that gathering. This act of aggression by the professor couple silenced the worthy voices that afternoon. Hichki brings to the fore this parental VIP culture which silences the voices of those children whose parents are ordinary mortals trying to survive in a world where Professors declare their children poets. (Beware the person who declares his creative acumen in public.)

Then too, I have also heard all manners of Indian honchos boast of their children’s careers in the US and Europe. Our elite educational institutions have made a mockery of the (Biblical) theological saying: Bloom where you are planted (1 Corinthians 7:20 ). The zeitgeist of Hichki is this disdain of most privileged Indians for the future of India. Hichki is about the hard-heartedness of some teachers, of the apathy of the upper echelons of Indian society towards the poor and the abandonment of the poorest of the poor by structures of pelf and power. There is a gap between platitudes published in quid pro quo journals like the Economic and Political Weekly and Vidyajyoti Journal of Theological Reflection and the lived realities of oppression enacted by forces served by some of the contributors to these hallowed magazines. Hichki reminds us of our privileged position as consumers of nominal Christian education in India (eagerly produced by Christian savants) and lapped up by the daughters and sons of those who subscribe and read Economic and Political Weekly and such other journals with perceived impact factors in Indian academia. St. Notker, the Roman Catholic school which is more like a corporate house, is the setting of Hichki. Roman Catholic educators who feel proud of places like St. Notker’s can watch The Boys of St. Vincent and read my post on the Christian Brothers elsewhere (Chattopadhyay).

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St. Notker and many other Saints are routinely invoked by posh metropolitan schools in India. I doubt these schools are helping students become Saints.

                         

                                  Indian kids are in rat races conducted by their parents and refereed by some of their teachers and educational administrators.

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Why should our kids be rats? Is it not inhuman that our children are forced to participate in everything from various Olympiads to dehumanising by-rote, unthinking examinations? Hichki shows us how learning mathematics and physics can be fun. And how one can teach without humiliating students.

                        It shows us how competitions make us heartless and force an innocent mind to lie and to cheat just to succeed. No (elite) Indian school teaches kids either the momentariness of this world (Ksanikavada) or for that matter,  the Beatitudes. They are coveted schools because they insist on often meaningless academic scores, and slow poison children making them believe in the simulacra of being privileged. I am yet to see an urban Indian Christian school say to the wealthiest that they and their entitled (sic) kids cannot ever enter the Kingdom of Heaven with (because of) all their money. Or, I am yet to see a coveted school say to its parents that they can forget moksha if their kids do not study the shastras or practise the Yoga Sutras. Hichki is a wake-up call to all Indians. If we do not break down elitist barriers, we are going to destroy both the wealthy and the poor. Those who dehumanise others, are themselves dehumanised in turn.

Now for disabled Indians. (I refuse to call them differently abled since that dilutes their struggles against the majority of ‘abled’ Indians.) They are struggling in India on many fronts: being ogled at, being taunted everywhere and discriminated at every point. Hichki is about being disabled in India. India as a nation has forgotten about the disabled. We have fixations about power, skin-colour and wealth. The poor, the disabled and those with dark-complexions be damned. Now we know why our film-critics are more concerned with Mrs Rani Mukherjee’s comeback in Hichki than with issues that really matter.

I suggest Hichki be shown to all teachers in India and abroad (since it is dubbed in English even in India, presumably because our Indian brats cannot understand most Indian languages) and to both poor students and their parents. Most importantly it needs to be shown to the gatekeepers of these so-called elite educational institutions.

Well, I am no professional film-critic, but I do watch a lot of online and offline movies, and Hichki deserves 5 out of 5.

 

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Tourette’s Syndrome

 

 

 

Works Cited

CARLYLE, THOMAS. ON HEROES, HERO-WORSHIP, AND THE HEROIC IN HISTORY: Six Lectures. FORGOTTEN BOOKS, 2016.

