Q. What according to you is the USP of your new film, Hichki?
A. I think for me the USP of the film is the story first, because it is a film with a very positive message. It is a film that inspires, a film that talks about how you can overcome your weakness and turn that into your strength in the truest form, and how you can deal with discrimination, and what you need to get that out of your life. In life, you come across different situations, where people around you will tell you that you can’t make it. And how do you fight those odds? How do you believe in yourself and how do you overcome that and become a success? The film is about that.
Q. This film was inspired by Brad Cohen’s book, Front of the Class. Before doing the film did you have any interactions with Brad, or did you read his book?
A. Of course, for me it was very important to talk to Brad and get inspired from him directly, because in India there is very little awareness about this syndrome [Tourette]. So I didn’t get much help. Normally, I would want to meet people who have Tourette, to be able to absorb it and take that for my character. But unfortunately, the children who have Tourette in Bombay, their parents were not very forthcoming, because I don’t think so they are very comfortable about letting their kids go out, and naturally so, as there is little general awareness. So the parents are more protective. And I hope with Hichki that changes.
The only solace I got was by talking to Brad, and I took my inspiration for him for the character. My character is basically inspired by his life story. So all the beats that I go through in my film are all the beats that happened in his life. So I wanted the first-hand note of what Brad went through emotionally, what he went through as a kid and what kind of trials and tribulations he faced as a kid in school and what were the trials and tribulations he faced when he became an adult. He wanted to pursue a carrier in teaching, where everybody was dissuading him. He, with his self-belief and with his hope, he wanted to be a teacher, and with that belief, he became a teacher. Today he is a principal—he is an achiever and he lives his life with hope.
I wanted to go through what happened in his mind, what was his emotional graph. Because I wanted to get that into Naina [the lead character in Hichki. That completely helped me because I observed him, I understood him, I spoke to him and what I took back is an extremely positive person who lives with hope. That is how I designed Naina’s character.
There were physical aspects of it: the tics. I went through a lot of YouTube videos. I also observed Brad’s tics and I realised that I have to come up with something of my own. I thought if I had tics what would they be? Because they had to naturally flow from within me, and could not be an act to be put on. So I worked on it.
Q. Another aspect, which is very important, is our education system, which the film also deals with. In relation to underprivileged kids and the Right to Education. So this film is shedding light on that as well?
A. It’s important to give equal opportunity to students. Schools basically constitute the formative years that make you into the human being that you are going to be in the coming future. And it’s not necessary that the mischievous kid could not become the Prime Minister of the country, or it’s not strange to know that a kid who was spontaneous in studies actually grows up into a scientist and joins NASA. You see there are all kinds of possibilities. So I think that it’s not good to discriminate because of your socio-economic background. It’s not nice to discriminate between students of a higher rank and the others. It’s not nice to discriminate between genders. I think if a teacher can mould her teaching methods, it can be interesting for students to learn. Equal opportunities are important and this is the keyword that people will take back from this film.
Q. How were you in your school days? Were you the naughty one or the good one?
A. I wish I was the naughty one, so I could give some interesting interview. But the fact is that I wasn’t a naughty student and I always wanted to be my teachers’ favourite. But I think I became naughty now and I am kind of balancing it.
Q. You had recently interacted with your real-life teacher, how was that meeting? Do you also have fond memories from school time?
A. It’s strange that however old you get, whereever you go in your life, you always remember your teachers. We remember everything about our teachers and that is a really special thing. Hichki in a way is a tribute to all the teachers in the world and especially in India. And of course, a tribute to my own teachers, because I remembered them throughout the filming. I remembered my school days, my time with my friends. It was just an amazing time in school. More than college days, I think school days are more fascinating.
Q. This was your first film after becoming a mother, and it is interesting also because you are playing a parent in the film who is sending her kid to school.
A. I feel that motherhood has made me a different human being altogether. So many things happened—I lost my dad last year, so I went through this huge vacuum in my life and it kind of gets balanced with my daughter being there as a huge support factor and a huge happiness factor in my life. At some point, we suddenly start valuing life a lot because we suddenly realise that there is a lot more to look forward to and we don’t know that what tomorrow will bring.
Q. The film has a catchy title, Hichki. And an interesting promotional strategy as well, which is creating a lot of waves about getting people to talk about their hichkis or hiccups in life and how they overcame them. What was your life’s hiccup or hichki moment?
A. My hichki moment was that as a kid I used to stammer and I kind of overcame that because as an actor we can’t have a stutter. That was one of my major hichkis in life and of course the other hiccup that followed professionally was in my film Ghulam, my voice was dubbed because people thought my voice wasn’t “heroine” enough, and today I am known for my voice.