Looking at academics as a business is a topic that’ll
always be relevant.
Top it with proficient performances from an array of
actors as polished as Shabana Azmi, Juhi Chawla, Zarina Wahab, Rishi Kapoor and
Divya Dutta, and a film like Chalk N
Duster gets a dignity of its own.
When wicked Miss Kamini Gupta connives with businessman
and trustee Anmol Parekh to oust respected principal Indu Shastri, the era of
Lalita Pawar returns to the classrooms of Kantaben High School.
Writers Ranjeev and Neetu Verma and director Jayant
Gilatar take us through the corridors of the ambitious and the callous where
Kamini rules like a dictator. Selling dreams of turning Kantaben into the most
prestigious school in the state, Kamini gets PTA members and business-inclined
trustees on her side. Senior teachers are humiliated in a bid to get them to
resign and replace them with cheaper youngsters. And the school politics
snowballs into an issue fit for the TV channels to debate.
Spotlighting the meagre take-home salaries and the
sidelining of the noble profession of teaching, Chalk N Duster sledgehammers several points. With Shabana Azmi as
dedicated senior teacher Vidya Sawant, Juhi Chawla as the talented Jyoti Thakur
and Zarina Wahab as ex-principal Indu Shastri, there are many moments in the
school drama that ring true. Especially when Divya Dutta as the deliciously
wicked Kamini, saps the enthusiasm of the sincere teachers. Rishi Kapoor enters
in an implausible climax but his efficiency makes the sequence watchable.
Where the film fails is in its old world look and the
exaggerated fallout of a local school issue. Though one must concede that you
never know when a small flare-up could turn into a mass movement, there are
many inexplicable turns in the screenplay, like Jackie Shroff’s incomplete role
in the proceedings.
Songs like Shabana teaching BODMAS or a patriotic item
on Annual Day should have been melodious and hummable but they add further
dullness to the classroom.
Duster therefore has a worthy premise and fine performances but without the
sparkle of the computer age, it looks outdated.
For a noble subject with limited appeal, Chalk N Duster gets a 2.5* rating.
Bharathi S Pradhan
Journalist & Author