Reel Faculty: Looking at Hindi cinema’s memorable teachers

Shah Rukh Khan coaches women hockey players to think country first in Chak De! India. Photo: Yash Raj Films

Teacher’s Day, which fell September 5, is a tribute to all those men and women who shape us in school, college or in any professional manner. Here, then, is a look at the men and women who enacted such roles on-screen and left an indelible imprint, much as real teachers do so in real life. Obviously, since it is about cinema, a few teachers were shown as role-models of a different, not necessarily ideal kind.

Mega-star Amitabh Bachchan probably holds the record for playing such roles multiple times. In the comedy Chupke Chupke (1975), the actor played an English professor forced by his professor-of-Botany friend (Dharmendra) to masquerade as him, with hilarious results. In Mohabbatein (2000), Amitabh’s comeback vehicle as a successful star, he played a stern and over-traditional principal who is at loggerheads with the modern-thinking, progressive music teacher (Shah Rukh Khan) who also happens to be in love with his daughter.

Amitabh Bachchan had three more “trysts” with teaching. He played the memorable Debraj Sahai, who is hired to take care of the deaf mute Michelle (Rani Mukerji) and later ends up suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, in the Sanjay Leela Bhansali quasi-masterpiece, Black (2005). And as late as Jhund (in March 2022), he played the retired sports teacher who senses and finds extraordinary football talent in a motley group of slum-dwellers who smoke, drink hooch and even do petty crimes, and trains them to be champions in the sport. The film was based on the life of Vijay Barse, the founder of NGO Slum Soccer.

Dharmendra, in turn, gave one of the finest comic performances of his career in Chupke Chupke as the Botany professor who is the architect of all his scheming against a stubborn old man (Om Prakash).

Shah Rukh Khan, the easygoing music teacher of Amitabh’s Mohabbatein, also played a hockey coach, disgraced at first and then attempting to redeem himself by training a group of women hockey players, in Chak De! India (2007). The girls all think in terms of their home states first, and the coach is the one who makes them think India as a whole and instills a team spirit in them. And finally, in Kasme Vaade (1978), one of his dual roles was that of a professor.

Interestingly, in Shah Rukh’s home production Main Hoon Na (2004), it was Sushmita Sen who played Chandni Chopra, the teacher with a difference: the angle being that she was the crush of almost the entire college! In the same film, Bindu played Mrs. Sonali Kakkar, the Hindi teacher who is atrocious at English, while Satish Shah was Physics professor Madhav Rasai, who spits while uttering certain consonants! In the same film, Boman Irani played the forgetful principal. All this was intended for some zany humor.

On the comedic and even/ buffoonic level, Karan Johar also specialized in giving comedy tracks to Anupam Kher, playing a principal who is married but infatuated with the comely teacher played by Archana Puran Singh in his 1998 debut, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. In his Student of the Year (2012), Rishi Kapoor played the gay principal of a college.

On a serious note, Rishi also was a middle-class Delhi schoolteacher in Do Dooni Chaar (2010) who tries to keep his wife and children happy in inflationary times and dreams of buying a car.

And speaking of Boman, the man went on to play the head of an institution in two more movies: in Munna Bhai MBBS (2003), he was Dr. Asthana, the strict medical college head who does not take kindly to a street rowdy joining as a medical student. In 3 Idiots, he portrayed the equally iconic Viru Sahasrabuddhe, who has fixed ideas on education and academic excellence and is as immovable in his set beliefs as the proverbial rock of Gibraltar.

The leading man of 3 Idiots was Aamir Khan, who played the understanding teacher to a dyslexic kid in his own production, Taare Zameen Par (2007), helping  in making the kid rise above a perceived shortcoming. Aamir also played the reel version of Mahavir Phogat, the wrestler from Haryana, who defied societal norms and trained both his young daughters in wrestling, in another home production, Dangal.

Yet another real teacher shown on screen was Mathematics wizard Anand Kumar, in the Vikas Bahl movie, Super 30. The role was portrayed by Hrithik Roshan with a great understanding.

Inspired by yet another real story but with a gender flip, Rani Mukerji was superb as Naina Mathur, the teacher with Tourette’s Syndrome, who proves her dedication and skills in the memorable Yash Raj film, Hichki (2018). The way Rani enacted her character with her sudden, untimely tic was exemplary.

In the 2020 Ajay Devgn production, Chhalang, Rajkummar Rao, as an unprofessional physical training instructor, Nushrratt Bharuccha as a computer teacher, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub as Rajkummar’s senior and Saurabh Shukla as a former principal all played teachers of diverse hues and calibers.

Amrita Singh played a school principal in Hindi Medium. Photo: Universal Communciations

A less-remembered teacher was Naseeruddin Shah in Sir (1993), a college lecturer who coaches the daughter of a criminal (Pooja Bhatt), who stammers. The criminal has been responsible for the lecturer’s six-year-old son’s death! Another almost-forgotten film is the 2010 film, Paathshala, in which Shahid Kapoor and Sushant Singh play teachers who rally against certain “commercial” decisions taken by Nana Patekar as the principal. Amrita Singh played a principal’s role in Hindi Medium (2017) as well.

In older films, it was two top heroes who played teachers in remakes of iconic Hollywood movies. Jeetendra was the tutor employed to look after a bunch of unruly kids in Parichay, which was loosely inspired by the classic The Sound of Music, while Vinod Khanna was the Indian version of Sidney Poitier’s character in Imtihan, adapted unofficially from To Sir With Love. And let us not forget Mehmood as the music teacher of the comic Padosan, his home production.



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