Film Review of Chalk and Duster – A much discussed theme of modern day education

By Radhika Retnam

Chalk and Duster makes an emotional plea to concur more reverence and dignity to our teachers. The amateur and obsolete script and the TV-soap like treatment make it look un-appealing. The subject deserves great attention but it was not to be treated this way. The main question posed by the movie is whether teachers with experience but less progressive outlook survive with the changing educational system.


Shabana Azmi plays the role of a middle-aged and Juhi Chawla of that of a young and chirping science teacher. The movie revolves around the crisis between the school management and the dedicative teachers. Zarina Wahab plays the role of the principal who sees education beyond business. The movie in some ways remind the audience about Shahid Kapoor’s ‘Paathshaala’, nevertheless, Chalk and dusters venture to speak out loud about many different issues unlike the former. No sooner, the management decides to pass on the chairman’s wand to an ambitious lady, the whole scenario changes. This role is gracefully adapted by Arya Babber who ventures out to make the school rich and renowned in a fortnight’s time. Thus a direct war upsurges between the teachers and management. The question is how to place our conscience on the right side of the fence, because in most of the situations teachers turn out to be nothing more than clerks who follow orders from the management. Also, when such schools harangue that they are not bound to bother about the students who don’t pay enough, the teachers themselves become helpless. Speaking about pushing the role of the teacher, other factors also needs to be taken into consideration. In the present system, the emphasis is on bookish learning and the excellence of a student is calibrated by conducting written tests and interviews. It is high time that the schools give core importance to the students rather than any other factors. Chalk and duster subtly touches upon these issues and steps forward with an attempt to make it entertaining at the same time. As a consequence of this, dramatization of characters ensued. Also, Jayant Gilatar (the Director) has been very careful to make the movie an emotional watch.

Conventionally, teachers are perceived as the ones who control the fate of a student, and the society. Recently, things have started to change in the Indian context. Parents look forward for more scientifically-proven teaching methods for their children and they are willing to pay hefty amounts as tuition fee. But the school managements lack a proper vision and they do not opt to strike equilibrium between the expectation of parents and the reality. Of all, the government-run municipal schools are the most pathetic. It is crucial to bridge the stark difference between government and public schools. Chalk and duster can be viewed as an underdog story which stays in the mind of the audience as a reminder of the childhood days where teachers did not seek much in return for their services. In the face of inflation, even the teachers have changed over the time. The fiery and determined Shabana Azmi portrays the pride of being a teacher with the benevolent Juhi Chawla being the perfect companion for her. The two ladies have given a heart-warming performance. Also, Rishi Kapoor’s stage presence and cameo has lifted up the climax by quite a few notches. The film is crafted with the theme of greed over ethics and the characters are in perfect sync with the narrative. The film talks about the value of good education and the significant role of teachers. The movie is dramatic and meaningful at the same time. There is nothing wrong with the director’s heart bleeding for the ill-treated teachers but that’s not good enough to make the movie worth-while. The movie might get a five star for its intention but the execution failed terribly and it has hopelessly ham-fisted the movie so much so that it can be explained as nothing but an absolute botch-up. Gilater’s approach to film making has ended up in yielding pathetically slender pickings. The audience is made to walk nine yards to explain how appalling our education system is but the movie has not done justice to the noble teaching profession it had attempted to celebrate. Sharp and censorious, the movie is all about a few teachers who are subjected to a great deal of torture and harassment and finally they turn against an insensitive management. Despite flaunting about India’s glorious Gurukal system and the guru-shishya tradition, the teachers are given a very low status in the society. Silted dialogues and utterly vacant scenes completely take up the two hours while the movie is played. The idea to bring up some drama is completely misdirected with so many clichés. It is unlikely that the veteran actor Girish Karned had been a part of a less worthy film. He plays the role of a chess-loving, wheel chair bound husband of a math teacher. Shabana Azmi and Juhi Chawla were seasoned to do their best to achieve a façade of believability but the unimaginative direction and the clumsy scripting has spoiled the movie to a great extent. Mostly, there is no attempt to bring in a sense into the plot. There are caricatures in the movie, not characters. The predictable storyline is another disadvantage of the film. Divya Dutt in her ill-fitting wings enter as the witch principal Kamini who disrupts the lives of other teachers as she takes up charge. She decides to bring in younger teachers and replace the older ones in order to give an ‘international look’ to the school. The movie is literally littered with such dialogues. Chalk and duster is a good attempt to shed light on the present plight of teachers who are the worst paid and overlooked professionals in our country. By taking the audience into Juhi Chawla’s(Jyoti) and Shabana Azmi’s(Vidya) homes and introducing us to their families, Gilatar tries to give us a strong sense of what grounds these two women. The melodrama meter is turned up as Vidya gets dismissed and her subsequent heart attack ensues. Richa Chaddha plays the role of a Television Reporter who brings the attention of the media towards the harassment faced by these teachers. The climax is extensively overlong and exhausting in the 20 minute long KBC-style quiz show hosted by Rishi Kapoor. Chalk and Duster turns into a real slog by the end, with its noble intentions notwithstanding. Teachers, without doubt, play an irreplaceable role in every child’s life. They do not just impart lessons, but find out the spark in raw and young minds and hone the potential of the child. The primary aim of the movie was to highlight the plight of overworked and underpaid school teachers. The theme and idea is respectable enough which would have made a compelling view if it was treated by better hands. It is sad that the sloppy tribute of Jayant Gilatar could not upraise the film to anything noteworthy. Chalk and duster is a sentence that rambles through miles of meaninglessness before it draws the line. At the end, the audience is left with a bunch of question marks.The greatest drawback of the movie is that it tries to take the high moral ground without corroborating its material and depth.

About The Author

Radhika RatnamRadhika Retnam

Radhika Retnam is currently pursuing Post-graduation in Journalism at the Press club Institute in Trivandrum. She is an active volunteer at MAD ( Make a Difference), an NGO that takes care of the education and overall growth of kids at Shelter homes. She is an occasional creative writer and has published poems in ‘Kavya Bharathi’ (a journal published by The American College, Madras). She has also won the challenge memorial award for poetry in 2012. She is planning to conduct an exhibition of her abstract paintings later this year. She is also a researcher for a project on media studies conducted in collaboration with ICSSR and JNU.