There is one thing you will definitely gain from Chalk N Duster. You will never forget the Bodmas (brackets, orders, division, multiplication, addition, subtraction) rule in algebra. An entire song is dedicated to this acronym, as Vidya (Shabana Azmi), a mathematics teacher, takes a class at the Kantaben School. Vidya is one of the senior staff members at this fair to middling educational institution, which has thus far functioned smoothly. Everything changes with the appointment of a new principal. The teachers face unpleasant surprises when the popular and considerate Indu (Zarina Wahab) is replaced by the ambitious and cut-throat Kamini (Divya Dutta), who aspires to upscale her middle-class school. Teachers’ chairs are removed from the classrooms, the tea is no longer free and subjects are juggled so that, for example, the overweight Hindi teacher is now assigned physical training.

All this gets too much for the good-hearted Vidya, who suffers a heart attack after a sudden and unfair dismissal. In solidarity, her friend and colleague Jyoti (Juhi Chawla) decides to take on Kamini and the misdirected board of trustees, led by Anmol (Aarya Babbar). This entails using a TV channel as a platform for reminding viewers that teachers need support, recognition and more pay. The drama ends with a recovered Vidya and Jyoti taking on a Who Wants to Be A Millionaire-styled quiz to win 5 crore. The trade-off is that if they lose, they will have to accept their termination.

Kantaben School is represented by a grimacing and flatly evil Kamini, who has the worst dress sense, and Babbar’s ridiculous character with his gravity-defying hairdo, which adds a much needed, but unintentional, comic element to this overly well-meaning film that extols the virtues of a fair education system and the value of teachers. It surely must be the theme that facilitated director Jayant Gilatar staffing the film with such actors as Azmi, Girish Karnad (as Vidya’s wheelchair-bound husband), Jackie Shroff (as the educationist with a conscience) and Rishi Kapoor (as the celebrity quizmaster).

If the title was not bad enough, the production value, writing (Ranjeev Verma and Neetu Verma) and performances certainly are, barring Azmi, who adds gravitas to the shoddy show. If you think a song about Bodmas is the low point, wait till you watch Chawla’s scene at the TV studio, where she speaks of Dronacharya and Arjun and urges all the Arjuns to reach out to their Dronacharyas. Chalk N Duster gets high marks for intention, but doesn’t even make the passing grade for everything else.

Chalk N Duster released in theatres on Friday.

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