Bollywood without Borders

‘I never let Tourette syndrome define who I was’: Meet Brad Cohen, who inspired the movie ‘Hichki’

Headlined by Rani Mukerji, ‘Hichki’ is based on Brad Cohen’s memoir ‘Front of the Class’.

Rani Mukerji plays Naina Mathur, a teacher with Tourette syndrome, in Siddharth P Malhotra’s March 23 release Hichki. “I was born to be a teacher,” Mathur says in the trailer, in between smiles and involuntary tics caused by her neurological condition.

The movie is based on a real-life success story. Hichki is an adaptation of motivational speaker and teacher Brad Cohen’s Front of the Class: How Tourette Syndrome Made Me the Teacher I Never Had. The 2005 memoir
was adapted into a television movie of the same name in 2008.

“I tried to live life like everyone else,” Brad Cohen said in a Skype interaction from his residence in the United States of America at a press event on Monday. “Ultimately I had a dream that I wanted to become a teacher, despite the fact that I had a medical condition. It means a lot that I am able to share my message of hope. Just because people are different and someone may have a disability, it does not mean that they cannot follow their dreams. I never let Tourette syndrome define who I was. I am really glad that you guys in India decided to make a film on my life.”

Hichki (2018).

Cohen started experiencing tics when he was 10 years old, and was diagnosed with severe Tourette syndrome. Growing up as an outcast among discouraging teachers and ignorant peers, Cohen always yearned for a teacher who could understand him, he said at the event organised by producer Yash Raj Films. “But teachers did not want to deal with me,” Cohen recalled. “I knew that I needed to share my story with people with Tourette’s and people with any other disability. I wanted to be that teacher that would tell those kids that I would be there for them.”

Cohen, became a teacher after numerous rejections and continued efforts, picked empathy and patience as the two best qualities to have in his profession. “There is nothing easy about teaching today,” he said. “Every single child learns differently. The good teachers are the ones who listen to their students and adapt their teaching to help them.”

Cohen’s book and the television movie that it spawned cover his early years, his struggles and his eventual success. Malhotra acquired the rights to make Front of the Class as a Hindi movie in 2013. The screenplay of Hichki has been worked over by Malhotra, Ankur Chaudhry, Ambar Hadap and Ganesh Pandit.

“It has been a journey for me as an actor to get to know about Cohen’s life,” Mukerji said at the event. “I hope there is more awareness about Tourette’s in my country. It has been quite a challenge for me to promote and market the film, answering questions regarding Tourette’s. People are not aware of this. Now you guys know where I am coming from.”

Cohen appreciated the film’s trailer, and added that he was aware of Mukerji’s work. He applauded her depiction of a deaf-mute person in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Black (2005). “I had the chance to watch one of the movies in which she played a person with disability and realised that she brought this passion to the film,” Cohen said. “It is important to embrace the challenges of the person you are playing. I watched the trailer for Hichki and thought she has only been doing these tics for only about a year and I have been doing this for years and still she does it better than I do.”

The makers announced that a special screening of Hichki will be arranged for Cohen soon after the film’s release.

Brad Cohen.
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