Rani Mukerji has done my tics better than me, says Brad Cohen, inspiration behind her upcoming film Hichki
Brad Cohen, a USA-based teacher who overcame Tourette Syndrome, says he is glad that a Bollywood star like Rani Mukerji will take his story to places.
Rani Mukerji was seen playing strong-willed characters in some of her recent films like No One Killed Jessica and Mardaani, and now, after a four-year hiatus, she strike back with yet another powerful character in Hichki.
She will be seen as Naina Mathur, a teacher living with Tourette Syndrome (involuntary tics caused by a neurological condition), and fighting all odds and societal pressures. Directed by Siddharth P Malhotra, Hichki is an adaptation of USA-based motivational speaker and teacher Brad Cohen’s book, Front of the Class: How Tourette Syndrome Made Me the Teacher I Never Had. Hichki is the second movie to be inspired by Cohen’s story after the 2008 American TV film Front of The Class. Rani’s character is inspired from Cohen’s life.
Cohen has had a difficult childhood. Born with a severe Tourette Syndrome, he was accused of being a troublemaker in school and was punished by his teachers for the tics and noises caused by the syndrome. As he grew, he decided to “become the teacher he never had”. He managed to get his teaching certificate but 24 elementary schools rejected him. Ultimately, he was hired at Mountain View Elementary School in Cobb County, Georgia. As a new teacher, he was named Georgia’s First Class Teacher of the Year.
Firstpost got the chance to interview Cohen via Skype, and among many other things, he spoke about his views on Rani’s performance, their interactions for her to prepare for the role, and what he wants people to draw from Hichki. Excerpts from the interview:
Brad, what was your first reaction when Yash Raj Films got in touch with you for the official adaptation of your book into a movie?
I was very shocked. I could not believe that someone from Bollywood wanted to make a movie about my life. I was honoured and obviously excited that it’s such a great opportunity for me to share my story and hopefully inspire millions of people across India. Honestly, I was more shocked because I was expecting the actor portraying me to be a guy (laughs). And when I learnt that it was an actress, I was like, "Wow!" Further, I got to know about Rani’s work and I realised that she was an amazing actress, that she’s a big name in movies in India.
They showed me her film she had done in the past (Black) in which she had the opportunity of taking on some of the challenges and disabilities. I felt that Rani did a great job, the way she embraced the challenge and gave a message to people through that film. I didn’t know much about Bollywood, all that I knew was a movie that came 10 years ago, Slumdog Millionaire. I am not a movie buff. But I am told that Bollywood is 10 times bigger than Hollywood.
Have you watched the trailer of Hichki?
Yes, and it seems to be a really engaging movie that I would want to go and watch. Also, being an educator I could relate to it. It is really great the way Rani has portrayed me, she has done a fine job in delivering my message. She has brought this passion to the film that represents my life. I am proud after seeing the trailer, it’s a win-win. I followed my dream of becoming a teacher despite a medical condition and I just want the story true to who I am and it appears so. I was also paying attention to how she was doing the tics, how Tourette Syndrome was coming across. She portrayed it quite accurately. She gave her all and has taken it to a whole new level. She has been practicing these tics for about a year and I have been doing it for over 40 years but I must say that she has done my tics better than me.
What was your first interaction with Rani Mukerji like?
Our first Skype session was very casual where we were discussing what it was like to have Tourette Syndrome. She wanted to know some of my different tics. So I would show her and then she would do the tics herself. She would ask me if she was doing it correctly or not. Then she wanted to know what it felt like and what I was thinking when I do a tic. She wanted to truly get inside my head and understand what that moment was like. She felt if she could understand this, then she could express it in the film. I would see her practice and try perfecting it. We have never met in person. She got to know me through my book as well.
What did you feel about Rani’s performance from the trailer you saw?
Rani seems to be a very genuine person. She has got a great personality and people can relate to her without even knowing her. How she has interacted and engaged with the kids is just amazing. I could relate to those scenes because I too interact in a similar way. We have to have deep relationship with kids. As a teacher, I had to be flexible as per children's needs and it appears that Hichki, too, will be a great reminder for teachers that students need to be taught differently. Rani has shown that in the film beautifully.
What do you want people to draw from Hichki?
I want people to realise that despite the challenges you may have in life, you can overcome them and follow your dreams much like I was able to follow my dream to become a teacher. This movie shows everyone the positive impact a teacher can have on their students. It is an uplifting, fun, genuine movie that talks about celebration of life and people who keep positive attitude, and that everyone must be given a chance.
You think Hichki can travel across the world and shown to people, say with subtitles?
Yes. This movie can be seen across in so many different countries, continents and in many languages. The diversity and culture of the movie will come across beautifully.
Who has been your inspiration?
My inspiration comes from the fact that I didn’t want my Tourette Syndrome to win. Growing up with it wasn’t easy, I was treated like an outcast but I didn’t want to grow up making excuses my entire life. When I was younger, I used to visit Tourette Syndrome support groups and everyone was negative about their life. I left those meetings saying I didn’t want to be like that. I never chose to have Tourette Syndrome but I did choose to accept it. Once I did this, I realised none of my dreams would be too difficult to accomplish.
Do you plan to come down to India and meet people from Bollywood and the team of Hichki?
I do not have plans to visit as India is so far away from the US. But I would love to meet the great people who put together the film. But for now, it is not possible.
Is there any one moment from your life that you will always cherish?
After my first year of teaching, I was selected as the First Class Teacher of the Year. I was so honored to receive this award as it was a reminder to myself that I’m a role model for so many people who are living with challenges. I hope winning that award shows everybody and even people who are a little different can still be successful and make a difference in life.
All images from YouTube.
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