Chhalaang, starring Rajkummar Rao and Nushrratt Bharuccha, is now streaming on Amazon Prime, and to be very honest, there is nothing as such new about this film. It’s the same old sports movie narrative, with a predictable romantic storyline. But Chhalaang still managed to keep me in my seat for full 144 minutes with its witty dialogues, humorous scenarios and authentic setting. Above all, the film is a powerhouse of exceptional performances, with its actors constantly sweeping in to shoulder the burden of a rather weak, albeit clichéd, plot.
There is a line in the film where Nushrratt Bharuccha’s Neelu tells Rajkummar Rao’s Montu, “Any teacher can take a student’s score from 90 to 100, but only a good one can take a student’s score from 10 to 40.” Perhaps the same can be said about filmmakers too. With director Hansal Mehta at the helm of affairs, Chhalaang is an ode to the fact that how a great filmmaker can effortlessly make even the average good. The film also stars Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, Saurabh Shukla, Ila Arun, Satish Kaushik, Jatin Sarna and Baljinder Kaur. It is produced by Ajay Devgn, Luv Ranjan, Ankur Garg and presented by Bhushan Kumar.
Mahinder Singh aka Montu (Rajkummar Rao) is a PT teacher at a secondary school located in a small town of Haryana. Utterly disinterested in his job, Montu, as we are told, is the typical ‘raja-beta’ who has been handed over everything on a silver spoon (even his job is given to him based on his father’s recommendation to the school principal). Montu is also someone who has had a history of giving up almost every task he undertakes. He can always be found loitering around with the school’s Hindi teacher Shukla Ji (Saurabh Shukla), eating, drinking and wasting time away.
But in comes Neelima aka Neelu (Nushrratt Bharuccha), the new computer teacher at school. As fate would have it, Montu falls for her, but Neelu initially doesn’t think much of our protagonist. Hence begins the wooing and anyone who has watched even two Bollywood films knows how this will pan out. Although Montu manages to not cross the line beyond which his behaviour could be defined as harassment.
But the twist in the story comes with the entry of a new PT coach IM Singh (Mohd. Zeeshan Ayyub), who poses a serious threat to both Montu’s job and love. Montu realises that he needs to up his game, and declares a sporting war against Singh, with the condition that whoever wins by the end shall get to keep the job of the PT coach. And it is from this point on in the film that some action kicks in.
What Works And What Doesn’t
Rajkummar Rao has already established himself as the poster boy of small-town films, and he is in his best form in Chhalaang as well. Nushrratt Bharuccha seems to be doing better with each passing film, and as a progressive new-age girl, her character is easily relatable. Although, her accent does come off as a bit forced amidst the film’s Haryana setting. Mohd. Zeeshan Ayyub fits the bill as the competitive sports teacher, with his athletic avatar and moustache. The supporting cast deserves a special mention, for they are the ones who breathe in realism into the story: a superb Saurabh Shukla is complimented by Ila Arun, Satish Kaushik, along with an extremely lovable Baljinder Kaur.
That being said, the film neither offers any adrenaline rushes nor a cathartic ending. It is very hard to root for any character, mostly because the character developments feel a little confused. Which side does the film want us to choose? Should we side with Montu, a man who spends his spare time as a proud member of the ‘Romeo squad’, beating up couples roaming around in the park? Or does team IM Singh sound better, a man alternating between being a villain and a gentleman? Or should we completely leave these two behind and focus only on the children in the sports team? But then, not much is told to us about these children either.
There is a gender equality and women empowerment message sprinkled on the top, especially when Neelu admonishes Montu for only picking up boys for his team, forcing him to mend his ways. And the girls later selected for Montu’s team do shine, for it is mostly due to their efforts that the team reaches where it does by the end. But then, even this angle is only flirted with; the story never delves deeper into such issues. There are, in fact, many such inconsistencies in the entire script. However, the film does make for a nice, breezy one-time watch on a lazy afternoon, although offering nothing of what Mehta’s Shahid or Aligarh did. As for me, the only question I have after watching the film is: was there really a need to spoil a perfectly open-ended denouement by putting a Honey Singh song at the end of the film?
Picture Credit: Amazon Prime
Views expressed are the author’s own.