Surani Pictures’ Chalk N Duster is the story of two teachers who take on their private school because of the shabby treatment meted out to the teaching staff by the scheming and manipulative principal.

Vidya (Shabana Azmi) and Jyoti (Juhi Chawla) are very able teachers, teaching in a private school. Mrs. Shastri (Zarina Wahab) is the efficient school principal while Kamini Gupta (Divya Dutta) is the horrible supervisor. Soon, Kamini Gupta brainwashes the school’s owner, Anmol Parekh (Arya Babbar), to terminate the servi­ ces of Shastri and promote her (Kamini) to the post of principal.

The cunning Kamini Gupta now goes on a rampage in school, given the authority and power she wields as the school principal. In a bid to make the school of international standard, she starts creating situations so that the old and experienced teachers would get frustrated enough to leave their jobs and she could then appoint new teachers who would dance to her tunes. Supporting Kamini in her evil designs is Anmol Parekh.

To begin with, the new school principal has the teacher’s chair removed from every classroom and asks teachers to pay for their daily cup of tea! She even throws out the little son of a teacher because she can’t afford his fees. Accusing Vidya teacher of not being good enough, she dismisses her, citing parents’ complaint as the reason. Vidya teacher, who is one of the best in the school, suffers a heart attack on reading the termination letter and has to be hospitalised. The news reaches the media; a television channel reporter (Richa Chadha) exposes the school and its principal. While the entire teaching staff is with Vidya, it is only Jyoti teacher who stands up for her colleague as the others are fearful of losing their jobs.

Jyoti is about to be dismissed by principal Kamini Gupta for daring to go against her wishes but she herself resigns. She decides to expose the school and the principal before the world and aiding her is the same television reporter and her channel. However, Anmol gets support from another TV channel. An interview of Jyoti on the first television channel inspires students of Vidya teacher and even other students to come out in the open in support of Vidya teacher. It becomes a revolution of sorts when ex-students of Vidya teacher send their videos to the TV channel to express how good and efficient Vidya teacher was.

What happens thereafter? Is Vidya teacher reinstated? Does Kamini Gupta apologise?

Ranjeev-Neetu have penned a script which has noble intentions. The original story underlines the sacrifices teachers make to selflessly educate students who then move on in life and don’t even stop to think about the teachers who laid the foundation for their future. The screenplay is interesting and engaging. It is also emotional, at times. The post-interval portion, when the fight between the two teachers on the one hand and the school on the other reaches the media, is a bit too convenient but the audience doesn’t mind it if only because the intention behind the film is good. The quiz contest in the climax looks far-fetched but yet involves the viewers because the plot deals with the noble profession of teaching. In fact, the film touches the core of the audience’s heart, making them feel guilty about not having bothered about their teachers once out of school/college. Ranjeev-Neetu’s dialogues are very good and touch the heart at several places.

Shabana Azmi is remarkable as Vidya teacher. She shines in a role to which she gives her cent per cent. Her transformation from a concerned teacher, always on her feet, to a helpless patient on the hospital bed is heart-wrenching. In one word, she is extraordinary. Juhi Chawla is endearing in the role of Jyoti teacher. She especially stands out in the television interview and in the scene in which she exposes the principal in front of the school staff. Divya Dutta is excellent, first as the scheming supervisor and then as the evil principal. She gives a memorable performance. Zarina Wahab stands out in a brief role, expressing her emotions through her eyes. Girish Karnad is good as the wheel-chair-bound husband of Vidya teacher. Samir Soni lends able support as Jyoti’s husband. Arya Babbar is devious enough to be hated by the viewers, which is the need of his character. Adi Irani provides fair support. Rishi Kapoor lends star value in a special appearance. He plays the quiz master effectively. Richa Chadha makes her presence amply felt in a special appearance. Jackie Shroff also adds star value but does not get much scope. Upasna Singh is entertaining. Nikhil Ratnaparkhi is alright as the politician. Deepali, Divya Jyoti Sharma, Gavie Chahal, Sudipta Singh and master Kabir Arora lend the necessary support.

Jayant Gilatar’s direction is very good. He does justice to the script and succeeds in keeping the audience engrossed in the proceedings. Music (Sandesh Shandilya) is more functional than anything else, aided ably by Javed Akhtar’s meaningful lyrics. Shabina Khan’s choreography passes muster. Baba Azmi’s cinematography is very nice. Santosh Mandal’s editing is sharp.

On the whole, Chalk N Duster is a nice film with noble intentions but its box-office prospects are very bleak. It has some chances in states where it has been exempted from entertainment tax.

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