Chhalaang review: A fun, breezy watch
Chhalaang is a sports-romance-humour combination.
By: Sonia Chopra
Critic's Rating: 3/5
Monday 16 November 2020
Chhalaang review: A fun, breezy watch
Rajkummar Rao, Nushrratt Bharucha, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, Saurabh Shukla, Ila Arun, Satish Kaushik
Chhalaang is simple, linear story about a simple, linear conflict. Considering the year 2020 has been, this just might be a good accompaniment with a bucketful of popcorn.
A small-town simpleton Montu (Rajkumar Rao) is a jaded sports teacher in a school. He got the job on the recommendation of his mildly influential father, a fact he has no problem acknowledging. In his spare time, he accosts canoodling couples to lecture them on ‘Indian culture’.
Turns out, the middle-aged couple he recently harassed are Neelima’s (Nushrratt Bharuccha) parents. She’s the new computer teacher at school and Montu is smitten from the word go. He cannot bring himself to say a single right thing while trying to woo her, and then on it’s a foot-in-the-mouth situation whenever they’re together.
Montu’s smartass younger brother suggests he make a move before competition crops up. And it does… in the form of fitter, smoother, properly qualified sports coach Inder Singh (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub).
Situations lead to an altercation between Montu and Singh, who decide to compete on the sporting ground. The coach with the winning team, gets to keep the job. As the film puts it rather crudely, it’s a competition for the “naukri and chokri” (two ‘objects’ that need to be won over). This is not the only time in the movie that wooing a woman is compared to winning a match.
From admonishing students with ‘stop stupidness, no debate competition,’ Montu goes to proper dialogue-baazi about who is the ‘sher’ (lion) of the area.
The two teams prepare in their own way. Montu prefers ‘grassroots mechanisms’, a euphemism for his mad tactics.
You have kids trying to catch frightened chickens and then having them for lunch— a scene straight out of a vegan’s (or any sensitive person’s) nightmare. At other times, the coach thinks it’s a good idea to encourage the kids to trespass into someone’s property, and deal with the ferocious canines out to get them. The kids run for their lives as Montu smiles beatifically at the ‘never a hair out of place’ Neelima.
But despite her distractingly coiffured hair, she speaks the most sense in the film. She comes up with the idea of recruiting talent girl athletes into the team with the argument— ‘This is not a competition between boys, it’s a competition between students.’ (However, one wishes the film, then, stuck to limited-contact sports instead of games like kabaddi.) She also convinces the resisting parents in an amusing segment, that brings out an interesting layer to the character.
All this is unobjectionable fun, and one even gets fairly excited for the impending match. It’s a fun sequence, the three-layered competition, leading up to the tense final moment. While we know the team we’re rooting for, at this point, we know nothing about the student players. The teams are just a mass of students with just one or two that are identifiable (unlike Chak De! India, for example, where we knew a fair bit about each player).
Rajkummar Rao is fabulous as the man-boy Montu, and has a blast with little asides like extending his arm for permission to enter the principal’s office. Nushrratt Bharuccha’s character inexplicably flips sides in minutes, and the actress is passable.
It’s great to see powerhouse performers Rajkummar Rao and Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub at loggerheads. The supporting cast—Saurabh Shukla, Baljinder Kaur, Satish Kaushik, Ila Arun, Jatin Sarna—is a huge asset to the film.
Directed by Hansal Mehta, who is currently receiving accolades for Scam 1992, Chhalaang is a sports-romance-humour combination. We’ve seen the Hansal Mehta-Rajkummar Rao team make memorable films like Aligarh and Shahid. This is quite a departure for this team—it’s simply not in that caliber.
Having said that, the film is still fairly entertaining. A fun, breezy watch apt for the festive season!
(Chhalaang can be viewed on Amazon Prime)
Sonia Chopra is a critic, columnist and screenwriter with over 15 years of experience. She tweets on @soniachopra2
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