Chalk N Duster, a movie with a title that would have earned a red mark from a halfway-decent teacher, is a timely and sincere effort to explore the problems facing the education system. It's also clumsy and overstretched. Jayant Gilatar’s 130-minute drama is set in Kantaben High School, which employes a bunch of ever-smiling and dedicated teachers, including the significantly named wise one Vidya (Shabana Azmi) and the perky Jyoti (Juhi Chawla). In this fairytale universe, where children sing paeans to the wonders of the BODMAS mathematical rule, there is an eye-rolling and lip-pursing witch named Kamini (Divya Dutta). She ousts the noble principal Indu (Zarina Wahab) and gets elected in her place so that she can wear an ill-fitting wig and go about transforming Kantaben into a facsimile of the spiffy looking and overpriced international schools that cater to the wards of the 1%.
Kamini is aided in her efforts by trustee Anmol (Arya Babbar), the over-dressed ogre of the piece who provides the movie with many unintended moments of hilarity. Kamini systematically starts altering Kantaben’s culture, changing the assignments of the teachers, charging them for tea, and generally harassing them into early retirement. Events prompt Jyoti to attempt to save the school from doom.
Chalk N Duster attempts to address several pressing issues facing teachers slaving away at schools for middle and lower income students. Folded into the mess is a heartfelt message reminding viewers that teachers should not be taken for granted and should be accorded the respect and dignity they deserve. But the movie is too overwritten, shoddily produced and amateurishly performed to make its point convincingly. Of the cast, all of whom have been directed to act as broadly as possible, only Azmi makes a mark. The film's report card: an A for effort, but with marks cut for general incompetence.