Chalk N Duster review: It’s a well told ethics versus greed story

Chalk N Duster
Director: Jayant Gilatar
Shabana Azmi, Juhi Chawla, Zarina Wahab, Arya Babbar, Divya Dutta, Rishi Kapoor, Richa Chadda

We all have had our tryst with public schools; know how they function and now somebody has cared to make a film on these “modern temples of education”. It has turned out to be a brilliant effort that reinstates our faith in good teachers and their value in our lives. Also, it raises questions on the utility of schools that promise everything but good textbook-driven education.

Chalk N Duster is mostly about the management of a popular public school Kantaben High School where Indu Ji (Zarina Wahab) is the principal. Kamini Gupta (Divya Dutta), who can’t see education and business in seclusion, is her deputy. Vidya Sawant (Shabana Azmi) and Jyoti Thakur (Juhi Chawla) are senior and much-loved teachers who put their students above everything. Has it started to remind you of Shahid Kapoor-starrer Paathshaala? Well, that film was also based on a similar theme. But this one dares to venture beyond the school’s staffroom.

One fine day, the management decides to pass the chairman’s baton to an ambitious, foreign-educated hothead. Played by Arya Babbar, the new chief wants to make the school more presentable to the rich and mighty, thereby triggering a conflict with Vidya and Jyoti. In no time, it becomes a direct war between the management and teachers. But who is on the right side of the fence? Why should a public school bother about the people who can’t pay enough? Who is responsible for such a situation where teachers are bound to become order-following clerks? Can a teacher induce the habit of free thinking in students in such a scenario? Do teachers really need to be seen as gurus?

Those who’re familiar with the practice of PTAs in public schools would know the four-layered security wall around the management. Crossing the reception doesn’t make it easier for parents as they still have to encounter the class teachers, supervisors and some other people to meet the person who actually has the authority to take decisions. What would happen if any of these is a control-freak? It would immediately break the chain of communication and ultimately the message will not reach the right people.

It may sound like a multinational set-up. But it’s much more complicated than that. Multinationals are constantly evolving and communication has slowly become the most important word for high-flying executives. It’s different in schools where the core importance should be on pupils, not the other way round. Also, in our current education system which emphasizes more on bookish learning, the most prominent parameter to judge a student’s excellence is by taking a written test, maybe followed by an interview. Can teachers with experience but less modern outlook cope with the new blood here?

Chalk N Duster touches upon these issues and marches forward in an attempt to make it an entertaining watch. As a result, Divya’s character transforms into a pure devil — power hungry and cunning to the core.

I must praise director Jayant Gilatar here who has made this journey an emotional one. Don’t be surprised if you keep crying through the second half.

Traditionally teachers are understood to be a student’s fate controller in our society. But things are changing. Parents are demanding more scientifically-proven teaching methods for their children and they’re paying — often unwillingly — a hefty price. What options does the management have in order to strike equilibrium? What if the management lacks vision?

The pathetic state of government-run municipal schools has also been given a share of the spotlight. The stark difference between government and public schools needs to be bridged. Now is the time to act.

Chalk N Duster is an underdog story which reminds us of our childhood where teachers didn’t want much in return of their services. Nevertheless, everybody is equal in front of inflation, even teachers. The need for more money is going to be there. So, what’s the way out? Chalk N Duster refrains from any direct confrontation at this juncture.

Having said that, it still is a finely-crafted work which brings out the pride only a teacher can have. You can witness the meaning of being a teacher in Shabana’s eyes. She is fiery, determined, benevolent and hardworking. Juhi is her perfect companion. She has given a heartwarming performance. These two ladies make sure that Chalk N Duster remains in your subconscious for some time. Rishi Kapoor’s cameo is also worth watching. His screen presence lifts up the climax by several notches.

The theme of greed over ethics works well for the film and most of its characters are in sync with the narrative. What makes Chalk N Duster rise above the average is its futuristic approach. Sometimes it does seem like an application to seek favours for teachers but mostly it talks about the value of good education. These teachers are hardworking and ready to take challenges head on, and that makes them adorable.

Chalk N Duster is a film worth your time. It’s fast, dramatic and meaningful. Simply put, a good watch.