Chattopadhyay, Subhasis. “Brother Cal: The Saintly Man.” Indian Catholic Matters, ICM, 25 Nov. 2017, indiancatholicmatters.org/brother-cal-the-saintly-man/. Here on this Catholic platform, I had written this of the Christian Brothers: “Sin is a reality. Sin entered the Christian Brothers but most Brothers resisted the form that sin took in their monasteries…”

Concealed, Name. “If You Know the Full Picture.” Received by Subhasis Chattopadhyay, If You Know the Full Picture, 13 Dec. 2015. The email was sent to me by a [Catholic] Religious Leader. He was reacting to my mail sent on the same day:  “I [Subhasis] thought you could change [your Order] in welcoming more poor people to elite places. St. Stephen’s [at New Delhi] is doing it etc. And make [your Order’s] spirituality more well known amongst Hindus. I was aghast seeing you inaugurating a hostel in the newspaper.”

Iyer, Anita. “’Hichki’ Movie Review: Is It the Best Comeback for Rani Mukerji?” Khaleej Times, Khaleej Times, 22 Mar. 2018, http://www.khaleejtimes.com/citytimes/bollywood/hichki-movie-review-is-it-the-best-comeback-for-rani-mukerji. I was referred to this review by Suparno Sarkar’s post. Iyer has this to say about the movie:  “Watch it for Rani, she won’t disappoint you. But leaving the cinema hall might make you wonder if this was the best comeback film for her.” As I have argued in my review of the movie, please watch it for both Mrs Mukherjee’s acting and for the sheer joy of the movie with its heartwarming non-utopian social message.

Kant, Immanuel. An Answer to the Question, What Is Enlightenment? Translated by H. B. Nisbet, Penguin, 2009. If anyone chooses to ignore Kant, then s/he betrays an immaturity which is beyond help except from Immanuel Kant himself.

Radhakrishnan, Manjusha. “’Hichki’ Film Review: Rani Mukerji Is a Delight.” GulfNews, Al Nisr Publishing LLC, 22 Mar. 2018, gulfnews.com/leisure/movies/reviews/hichki-film-review-rani-mukerji-is-a-delight-1.2192837. I was referred to her review by Suparno Sarkar’s review. The following quotes from this strange review drew my attention:  “It’s one of those inspirational films that careens dangerously between being strongly inspirational and insipidly utopian.” “the camaraderie and the bond that grows between the teacher and the students seems forced. Their kinship doesn’t feel organic, which is one of the biggest let downs of Hichki. However, the easy friendship between Mathur and her sibling is touchingly real.  While Hichki is intent on communicating life-affirming philosophies such as ‘there are no bad students, but just bad teachers’ and ‘conquer your fear and fly free’, there were moments in this drama which are laboriously didactic.”  I know from long experience as a teacher that the reviewer has little idea about teachers and probably never had a charismatic teacher in her entire life. Her review is just another mechanical and tedious hack job. In her hurry to produce this review she did not correct seems to seem! Hack job… & anything which helps poor kids is utopian since we all know that the poor of India are gone cases.

Sarkar, Suparno. “Hichki Movie Review: This Is What Critics, Celebs Say about Rani Mukerji-Starrer.” International Business Times, India Edition, International Business Times, India Edition, 23 Mar. 2018, http://www.ibtimes.co.in/hichki-movie-review-this-what-critics-celebs-say-about-rani-mukerji-starrer-764713. I was referred to Sarkar’s article from the entry on Hichki at Wikipedia, accessed on 15th April 2018 at 11:6 AM. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hichki .

Stein, Edith. On the Problem of Empathy. Translated by Waltraut Stein, M. Nijhoff, 1964.

Notes: I have used Mukherjee & Mukerjee interchangeably. Mukherjee is the more authentic spelling. For quid pro quos in Indian academics, it is sufficient to see https://kafila.online/2017/10/24/statement-by-feminists-on-facebook-campaign-to-name-and-shame/ as a reaction to Ms Raya Sarkar’s list which has yet not been disproved. Christian schools mostly harp on the Caesar and God distinction, conveniently forgetting to speak of the otherwise perfect young man who could not give away his wealth etc.

 



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